Many colleges like to know why you are interested in going to their school. What should a student touch on here? How much research needs to be done while constructing answers? What are some responses to avoid?
At the risk of being flippant, let me point how an ill-considered answer can fail to help an applicant:
- Colleges near 10,000 foot peaks served by ski lifts know that some students are hoping to ski.
- Colleges whose campuses are touched by waves and sand know about sunscreen.
- Boston’s colleges know that 10% of the population of the city is made up of students who love being with one another.
Simply put, a useful answer to the frequent question, “Why College U.”, is rarely about geography alone.
Of course, a student with a declared passion for geology might truly want to go where the history of the earth’s crust is visible with the naked eye. That short answer is worthwhile and can be a pleasure for the admissions reader who is bleary-eyed from routine responses.
It is best if the student has already done their research before being faced with this common short answer question. After all, if a student has no good idea why they are applying, the admissions folks might not waste their time and effort on an “Admit” letter. If the student does not already know the reason to apply to a particular college when this question is the next to be answered, it is certainly important to do some research. The answer might lie in the elements of the core curriculum, the presence of “green” initiatives, good access to off-campus arts, or any number of other assets. With a little effort, any student can find elements of an appropriate college that resonate with their history and aspirations.
To make these few words count (some answers are limited to 150 words or 1,000 characters) the student must find something about each college that fits them in a personal way. A useful “Why College U.” answer will reinforce what the reader knows about the applicant from other sections of the admissions file.
Larry is a graduate of Cornell University and the Director of the College Admissions Program at a consulting company. He is a Professional Member of the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA), a member of the Higher Education Consultant’s Association (HECA), a member of the New Jersey Association for College Admissions Counseling (NJACAC) and a member of the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC).
Several years ago, Brown University was featured on several episodes of ‘The O.C.’ Needless to say, its admissions committee was no more impressed with applicants who selected the school for that reason than they were –- or are for that matter –- impressed with applicants who apply simply because Brown is a member of the Ivy League.
Every university seeks to admit an incoming class who genuinely wants to attend that particular school –- not just for the name the college may carry, but for the educational opportunities and resources the school offers. Students really need to take the time to research what makes the school they are applying to special –- for them. They then need to mention those aspects in their applications. This is a key reason why specificity is so important. (The fact that your college education likely represents the largest personal investment you will ever undertake is a completely different topic.)
To simply say, ‘I want to go to X University because of the great academics,’ doesn’t tell the admissions committee much. There are a lot of schools that have strong academic programs and you could go to any one of them. Quite frankly, these schools have worked hard (often over the course of hundreds of years) to clearly differentiate themselves. Selecting a college is a life-altering decision. You owe it to yourself as well as the school to know why attending their particular institution is in your best interests.
When you mention something specific –- for example, what you liked about a certain class or professor (if you have had a chance to sit in on a class), or a notable alum who has the same career track that you aspire to –- your reasons for wanting to attend the school will be more memorable.
Finally, applicants should never write about something they don’t really care about just for the sake of appearing to know the school. The most important thing you can do is to be authentic. College admissions officers can spot a fake a mile away.