Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


How to Answer “Why This College?” pt 3: Essay Samples

Hi Everyone! Sorry I’ve been absent with my posts – I’ve been working with lots of students, but I also broke a bone in my foot and it waylaid me for a while (ouch). But I’m back! Here’s the final installment on “How To Answer Why This College.”

So you have to answer the essay question, “Why Do You Want to Go To This School?”

Here’s the good news (yup, there’s good news). This college essay doesn’t have to be a killer, if you know what schools are looking for and where to begin. (Part 1 and Part 2 — check them out.)

Now, take a look at some essays in action. Here are sections from 3 different essays. Find out if they work or not, and why.

Example #1

“I like Bowdoin College because it’s a highly acclaimed school with excellent academics. I especially like Bowdoin because it is close to the Canadian border.” Doesn’t Work.

Why: The student is telling the school what it already knows.  (“Highly acclaimed” “Excellent academics” “Close to the Canadian border.”)  Instead, tell the school why this information is important, and how you’ll take advantage of it.

New Version: “Bowdoin’s proximity to Canada is important to me because my family is French Canadian. I’m excited to be able to immerse myself in a premier liberal arts education, while being close enough to Quebec to learn more about my heritage and practice my language skills.” Works

Why: The answer is specific. This student clearly states why this school is a good match for her.

Example #2

“Your school really inspires me. The students were friendly and the campus is amazing. Plus, I like cold weather. I can really see myself going there.” Doesn’t Work

Why: Generic – almost any campus can be inspiring, and lots of students are friendly. It’s also impersonal – there’s no feeling the student connects with this school.

New Version: “I introduced myself to some of the students who were on their way to Dr. Gruber’s psych class. As we walked across the quad they told me how exciting his lectures were and how much they liked him as a teacher. My high school psych course really made me want to learn more about psychology, and if I’m admitted, the first class I’m signing up for is Dr. Gruber’s.” Works

Why: The student has made her answer personal. By referencing an instructor and a course that interests her, she’s able to give the school a clear picture of how she sees herself fitting in.

Example #3

“During the campus tour, my guide gave me a great inside view of the University. He told me about the school culture, and I knew this was the place for me.” Doesn’t Work

Why: 1. Vague. It doesn’t mean anything to say you have an “inside view” or that “this is the place for me.” You need specifics to back it up.

New Version: “After I got home, I remembered my tour guide played cello in the orchestra, so I shot him an email asking what it was like. He replied right away and told me he’d definitely recommend it, especially because of the great friendships he’d made. That’s the kind of experience and camaraderie I’m looking for.” Works

Why: Personal connection. This is an excellent revision. When the student realized his essay wasn’t specific enough, he remembered that his tour guide played in the orchestra, and that he had the guide’s email. So they chatted, and the end result was an essay that showed initiative, enthusiasm, and connection. The student understood why he wanted to go to this college.

Your Essay Will be Longer Than These Samples

The samples I gave you are sections from essays,  not the entire essay. (Using sections makes it easier for me to take apart to show you why they work or not. Your essay will probably be longer, depending on word count). When you write your essay, you might be able to use all there of the ideas presented in these samples (why you like the college, how you see yourself fitting in, how you’ve made a connection), plus any other ideas you have. Just remember to answer the exact prompt.

Is Your Essay Specific Enough? Use this Test:

If 100 other students can say the same thing, it’s time to either dig deeper or start over. Your essay needs to be unique to you.


Every school wants to see two basic things: that you know something specific about what they offer and that you understand how you’ll fit in.

Read the Other Posts in this Series
Part 1: “Why This College”: What Schools Want
Part 2: 5 Steps to a Great “Why This College” Essay


Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. A Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, Sharon lectures extensively on essay writing. Sharon teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype and email. Visit her website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

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