All critiques and edits are appreciated. I'm seven words over the limit, so help cutting it down is critical.
In no more than 250 words, please tell us why BU is a good fit for you and what specifically has led you to apply for admission?
After first discovering BU, the urban campus and strong school spirit appealed to me. I had finally found the perfect balance between urban city life and active campus life. Most universities located in the city lack school spirit, and most universities in small towns have no major city nearby. BU is the perfect place that combines a major city rich with culture and opportunities with an active campus life. After finding out more about BU, I discovered its strong programs, emphasis on engaging with the community and diversity. These qualities are what sold me.
Coming from schools that required me to apply what I learned in the classroom through various projects and activities, I am attracted to the practical opportunities and programs BU offers its students. I've always believed that the only way someone can use the knowledge from their courses in the future is if they apply it as they're learning. As BU is a pioneer of student research, study abroad and internship programs, I feel it is a good fit for me. I plan to take advantage of such opportunities at BU so I can extend my learning and become better prepared for the workplace.
Additionally, BU's values of inclusiveness and engagement with the community align with my own. I've always been a tolerant person that treats everyone I meet equally, and I work hard not to let stereotypes dictate what I think of others. For these reasons, BU is my dream school, and I'm looking forward to being an active student in its community.
and most universities in small towns have no major city nearby.
Well, duh! You can probably make this dry wit wiith just a little tweak. Unless its so dry I missed it. :|
BU is the perfect place that combines a major city rich with culture and opportunities with an active campus life.
Maybe something like "BU is the perfect place for me because it combines..."
After first discovering BU, the urban campus and strong school spirit appealed to me.
When I first discovered...
After finding out more about BU, I discovered its strong programs, emphasis on engaging with the community and diversity.
This makes it sound like you chose BU on a whim/its location.
In the second paragraph, maybe specify a few specific programs.
I've always been a tolerant person that treats everyone I meet equally, and I work hard not to let stereotypes dictate what I think of others.
Colleges assume this. You don't need to tell them.
Well written, but try to be a little more specific.
Name some facilities, clubs, etc.
I changed a lot in the beginning to make it less clique, and I added some more specifics. Tell me if you like this version better:
In my English class last year, I remember my teacher asking me what I wanted to study in college. I found myself challenged by this question. However, I came up with an answer of "I plan to study a few things before I make up my mind." I gave this answer because I knew I had many interests and wanted to delve into more than one subject in my higher education. Growing up, my interests made me knowledgeable in many areas, but it also made it hard to decide what I want to study in college. For me, BU takes away the difficulty of choosing and gives me the opportunity to not only study in several areas, but major in more than one subject.
Though today I can say Economics is my most keen interest and most likely what I'll study in college, I still want to study applied mathematics to satisfy my interest and better prepare me for my future career. Therefore, when I discovered the Econ and Mathematics joint-concentration program, where I could have the opportunity to study and major in economics and applied mathematics, I thought it fit exactly what I wanted to do in higher education. But BU is more than just strong academically for me. BU's values of inclusiveness and engagement with the community align with my own, BU places a strong emphasis on application of studies through student research, study abroad and internship programs and BU is located in the heart of a major city, yet maintains a strong campus life. For all of these reasons, BU is my dream school, and I'm looking forward to being an active student in its community.
There was a very abrupt jump between ' found myself challenged by this question. However, I came up with an answer of "I plan to study a few things before I make up my mind."
I knew I had many interests and wanted to delve into more than one subject in my higher education. Growing up, my interests (such as?)made me knowledgeable in many areas, but hardER to decide what I want to study in college. For me, BU takes away the difficulty of choosing and gives me the opportunity to not only study in several areas, but major in more than one subject.
Though today I can say Economics is my most keen interest and most likely what I'll study in college,
^ Although I can say that I want to study Economics today, ______
Made those adjustments, but do you think this is worse or better than the previous version?
Perhaps you could speak a little of what programs they have that attract you. For example if you were applying to study biology, talk about their biology programs.
Good job so far and good luck!
If you've got a moment it'd be lovely if you could take a look at mine.
The second version is a lot better than the first. If you show them that you have spent good time researching specific details about the university they will be impressed.
So when you say things like, " BU's values of inclusiveness and engagement with the community align with my own," perhaps cite an example of a program or an action that they have done to show you that they value inclusiveness or engagement.
For example, if I was writing this same essay for Harvard, and I said something like, " Harvard's ethnic diversity appeals to me for bla bla bla reasons" , I would then cite with facts about how diverse there student body actually instead of just making a vague, carpet bombing statement. I would say something like, my high school was not saturated with many cultures and the fact that Harvard has 11% international, 8% African American, and 7% Hispanic students excites me.
Anyone who’s applying to a selective college in the U.S. will likely be asked a seemingly simple question: Why do you want to attend this school?
