We’ve written many times over the years about the importance of the Why College essay. The Why College essay is an opportunity for applicants to demonstrate that they love a university, to demonstrate the value the applicant brings to the university. Most students submit Why College essays that say, well, nothing. Maybe they say how they want to go to a certain school because it offers a great liberal arts education. Or maybe they say they want to go to a university because of its great student to faculty ratio. Or maybe it’s because of the university’s prestige. When any college admissions officer at a highly selective university reads any of such nonsense, they typically roll their eyes, sigh, and come to the conclusion that you don’t have a strong desire to attend the institution. And that’s because you haven’t done your homework.
Just about any highly selective college offers a great liberal arts education. Just about all of them have good student to faculty ratios. And by virtue of being highly selective, they’re all prestigious. So any college admissions officer worth his or her salt knows that the applicant likely cut and pasted this essay and sent it to just about any university with a Why College essay on the application for admission.
But allow us to show rather than tell. Let us prove our point by showing you a really bad Why College essay. This essay happens to be from a few years back, when Harvard asked this particular question (now they don’t care because Harvard is one of the only schools that figures you’ll attend if admitted — so they don’t need to ask why you want to go there). Here goes: “The reasons that I have for wishing to go to Harvard are several. I feel that Harvard can give me a better background and a better liberal education than any other university. I have always wanted to go there, as I have felt that it is not just another college, but is a university with something definite to offer. Then too, I would like to go to the same college as my father. To be a ‘Harvard man’ is an enviable distinction, and one that I sincerely hope I shall attain.”
You get the idea? This is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad essay. But Alexander didn’t write it. In fact, it was written by a young man named Jack. This was John F. Kennedy’s essay that he submitted to Harvard, when he applied as a transfer student from Princeton. But wait. It gets worse. Allow us to share with you President Kennedy’s essay for admission to Princeton: “My desire to come to Princeton is prompted by a number of reasons. I feel that it can give me a better background and training than any other university, and can give me a true liberal education. Ever since I entered school, I have had the ambition to enter Princeton, and I sincerely hope I can reach my goal. I feel the environment of Princeton is second to none, and cannot but help having a good effect on me. To be a ‘Princeton Man’ is indeed an enviable distinction.”
Do you hear our point about cutting and pasting essays? Probably not a good idea. It worked out for JFK (even if he lived before the days of cutting and pasting), but he is an exception to the rule, not the rule. We suggest you follow the rule.