Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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How to Answer “Why This College?” pt. 2: 5 Steps to Writing a Great Essay

In my last post I wrote about what schools look for in a “Why Do You Want to Attend our School?” essay.

Buckle up! It’s time to start putting pen to paper.

Here are 5 Steps to Writing a Great “Why This College” Essay:

1. Before You Start Writing, Understand What Makes this School Different From Other Schools. Here’s how to collect that info:

  • Pay attention when you visit. Meet students, talk to faculty. When something interests you, ask questions.
  • Read the website thoroughly (not just the home page). Learn about the school’s educational philosophy and traditions.
  • Locate videos on the website to hear students tell you what they’re doing and why they like attending. This can help give you ideas!
  • Find the news page on the school website that relates to your area of interest and read at least one article that catches your eye. Your goals is to get excited about a teacher, a research program, an invention, a new book—something you can refer to in your essay.

Tip: Googling is an excellent shortcut. College websites can sometimes feel overwhelming. When you’re looking deeper for news and information, Googling can often get you there faster.

How to be awesome with Google: Use specific search terms. Let’s say you’re applying to the University of Illinois and you’re interested in bioengineering. Google  “University of Illinois bioengineering.” But a general search will return masses of information, so use the news tab for research and other news. Similarly, if you’re interested in joining a club, such as an outdoors club, Google the school’s name and “outdoor club” or “environment” or “hikes” and see what you find. (Do a general search here, not news.) Search videos too. One of my students discovered a video from a robotics class and wrote about how he’d work as part of that team.

WHEN YOU WRITE:

How to write "why this school" essay2. Don’t Be a Lightweight 

  • Make academics your main focus. It’s okay to mention after-school activities and dorm life as long as you’re knowledgeable about substantial things like courses, instructors, academic opportunities and educational philosophy.

3. Say How You’ll Fit In

  • Visualize yourself as a freshman on campus:  What classes are you taking? Why do you love being there? How are you contributing to the campus community? Why are you a good match? Write about it.

4. If You’ve Talked to People, Say So

  • Whether it’s a tour guide, admissions counselor, coach or professor, making a personal connection shows initiative and enthusiasm. So if you’ve talked to someone, write about it!
  • Mention what you learned from the people you talked to, and be specific about how it pertains to you. For instance, “My tour guide told me he had a great time at school” has nothing to do with you. BUT, if you say, “My tour guide told me how accessible all my professors will be. That’s the kind of atmosphere I’m looking for,” then you’ve written a sentence that is specific and shows how the idea relates to you.

5. It’s Almost Never Too Late to Make a Personal Connection

  • Even if your deadline’s looming you can probably get in touch with a student, alum, or coach.
  • Put on your thinking cap! Take advantage of any connections you have. If you have a friend or relative who attended, get in touch. If there’s a friend of a friend, use that connection! Don’t hesitate to reach out. Ask your friends, parent or relative to be the bridge to help you connect, and then email or give that person a call.
  • If you don’t know anyone personally, it’s still easy to connect. Here’s what you do:
    • Start by locating the email or phone number of the admissions office on the website.
    • Then call or write. They won’t bite—in fact, they’ll be delighted to hear from you. Then ask them to put you in touch with a student in your major so you can learn more.
  • Prepare a few questions so you know what to ask.

    • Here are some suggested questions: What professors do you recommend, what surprised you the most when you got to campus, what’s the best/hardest part about this major, what’s a typical day like at school, what do you do to relax, do you feel like you’re being prepared well to graduate, how do you think you’ll use your degree? Keep asking questions until you find something that gets you excited about going there!

True Story about Making A Personal Connection:

Last year I worked with a student applying to Cornell Engineering. His interests had changed since he’d visited, and now he was interested in pursuing two possible engineering paths, not just one. The problem was that he didn’t know much about the second path and the website wasn’t specific.

I suggested he email Cornell admissions and ask to be connected to a student in that major. When he did, they responded immediately with a contact. Then I helped him create five questions to ask. He emailed the student, introduced himself, and asked his questions. A few follow-up questions and he was done. By the time he was finished, my student had a much better grasp on the second engineering track. Now he could show the school he understood why it would be a good fit and why he was excited by what they had to offer.

It was just that easy.

Everyone who’s writing a “Why This School” essay should try to make at least one personal connection and then use these 5 steps to write a great essay.

NEXT: Part 3—Successful writing techniques, plus examples of essays in action.

Posts in this series:
Part 1: “Why This College”: What Schools Want
Part 2: 5 Steps to Writing a Great “Why This College” Essay
Part 3: “Why This College?” Essay Examples and Successful Writing Techniques

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2012 and has been updated to include additional information and examples.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills

 

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 resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. She works with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

 

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How to Answer “Why This College?” Essay – pt. 1: What Schools Want

how to answer why this school essay

“Dear Student,
Please respond to this question: ‘Why do you want to go to OUR GREAT SCHOOL U?'”

How do you answer this question?

In this series of posts we’ll tackle this question. I’ll tell you what colleges look for (part 1) and then we’ll dig deeper so you can start writing (part 2). You’ll read essay examples to learn what works and what doesn’t work (part 3). I’ll even take you step-by-step through a “Why this school” essay sample that shows you how to write a successful essay even if you don’t know much about the school. 

Ready? Let’s do it!

First
This is an important essay
. Give it some time and thought.

Your Goal
Use specific examples to show that you understand what makes the college special and why it’s a good fit for you.

Schools Want to Know
1. That you “get them.” This means that you understand what makes them different from other schools. Take into consideration their academic philosophy, traditions, student life, etc.
2. Why you’re a good match for them. How will you fit in? How will you contribute? How will you take advantage of what they have to offer? Tell them why their school matters to you.

Schools Don’t Like
1. Vague answers such as “Your school really inspires me”… “I like cold weather”…“The campus is amazing.”

2. Hearing information they already know. Here’s an example: “I’m looking forward to going to OUR GREAT SCHOOL U because it has a Division I Soccer Team.”

Good right? No. 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 a similar problem I see a lot: “Your Great School U. offers xxx number of majors and over xxx number of clubs.”

Again, they know how many majors and clubs they have. They care about why that matters to you.

Find a way to personalize it. For example: “At Your Great School I’ll be able to explore my diverse interests knowing I’ll be able to find the major that’s right for me. Outside of class my interests range from Cricket to tutoring, and with so many clubs I’ll be able to find the ones that I enjoy.”

Tip: When you state a fact about the school, that’s your cue to follow it with how it relates to you.

Don’t Use the Same Essay for Different Schools

Sometimes it’s possible to use the same first sentences for more than one essay (see part 3 for an example). But this isn’t a “fill in the blank” essay where you can plug in the name of a dorm or professor—the admissions committee will catch that.  Remember, the more specific you are the more successful you will be.how-to-answer-why-this-school

READ THE REST OF THE SERIES:
Part 2:
  5 Steps to Writing A Great Why This College Essay
Part 3:  “Why This College” Essay Samples

Editor’s Note: This series was originally published in July 2012 and has been updated to include additional information and examples.

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


Find your story. Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting in Redding, Connecticut. She’s a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee who teaches students how to master interview skills, write killer resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, Skype, Facetime and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.

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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.

Remember

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-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills


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.

Leave a comment — let me know what you think!