Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tips for Successful Supplement Essays: The Why Us? Question

Carleton College
College application deadlines are coming...and they'll be here before you know it. If you're applying to private colleges and universities, by now you've probably finished the main Common Application essay and are facing (or trying not to face) the dreaded college supplements. Specifically that oh-so-difficult question so many colleges want the answer to: Why us?

Even if a school is your hands-down favorite, addressing this question can be daunting. It can be downright intimidating if the school is one you like but have never visited, or have just heard about through friends or relatives. So how should you respond when the colleges ask why?

First of all, understand why they are asking. It's not to hear about how awesome they are (because they know that already), but because they want to find out why you believe you and their college are a good match. They want to know what you're going to bring and what you expect them to give. To do this effectively, you need to research the college...and yourself.

If you've been able to go on a campus visit, great: you have a lot of material to draw from as you pull together your ideas. Even if you haven't, you can glean a wealth of information about a college on their website. Check out all kinds of things--the academic departments, special programs, campus life, sports, clubs, student publications, campus happenings, current research--and make notes about the things that genuinely excite you or that seem like things you need or want to have a successful, satisfying college experience. If you can come up with even three things that really speak to you, you've got enough to write your essay.

Next, think about who you are. Given what you've learned about the school in your research, can you really see yourself happily spending four years there? What do you think will get you jazzed or challenge you? What about you "fits" with the school and its culture? How can you see yourself being a part of its community?

When you start writing, be authentic. This is your chance to share what you know about their school in the context of who you are. Let your personality come through. It's perfectly fine to mention quirky things that appeal to you, as long as you are genuine in your discussion.

What should you avoid? Don't write about how beautiful the campus is. They know that. Don't write about how they offer an exceptional education. They know that, too. Don't write about their fabulous reputation. You get the idea. Your job isn't to kiss up to the schools by mirroring their wonderfulness back to them. It's to show them that the two of you are right for each other.

The why? questions are challenging, but they're also a great opportunity for you to really think deeply about why you are applying to the schools on your list. In the process, you may find that some go up on your list of preferences, and that others go down (or even drop off). The whys are a lot of work, but they're one more way (and an underrated one) to ensure you're making a great choice...and at the end of the college admissions process, that's really what it's all about.