The Ivy Coach Daily

July 31, 2022

How to Approach a Why College Essay Prompt

Emory’s admissions office claims on its website not to measure Demonstrated Interest. That’s so cute!

While most elite universities ask their own unique essay questions on their supplements to The Common Application, there is one essay prompt that tends to pop up time and again. No, it’s not how applicants would spend a free afternoon. Nor is it a day in the life of an applicant’s family. Rather, the ubiquitous essay on so many elite college supplements is a version of: “Why do you want to go to this school?” Sometimes the prompt is a couple of sentences, such as: “How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago. And sometimes it’s just two words, such as “Why Tufts?” Irrespective of how the question is phrased, savvy applicants will know they’re being asked a Why College essay. So what should applicants do in Why College essays? What should they not do? Wonder no more!

What College Applicants Should Not Do in Why College Essays

First, let’s start with what applicants should absolutely avoid doing when approaching a Why College essay. In short, don’t treat a Why College essay like a Mad Libs word game. Not sure what we mean? Allow us to share an example. “__________’s student body is extremely diverse and there are so many wonderful clubs and organizations I’d love to join.” You see, every elite university is diverse. Every elite university has clubs and organizations. A student can thus fill in the blank with any school and the sentence would work. But that’s a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad way to approach a Why College essay. After all, admissions officers weren’t born yesterday. They know you just cut and pasted that same sentence for just about every other school to which you applied. Yet the whole reason so many elite college ask why you wish to go to their school is to see if you’ve really done your homework, if you’d really choose to matriculate if you got in. By writing generic sentences, you’re not exactly proving you love their institution above all others — and you’re not showcasing how you’re going to contribute to their community in a super specific way. Finally, contrary to popular belief, name dropping professors who may or may not even be there next year do not demonstrate one’s love either — nor do names of classes that you can cut and paste from a course catalogue. Stop the swapping. Stop the Mad Libs. If you end up submitting such generic essays, you’ll in fact drive yourself mad when you end up getting denied admission to elite university after elite university. Yes, even schools that you might think are safe will deny you admission if they believe you don’t intend to matriculate. And why? Because you’ll hurt their yield.

What College Applicants Should Do in Why College Essays

So now that you know what applicants should not do in Why College essays, what exactly should they do? If name dropping professors and swapping out names of courses from one university’s course catalogue to the next do not count as genuine specifics about an institution, what exactly does count? Oh sorry, our loyal readers, but we teased you. After all, we’re a business and while we love to offer lots of free advice about the college admissions process on the pages of this college admissions blog, we keep our best recipes secret from everyone but our clients. Yet we will tell you this: don’t believe a college when they tell you they don’t measure a student’s Demonstrated Interest, which is their likelihood of attending if admitted. Case in point? Emory University boldly claims on its website, “Does demonstrated interest matter at Emory University? Nope!” Of course, that’s nonsense. Emory University not only cares about Demonstrated Interest, but Emory University quite literally invented Demonstrated Interest. You see, if elite colleges didn’t care about Demonstrated Interest, why would they track if students visited campus? Why would they ask Why College essays? If they truly didn’t care, like all good writers, they’d show rather than tell.

Were you thinking about approaching your Why College essays like a game of Mad Libs? Did you intend to take meticulous notes on college tours and information sessions so you could regurgitate the information you learned about each school back to them? If so, it’s high time to rethink your overall approach to Why College essays.

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