In addition to the essay that is part of the Common Application, many colleges and universities require students to answer one or more short questions particular to their school. They phrase it in different ways, but invariably what each school really wants to know is: “Why Us?” They don’t give students much room to answer this question, but pulling it off well can be of enormous import.
That is because the “Why Us” question speaks to two less-well understood factors that weigh heavily in admissions decisions: fit and demonstrated interest.
Fit is exactly what it sounds like. Admissions officers pore over the student’s answer to the “Why Us?” question to ascertain whether they are a good fit for the school’s academic orientation and social atmosphere. They examine the “Why Us?” essay to see if the student has a firm grasp of the defining characteristics of the school, that they know what they’re getting into, and that they want to go there because of its people and its mission. The student’s grades and scores confirm that they can do the work; the “Why Us?” essay gives the admissions officer confidence that the student will be happy, thrive and contribute to campus life.
To write a convincing “Why Us?” essay, the applicant can explain, for example, why, because of who they are, they would do best in a large public university in an urban area that bustles with activity, or in a small private college in a rural area that is known for its ratio of full professors to students. The student can persuade the reader that they have done their research by recounting a specific detail – something about a faculty member, an academic major, or an extracurricular opportunity – and explaining how that feature connects to something in their own life. The detail should come from the student’s campus visit, or from a conversation with a current student, alum or professor. It can be related to the academics, but it can also, for example, that they love that the school has celebrated athletic teams, that it has its own forest, or that it mounts two major musicals each year. The key is to be specific and add a detail not found in the school’s own brochure or website.
Applicants can demonstrate that they are a good “fit” in straightforward way: “I’m an avid hiker and that’s why I want to go to a college in the mountains,” or “I love live music and that’s why I want to attend a college in New York City.” Or applicants can demonstrate “fit” in a complex way: “The research I did in an internship led me to your school because your faculty includes a professor whose work focuses on the same subject I plan to study.”
“Demonstrated Interest” refers to how much the applicant has shown they have their heart set on the school and whether they have convinced admissions that they will matriculate if offered a spot. Admissions officers are evaluated by supervisors on their “yield,” that is, how many students they accepted actually come to the school. Keeping their job may depend on how accurately they predict the likelihood that students they accept will indeed be on campus in the fall.
To make a strong case for their “demonstrated interest,” applicants should use Supplementary Questions to insist they have their heart set on the school and that it is their very top choice. They should, essentially, use their answer to demonstrate their “demonstrated interest.” Students can do this by itemizing the times they reached out to the school, whether through visits, phone calls or emails. Their answer should show the admissions officer that, if accepted, they will choose the school over all others. (Yes, every application to every school ought to make this argument convincingly.)
Our tutors are highly-experienced writers and editors in their own right. Some of them have not so long ago written a college essay themselves – one that helped get them into a great college or university. Others are the parents of recent college applicants who, with their editing assistance, wrote memorable college essays that helped them get into their top choice schools.
At ONLINE TUTORS INTERNATIONAL we pride ourselves on giving each student the individualized guidance and support they need at all stages of the college essay process, from finding the perfect topic that highlights who they are, to polishing their essay until it is memorable and will impresses any admissions officer who reads it.