Everything You Need to Know About the “Why This College” Essay

Learn how to choose the right topics and write a stellar “why this college” essay

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been covering the most common types of college application essays—the personal statement essay, the overcoming adversity essay, and the “why this major” essay.  

But I can’t forget another type of college application essay that students struggle with every year—the “why this college” essay

Even if you’re wildly excited about attending a specific college, it can be hard to articulate all your feelings into a compelling “why this college” essay. 

What are colleges looking for in your response? Are there good and bad reasons for wanting to attend a school? How can you stand out from the crowd and boost your admissions chances with your “why this college” essay?

Keep reading to learn why this particular college essay matters, how to discover the best topics to focus on, and how to write a unique, captivating “why this college” essay.

What makes the “why this college” essay important?

If you know what colleges are looking for in your “why this college” essay, it’s a lot easier to give it to them. So let’s look at exactly what you should be communicating in this college application essay. 

Here’s the short answer. Your “why this college” essay should demonstrate why you’re the right fit for that school. 

When colleges receive more applications than there are available seats in the incoming class, they want to admit only the students who are best fit for what they can offer. Colleges are looking for students who will uniquely benefit from their resources and contribute to their communities.

In your “why this college” essay, you want to paint a specific picture of how you’ll fit into the student body. Show that you understand what this college is all about, and you’re over the moon to become a student there. 

Here a few sample “why this college” essay prompts for you to consider: 

Dartmouth University

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: “It is, sir,…a small college, and yet there are those who love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2025, what aspects of the College’s program, community, or campus environment attract your interest?

Duke University

Please share with us why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something in particular about Duke’s academic or other offerings that attract you?

Rice University

Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you?

How to pick the right topics for your “why this college” essay

When you’re preparing to begin your “why this college” essay, pay attention to the first things that come to mind when you ponder the question. Write those down, you might use them. But you don’t want to stop there. It’s time to do something fun—research!

I want you to dig into the college to find what it is you’re truly excited about. Read through the college website, take a virtual tour, browse student reviews, scroll through social media—research however you want. Just be thorough. 

And what kind of things should you be looking for? I’m glad you asked! Here are a few suggestions:

  • The school’s mission and values
  • Specific academic programs
  • Special academic or research opportunities
  • Faculty—their experiences, projects, and research interests
  • Student life opportunities
  • College traditions
  • Community involvement and outreach programs

Researching any one of these areas might lead you to find a spark—something the college offers that delights and inspires you. When you find one of these, add it to your list of potential topics for your “why this college” essay. 

When you have several features or opportunities written down, go back over your list and do some soul searching. Why do they excite you? What life experiences do you have that connect to the items on your list? 

For instance, maybe you’re enthusiastic about the mentorship program a college offers. In high school, you’ve developed a mentorship with one of your teachers, and that relationship has been important to you. You’re eager to develop another formative mentorship in college.

Once you’ve added these insights to your “why this college” essay topics list, you’re ready to pick a few of the best features to focus on in your essay. 

Topics to avoid in your “why this college” essay

There are no “right” topics to write about in your “why this college” essay, but there are a few bad ones. Even if these land on your list of why you want to attend a school, don’t focus on them in your essay.

  • Location
  • Weather
  • Prestige
  • High earning potential
  • Parent’s alma mater

These topics are either too general or too shallow to impress your application reader. Trust me, with a bit more research, you can find better topics to write about that will help you stand out from the crowd.

How to write an impactful “why this college” essay

Once you’ve identified the college features you want to focus on in your “why this college” essay, your next step is to put everything together into a cohesive narrative. 

This is where you want to make your anecdotes and examples shine. Make sure you emphasize how what the college offers connects to your past experiences—it’s a step that will set you apart from other applicants.

If the different features you’re highlighting in your “why this college” essay relate to each other, try to weave it into one big story. If not, pay special attention to how each section flows and transitions into the next.

Dos and don’ts for your “why this college” essay

As you write your “why this college” essay, follow these tips to ensure you put your best foot forward. 

Do be honest and reveal something new about yourself. Your essay readers want to learn more about you, remember? Make sure your “why this college” essay adds value to your application.

Don’t give a report about how great the school is. They already know everything about the college—so please don’t bore your application readers. Make your essay about you.

Do show your passion and excitement! It’s okay to convey strong emotions in your “why this college” essay. Add some enthusiastic words and punctuation if that’s what you’re genuinely feeling.

Don’t overuse cliches. You may be tempted to say things like, “this college feels like a home away from home,” but be careful. Cliches are commonly used, so you risk blending into the next student if you add too many into your essay.

Do test your “why this college” essay for specificity. Try this out. Take out the name of the school from your essay. Could it be describing any other college? Or is what you wrote specific enough that it could only apply to one school? 

Don’t forget to have fun! This should be one of the more enjoyable essays you get to write for your college applications. You get to envision yourself as a college student and build your excitement for what lies ahead.

Final thoughts about your “why this college” essay

College application essays are stressful–there’s no doubt about it. However, they don’t have to be unpleasant to write. And I truly hope writing your “why this college” essay is a good experience for you.

Now that you know how to approach, outline, and write your “why this college” essay, you’re 100% ready to deliver an outstanding piece of work that will wow any admissions committee. Good luck!

I’d love to hear about your college essay writing experiences. What worries you about the “why this college” essay? Where are you feeling confident? Please drop a comment below to share.

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