It may be phrased succinctly — “Why Brown?” to name one highly selective school — or as part of a more complicated question: “Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application?” or: “How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying.”
Whether concise or wordy, these prompts are really asking the same thing.
Students are often surprised that they are asked to defend their choice of college; shouldn’t the effort they’ve put into (researching, applying, and paying a fee) be enough?
In the first place, colleges want to admit students who will enroll. Their yield rates (the percentages of accepted students who choose to attend) are crucial factors in a their publicity campaigns and perceived prestige; they're also used in rankings. One way that colleges look desirable to prospective students is, in short, to be desirable to accepted applicants.
Generally speaking, the more selective a school, the greater the number of factors it’ll consider to determine whom to admit.
Colleges want to know how much you want them, a factor they call demonstrated interest. Other parts of an application — grades, test scores, activities, recommendations — being roughly equal, decisions at selective colleges are often made because a student does a good job of conveying the desire to be there.
The “Why School X?” question speaks to the idea of fit. Colleges want students who will come back after their first year, and eventually graduate (preferably within six years). Schools use these rates of first-year retention and graduation (when they’re favorable) in marketing materials. Plus, college rankings often take them into account, as well.
So, the “Why?” question is important!
In my experience, however, most students answer this question last, as something of an afterthought — perhaps with the notion that the response is (or should be) self-evident. I’d bet that most applicants spend a fraction of the time answering this question that they spend on their other essays. But the answer to this question needs to be just as compelling as anything else you write.
Here are some examples of what to do and what not to do, followed up by a discussion of what made the good ones good and what would help make the not-so-good ones better.
Other Students Explain “Why?”
Here are some (totally unedited) student responses to the ever-important question: “Why?”
Student 1: Boston University
I want to study at a reputed university, with a stimulating environment as I have always lived in major cities where I can go to cafes, to hear music, to museums and sports events as part of my everyday life. Boston University has become one of the best in the US; it has top professors and is located in the middle of a historic city, and accessible to everything. It has a strong international relations program which would be perfect for me since I have attended a diverse international school. I noticed all these things when I visited. Given Boston University’s notable reputation and history, I would be excited by the opportunity to attend such a strong and knowledgeable institution . . .
Student 2: Northwestern University
The most unique trait of Northwestern University is its focus on undergraduate research. I am very interested in biology and chemistry; I just love working in laboratories. In the “Gymnasium”, the Swiss pre-university school, we were often confronted with a problem that we had to solve in groups. Such problems could be as easy as distinguishing water from ethanol, or as complex as building a hydrogen fuel cell. To find a solution we were given time in our laboratory and could ask for practically anything we needed . . .
A further very good quality of Northwestern University is its rather high rank and great reputation. I seek a good education and definitely appreciate it, if the university I attend is renowned. If I went to a second-rank college I would be better off studying in Switzerland . . .
A last point is the location: It’s just great; right next to the lake, in the nice and cosy town of Evanston. You have the advantages of a small town, such as lots of greenery and a quiet environment, and yet Chicago is very close and accessible . . .
Student 3: Northwestern University
(This is a different student, applying six years after Student 2.)
Because I intend to pursue a career in photojournalism, I see the Medill School of Journalism as the Holy Grail of education. Offering the impressive intellectual and technical resources of a prestigious research university, Northwestern would provide me the confidence of knowing that I would be getting the most forward-focused education in journalism.. . . The quarter system and Medill’s internship requirements create an ideal confluence for exactly that experience . . .
Northwestern has a gorgeous location. When I visited the campus, I was smitten with Evanston’s cozy feel. Although I initially pictured myself in the heart of a city, Evanston eclipsed this vision. The small town environment is comforting without being limiting, offering plenty of cafés, restaurants, and shops to explore . . . Meanwhile, Northwestern’s scenic lakeside location is the perfect retreat for studying or relaxing . . .
Brimming with enthusiasm, Northwestern has infectious school spirit. Because I assume leaving home after eighteen years will be difficult, I count on school pride to bring me a sense of community and belonging. From the famed painted rock to the fountain spewing purple water, the robust loyalty to the university captures my heart . . . In short, Northwestern is my dream school because it embodies everything I value: journalism, incomparable internship opportunities, dance, and an inspiring atmosphere . . .
Student 4: New York University
(You may find this essay posted on Parke Muth's blog)
I’m done being a New Yorker born and raised in sheltered suburbia — I’m ready to get slapped in the face by the unforgiving hand of NYC and to become a true Noo Yawk-ah. While not an accurate representation of what all NYU students think, the NYU Secrets Facebook page constantly posts the thoughts of NYU students resenting the bittersweet independence of such a large, non-traditional school, but at the same time falling in love with the knowledgeable and nurturing faculty and classes.
