Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

5 Tips for Conquering the “Why This School” Essay

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“Dear Student, Why do you want to attend our school?” 

If it’s because the school is “amazing” or the weather is “awesome,” that’s great — but it’s not going to get your essay noticed. This post will show you how to help your “Why This School” essay stand out.

Here are 5 Tips to Writing a Successful “Why This School” essay:

1. It’s All About Fit: Schools want to know that you “get them”— that you understand why they’re special and how they’re a good fit for you. Think about why the two of you are a good match: Are you attracted to the school’s academic philosophy, courses, traditions, activities, or student life? Take a deep dive into the school’s website, visit if you can, watch videos, and connect on social media. Discover what interests you and write about it. Using details and examples, tell them why their school matters to you

2. If You’ve Talked to People, Say So. Making personal connections shows initiative and enthusiasm. Whether it’s your tour guide, students you met on campus, an admissions counselor, alum, coach or professor, mention the people you talked to and what you learned from your conversations. Get excited and talk about it!

3. Don’t Use Vague Answers. Anyone can write, “Your school inspires me…the campus is amazing.” But the answers that stand out are going to be specific about why that matters to you. Consider the difference between this sentence: “I like that your campus is in a big city” and this one: “The school blends a big city location with the personal feel of a smaller school that I’m looking for.” Which one stands out to you?

Tip: Visualize yourself as a freshman on campus – it’s a great way to be specific:  What classes are you taking? Why do you love being there? How are you contributing to the campus community? Write about it.

4. Don’t Be A Lightweight.  It’s okay to mention social environment and dorm life, but they shouldn’t be your primary focus. Focus mainly on academics.

5. Don’t Tell Schools What They Already Know. What if you wrote: “I’m looking forward to going to OUR GREAT SCHOOL U because it has a Division I Soccer Team.”

Good right? No. This is a factual statement. They know they have a Division I soccer team. Personalize it instead: “I’ve been following Division I soccer for years and was excited when OUR GREAT SCHOOL U made it to the NCAA Soccer finals last December. I’ll be in the stands cheering when I get to campus next fall.”

Here’s another example. Instead of this: “Your school offers 325 majors.”

Say why it matters: “Your school’s wide of variety of courses and majors will give me the opportunity to follow my curiosity and explore new ideas and interests as I discover the path to my career.”

Remember — factual statements shouldn’t stand on their own. Stop and tell them why it matters to you.

Discover what excites you and then show how you’ll contribute and fit in. You’ll be on your way to a great “Why This School” essay. 

For more “Why This School” help, read my extended series:

How to Answer Why This College Part 1
How to Answer Why This College Part 2
How to Answer Why This College Part 3

college essay writing and interview skills

Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into creative and memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Pinterest and Twitter.


Author: Sharon Epstein

College consultant, teaching students how to write memorable college application essays, grad school and prep school essays, and succeed at job and college interviews.

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