The “Why Us?” Essay

It’s become a staple of the college application process – the “Why Us?” supplemental essay!  As colleges review applications in a holistic manner (what does that mean?), they look at grades, test scores (sometimes but also sometimes not!), activities and leadership, recommendations from your teachers, the quality of your writing, and finally, in many cases, how well you will fit into their community.

Think about what “fit” might mean, from the perspective of a selective (or super-duper selective) college:  they aren’t asking for a love letter.  They aren’t asking you to fangirl them.  They’re trying to find out who you’ll be on their campus, and how you’ll contribute, both inside and outside the classroom.  What kind of roommate, teammate, classmate you’ll be.  That’s fit.  The “Why Us” essays are their way of asking you not just what you’ll TAKE from them, but also what you have to offer their community.

In the video above, I give you a few tips about what to include and what not to include in your “Why Us?” essay, and I demonstrate for you how to do the “do” items.  Here’s a quick summary:

Why Us Essay DON’Ts:

  • Talk about rankings.  It makes you sound kind of shallow, to be honest.  And you aren’t part of the reason they’re ranked so high.  Sounds like:  Fangirl.  Doesn’t get you in.
  • Talk about location, or the weather.  They know where they are!  And where they are is just a small part of the education you’ll receive there, if anything.  It’s great for you to want a change of scenery, and to experience snow, for example, but this does not convince them that you’d make a good addition to their campus community.
  • Talk about sports.  Telling a college you’ve been a fan of their football team since you were 7 is just not compelling.  You may see them primarily as a sports powerhouse, but they don’t – they want to know the more intellectual reasons for you to want to attend.  Fangirl.  Doesn’t get you in!

Why Us Essay DOs:

  • Find their mission statement and show how you connect with it!  Research each college and look for their mission and/or values.  Find a little phrase within each one that resonates with you.  Tell a story about a time in your life when you were involved in something that relates to their mission or vision.  SHOW them (don’t tell them) how you FIT into their already-established priorities.
  • Share what you like about their ACADEMIC offerings!  What major or minor would you pursue, what classes do they have that you like, what concentrations or minors do they offer?  How are YOUR academic interests and accomplishments connected to their academic offerings?
  • Dig into the people that make them who they are.  Professors are the heart of a university.  No matter what you study, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with professors inside and outside the classroom.  What are their professors researching?  Which specific professor would you like to study or research with?  Name names.  This shows a college you’ve done your homework.

In short, colleges view themselves primarily as academic institutions, and when they ask the “Why Us?” essay, they’re really asking you to present yourself as an intellectual person seeking to uplevel your education.  Help them see you that way!

We have lots more blog posts to help you with essays:

We hope all of this helps.  And if you need a little hand-holding through your college search and application process, please feel free to get in touch!  That’s what we do – and we’ve been doing it for 11 years.

By the way – here’s advice from Johns Hopkins about what they’re looking for in their supplemental essay:


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