college essays

Phew, your main essay is done.  You’ve done your drafts, really believe it shows who you are, and you’ve even given it to a College Coach expert for a final proof read.  So what’s next?  Tackling the supplemental essays. While some require only 100 to 150 words, others are another full length essay on top of that personal statement.  Among the most common essay supplements is a simple question: “Why do you want to attend this college?”

While this is a simple question to ask, it’s honestly not an easy question to answer. The good news is that it shouldn’t be nearly as difficult as the personal statement you just wrote, and there’s plenty of research out there to support your efforts. Here are a few tips to help you approach these questions.

Don’t Forget the Details

First, you need details.  When I was reading applications for Swarthmore College, we called it the thumb test.  If I put my thumb over the words “Swarthmore College” and the essay could still be used for another college, it wasn’t specific enough.  We wanted to know that you wrote your essay specifically for us.  So don’t try to use the same content over and over again, just changing the name of the school—it won’t work for you.

If you visited the campus, what were the details that specifically drew you in?  Among those details, which were the most unique to that college?  Academic reasons will probably carry more weight than social reasons, but both are valid.  Try not to use college rankings in your answer, as that tends not to impress.  If you say you are applying to a school because they are number one on some list, it begs the questions: What if we were number two?  Would you still apply? It gives the impression that you don’t want what they offer, but just some notion of perceived prestige. It’s not a winning approach.

If you haven’t visited the school, you’ll need to do some in-depth research on their website.  Look at departments and what they offer. Does it match up well with your interests?  Are there internships or research opportunities you would like to take advantage of on campus?  Are there other groups that speak to your interests—a debate team or an a Capella group? An investment club, maybe?  Whatever the details are, try to make them parallel to your own interests and involvements.  This will give the reader the impression that you have done your homework, know their school well, and have made a good match between your interests and goals, and what the institutional offerings at the school in question.

Take It Seriously

Lastly, take these questions seriously.  If a school asks for a response to them, they want to know the answer, and this is especially true among small liberal arts colleges.  There are a ton of college options in that space, so your application readers want to know that you are choosing them for good reasons and not just clicking a box on your Common Application.

Now that you know “Why this college,” come back for more! In the coming weeks, look for specific help with other common supplemental essay questions from College Coach and the Insider blog.



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Written by Kennon Dick
Kennon Dick is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Prior to joining College Coach, Kennon was as a senior admissions officer at Swarthmore College, Drexel University, and Johnson State College.