“Why This University?” How to Ace a “Why Us?” Admissions Essay

An in-depth guide to convince schools to accept your application

This article was co-authored by wikiHow staff writer, Raven Minyard, BA. Raven Minyard received her BA in English and Creative Writing from Sweet Briar College in 2020. While in college, she served as the Coeditor-in-Chief of Sweet Briar’s literary magazine Red Clay and has since gone on to write for publications such as The Zillennial Zine and Halloween Every Night. Raven recalls reading articles from wikiHow’s early days during her childhood and is thrilled to now write for their content team. She enjoys learning about new interests and topics with each article she writes and hopes to help audiences of all backgrounds continue to learn new and exciting things.

This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources.

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Many colleges require a “Why this college?” essay to help determine if students would be a good fit for their campus. This essay allows you to explain why you want to attend a specific college or university and persuade their admissions team you’d be a valuable addition to their student body. If you want to ensure your essay is the best it can be, look no further. We’ll walk you through researching, outlining, and writing your “Why this college?” essay, plus give you tips on what NOT to do, so you can wow your dream college.

  • When writing a “Why this college?” essay, research the college and its unique courses and programs to provide specific details.
  • Don’t write about generalizations like the college’s rank, location, or size. Focus on how it supports your academic goals.
  • Write about yourself, not just the college. Explain your strengths and interests and how you’re a good fit for the school.
  1. Step 1 Learn as much as you can about the college.

    Research the college’s website and pay special attention to majors, courses, and unique programs and opportunities so you can learn what makes this school different from others. Take an in-person or virtual tour of the campus, and contact the admissions office or your regional representative for additional information.[2]

    • To get a student’s perspective, read student reviews of the school and the overall campus vibe on college review sites, or reach out to current or former students and ask if they’re open to answering some questions.
    • Find expert reviews by reading sources like The Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward B. Fiske, Colleges That Change Lives by Loren Pope, or The Best 376 Colleges from Princeton University.
    • If possible, find a syllabus for a course you’re interested in. This way, you can list specific examples of how taking classes at that college would benefit you when you write your essay.
  2. Choose your angle based on the specific prompt. While the overall idea is the same, many colleges use slightly different prompts for this essay depending on what factors they value most in their students. Pay attention to the language used to decide what topics to focus on in your essay.[3]
    Here are some prompts colleges have used for the “why this college” essay:

    • Columbia University: “What are your reasons for applying to this particular university? Elaborate on the most significant and compelling aspects of Columbia that resonate with you.”
    • University of Michigan: “What are the distinctive qualities that make a certain school or college attractive for you to apply to? How does the curriculum submitted correlate with your interests and plans for the future?”
    • University of Pennsylvania: “With regard to the undergraduate school you have chosen, we are curious about how you plan to develop your intellectual interests at our university. Please tell us about your approach to exploring these interests within the university’s environment.”
    • University of Central Florida: “What is the main reason for your decision to join UCF? What particular characteristics and qualities would enable you to contribute to our academic community?”
  3. Reflect on your educational and career goals. You and your goals are the driving force behind college essays. While anyone can write about the college, only you can explain why it’s the right school for you. Think about what you want to major in, potential careers, and specific skills and experiences you want to gain from attending college. Then, examine how this college supports those goals.[4]

  1. Step 1 Brainstorm a list of reasons you want to attend the college.

    This should be a mix of aspects you like about that college and the things you bring to the table as a student. Try to come up with at least 15-20 reasons. You likely won’t use all of them in your essay, but you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.

    • Write your reasons down in 3 separate columns: what you seek from the college, what the college will give you, and what you bring to its community.
    • In general, 70% of your essay should focus on academics, while 30% can focus on extracurriculars.
  2. Choose an appropriate structure. There is no “right” way to structure your essay. It all depends on what you have to say and how you want to say it.[5]
    Generally, though, there are 3 common strategies: the basic strategy, the unique reasons strategy, and the one value strategy. Here’s what you need to know about all 3:

    • The basic strategy: provide 10-15 reasons about why you want to attend the college. Organize them into a few main categories and list specific reasons and details within them.
    • The unique reasons strategy: write about 3-5 opportunities that are exclusive to that college and explain how they relate to you personally. Make sure to do your research for this strategy since it requires you to understand the institution’s unique factors.
    • The one value strategy: explore 1 core value that you and the college share and expand on that story. This is the most risky approach, as it relies on 1 topic and must be engaging.
  3. Outline and draft your essay. Now that you know what you’re going to write about and how you want to present it, outline your essay to determine the best organizational flow. Then, follow the outline to create your first draft.[6]
    Here’s an example:

    • Introduction: Introduce your main goals and the reason behind them. To personalize your essay, include an anecdote about your interests or an experience at the college. Remember to include a thesis statement.
    • Body paragraph 1: Write about your first goal and how the college can support it. For example, if you’re interested in math, include details about their math department and specific courses. Be sure to supply supporting evidence.
    • Body paragraph 2: Write about your second goal and how the college can support it. For example, if you want to be a journalist, write about their student newspaper or any relevant internship opportunities they offer.
    • Body paragraph 3: Write about your third goal and how the college can support it. For example, if community service is important to you, write about specific opportunities and events the college organizes.
    • Conclusion: Conclude your essay by reaffirming where you see yourself in the future and how the college can help you get there.
  4. Get feedback and edit your essay. After you finish your first draft, it’s time to make it even better. Have a trusted family member, advisor, or teacher read over your essay. Then, incorporate appropriate feedback into your next draft. It’s a good idea to do a few rounds of edits before submitting your final draft.[7]

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