The Why College Essay Is a Date

Too many students only write about themselves in “Why College” essays (photo credit: Bryan Y.W. Shin).

It’s a question on so many elite college application supplements: “Why do you wish to go here?” Sometimes the question is longwinded. Sometimes the question is just two words. But no matter how it’s phrased, make no mistake, the school is trying to gauge if the applicant has actually done their homework — to see if they truly wish to attend the university. Because, yes, universities are insecure and they wish to manipulate their yields. What better way to manipulate their yields than to find out in 250 words or 650 words if a student has any intention whatsoever of matriculating. Yet, in our experience, the vast majority of applicants don’t know how to answer this type of question and, in fact, they go about answering it in a way that conveys one thing and one thing only to the universities: that they haven’t done their homework.

Too Many College Applicants Write Only About Themselves in Why College Essays

A “Why College” essay should not be entirely be about a student. That would be the equivalent of going on a date and only talking about yourself. If you’ve ever been on a date in which the other person has only talked about himself or herself, well, you know that’s no fun. People like the chance to share and contribute to the conversation. It’s only natural. Conversation, after all, goes two ways. So when a college applicant rambles on and on about themselves without discussing the unique opportunities of the university (and no, name dropping a professor who may or may not be there next year or dropping the name of a class that a student cut and pasted from a course catalogue doesn’t count), that applicant has wasted the opportunity to show how they wish to contribute to the school. That student has wasted a key opportunity to demonstrate interest in the school when demonstrating interest is vital. To not do so is like going on a date and watching the Boston Red Sox win the World Series on the TV up above. You may not even notice the date slipped out during an at-bat. Hey, it’s not like we speak from experience! Ok, we do…when you know, you know!

The Why College Essay Should Be the Applicant + the University

The fact is, when we go through “Why College” essays of students who come to us after they didn’t get in, we rarely find even one or two examples of specifics about the institution that don’t also apply to any university in America. A beautiful campus. A diverse student body. Interdisciplinary learning. Small class sizes. All of this is nonsense. It’s like going on a date and saying you enjoy long walks on the beach. Cheeseballs! Instead, college applicants need to think of “Why College” essays as opportunities to present a narrative of how they’re going to contribute to the school’s unique programs, institutes, the culture, extracurriculars, and traditions. It should be an essay about the applicant + the school, not one that’s just about the applicant or just about the school. And the sooner applicants begin to think about “Why College” essays as a date, the better they’ll do in the college admissions matchmaking process.

 
 

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