I’m done dancing around on the outskirts of the arena — I’m ready to plop myself right into the frenzied mist of action. No walls insulate NYU from the sprawling labyrinth of NYC, which is ideal for a unique and exciting college experience . . .
Breaking Them Down
Would Student 1 get into BU?
Her response could have been used for nearly any large or mid-sized urban university. Do I, an admissions officer, believe that this student has chosen my unique university with care? No. Do I learn anything from this response that I don’t already know from elsewhere in the student’s application? No.
And why not?
Student 1 speaks in generalities: Boston University is prestigious, located in a historic city, provides access to concerts and museums, and has an international relations major. She lists facts that the admission staff already knows — facts that are not even unique to BU. The personal things she writes, about living in cities and attending “a diverse international school,” would be featured on her Common Application.
Boston University receives some 50,000 undergraduate applications every year. If you read hundreds like this every cycle, would you be compelled to admit any of the students who wrote them?
What about Students 2, 3, and 4?
Though they’ve been edited for length here, their essays are much more detailed and convincing than Student 1’s response. They all got into the schools they applied to, but let’s examine their responses closely to find out why.
Notice that the two Northwestern applicants, six years apart and from different countries, not only described the college’s physical setting but talked about the same things — the lake, coffee shops, and coziness.
Student 1 talked only about her own life and not what drew her to the school. In other words, she didn’t do a great job of demonstrating interest.
While it’s a good idea to mention the location and vibe of a campus, applicants should be aware that thousands of other students, year after year, have done the same thing. It’s a paradox: Colleges attempt to distinguish themselves through their locations — mountainous backdrops, subway stops, — but talking too much about this stuff can lead you astray. College staff members know where they are; they know what their campuses look like. Spending valuable space describing a school’s location leaves you with less room to talk about how good a fit you’d be.
Despite colleges’ intense self-promotion, parroting facts back at admissions officers in your essay can waste valuable application real estate — especially when you’re working with a low word limit. Students 2 and 3 both mention rank and prestige, but they’re sure to tie these to their own application and plans. Student 1, on the other hand, uses phrases so generic they’re basically meaningless.
Colleges asking the “Why us?” question know they are good schools, and they know their rankings. You don’t need to remind them of these facts.
In fact, I suspect colleges that cap applicants’ responses to 100 words are doing so in order to keep students from discussing things that don’t connect with them personally. “Why us?” essays, especially the shortest ones, need you to focus on heart, not head.
Perhaps you’ve worked as a barista — then you should say you’re happy that School X has three coffee shops on campus so you can land a part-time job easily. If you’re a painter from the desert, say how thrilled you are by the prospect of living near a lake and learning the subtleties of using blues and greens rather than browns and oranges. These are more personal, and ultimately more effective, than reciting statistics from brochures. That’s what I mean by heart.
Answering the “Why?” Question Yourself
Here are some things to avoid, followed by some things I encourage you to do.
Don’t mention a college’s reputation or rank.
In my opinion — unless you’ve got a very strategic reason for doing so — this will only occupy valuable space.
Don’t mention the college’s founder.
It may seem like a good idea to talk about the importance of Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin, but it’s probably not. Admissions officers at the University of Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania don’t need to be reminded of who started their institutions!
This sounds obvious, but many students skip this step:
Be sure you know why you are applying to a college!
If the best you can muster is its reputation or ranking, then you haven’t looked closely enough to find a good match for your needs and interests. Believe it or not, a student who is happy at one top-tier institution may be totally unhappy at another. Doing research before answering this question is crucial. Visit the school, talk to current students, go to prospective-student programs, and dig into websites.
Keep a journal as you do research.
Each entry should have two columns: head and heart. One column should lay out something factual about the school, while the other should connect this quality with your personal application.
Start with the “head.”
This includes facilities, scenery, the strength of a particular department, location, size, and course offerings. But don’t stop there.
Connect it to “heart.”
Ask yourself why these objective qualities are meaningful to you. How will you use these elements of the campus or its community to your advantage if you’re admitted? How will you contribute to each if you’re admitted?
Think in terms of high school.
Is this college like or different from your high school? Why are these similarities or differences important to you? Maybe — like Students 2, 3, and 4 — you want your college experience to be a big change. On the other hand, you can say that you're looking forward to attending a small liberal arts college because you spent your formative years in an elementary school with only six other students in your class.
A Final Word: Because
I hope these suggestions are helpful as you search for colleges and write applications. Considering why you want to attend a school isn’t just important in helping colleges determine the ultimate admissions decision, it’s also important for you — after all, you’re deciding where to spend the next four years of your life! Just don’t save the “Why us?” question for 11:30 p.m. the night before the application is due, and you’ll be fine!
Find further guidance about getting into college from Noodle Experts like Amy Garrou. You can also use Noodle to discover which colleges are best for you.