How to Write a ‘Why School’ Essay
Inserting the university into your personal narrative
Among the most common of the supplemental school essays will be the ‘Why School’ essay type. Within these, no matter that fanciful language that might accompany the prompt, at its essence it is asking you to explain, “Why do you want to attend X university?”
Chances are, depending on the schools you are applying to, you might have to write at least a couple, if not more, ‘Why School’ essays. As with all essay writing for your applications, you want to be cognizant of how you spend your time working as well as how well you respond to the presented prompts.
What is most important about these particular ‘Why School’ essays, is that one complete blanket essay will simply not cover it. Each essay does need to be tailored specifically for the university you are applying to. That said, there might be a few elements that you are able to reuse across each of the essays to save yourself time. Below I’ll guide you through how to make each essay stand out to the university and a few smart ways to reuse what you’ve already written.
What they want from this essay
Often especially with the ‘Why School’ essays, they are requested from universities with a large applicant pool. These schools might attract a many potential students either because of their prestige or popular state school, but because they have such a large range of applicants they are trying to narrow down the pool by seeing who has a deeply invested interest in the university and who might simply be applying on a whim or putting in less effort. Schools want to admit students who are likely to enroll and who will be committed students to the university. Thus, showing thoughtful and sincere interest is a must.
How to show interest
As with all essays, this isn’t a time to throw every element you can think of into the essay. While you can talk about a range of things from academics to student life to location, not everything has to appear in the essay. Being thoughtful and intentional about what you elaborate upon will be unique to each person, but will ensure that you have substance and not surface. Take time to do your research and consider for yourself without the frame of the essay, simply, why do you like the university?
I think starting with the personal reflections can often lead to deeper reasoning and give you direction for you research later. In ‘Why School’ essays, many students might even include what their feelings and impressions were when they visited campus and talked to students or did a summer program. It’s good to let them know that you feel comfortable and excited about their campus for certain reasons, and moreover, that you are feeling yourself fit into their campus environment. I’ve seen students write this as their impression talking with a current student, perhaps someone said something about their time being a current student that had a profound impact and made it into the essay. People have also written about how they felt walking around campus or participating in summer activities on campus. This can all help to connect you more deeply into the fabric of the university and emphasize your familiarity and enthusiasm. (This shouldn’t necessarily be the entire essay, but it can be one element that helps to make it your experience.)
Of course, perhaps you’re not able to visit every single school you want to apply to, and that is entirely okay. Nowadays university websites have a plethora of information at your fingertips. It’s easy enough to find points of entry to showcase why their school is such a good fit for you. Often, a good place to begin here is considering what resources and opportunities do they have in your area of study? What are other things that are important to you that they offer? Is there anything particularly special about their location that will be beneficial to you, either in terms of study or getting access to appropriate work experience?
I’ve seen students do this quickly, and honestly, it shows. I can tell when someone has simply looked at a website, seen that there is a pre-medical program that offers shadowing, and plops it in the essay without really giving it any depth. Just mentioning things quickly and saying you like it isn’t enough. Why do you like it? What would this particular opportunity lend to you? In addition to say, this pre-medical program, more specifically, what does it offer that is unique? Are there other experiences in addition to this pre-medical program that would allow you to explore it in more ways? Does the school have an affiliated hospital? Support undergraduate research? Rounding it out into how a university not only offers one particular thing but has created a system that appeals to you will make it more concrete and help to show that you’ve done your research.
With the ‘Why School’ essays, what can often go unaddressed that I think is equally as important, is not just “What makes this school so great?” because they already know their programs, but moreover, “Why is this school a good fit for you?” What works the absolute best is inserting the school into your narrative. How will attending this school and what is has to offer get you from where you are today to where you want to go? That is the key to writing this essay.
As an example, I’ll use my hypothetical pre-medicine student. What would be a bit dull in the essay, would be the merely state that the school has a strong pre-medicine program, provides undergraduate research, and offers a program to work for a semester at the affiliated hospital. All good information to include, but just as I have it listed is a bit vague. It doesn’t say much about how it connects to you, the student. Instead, think about if there is anything unique about how their program is set up that appeals to you. Perhaps instead of just mentioning research is offered, tell them that you are particularly interested in Alzheimer’s research and want to study this with Doctor Z or Professor Y. Tell them about the lab that you want to work in to do hands on research. Including details like this and why they appeal to you help to make you your story versus a generic story, and helps to connect you into their university and why this is the place you need to do your studies.
How to recycle writing
As I mentioned, you might end up writing at least a couple supplemental essays. It is a good idea to view each one as a separate entity so that each on feels genuine in your response, however, in certain cases you might be able to reuse or rework some of your language.
For instance, if you are writing in part about how you’ll be applying pre-medicine, perhaps your sentences explaining your reasoning or areas of interest will be similar. This could be a small section that remains the same or mildly tweaked across the essays. It’s okay to reuse some of your writing, but you still need to give each essay proper care and attention.
The bulk of the essays should still be catered to the individual universities as discussed above. The more you are able to write clearly and sincerely about how the university ties into your goals, the better you will be responding to the prompt. To achieve the balance of what you might reuse versus what you need to write newly, I would suggest opening a fresh document for every essay. Do not just edit off an old one. Having a blank document allows you more flexibility to write ideas that pertain to this new university. You can be more selective about which sentences or phrases you bring over and how you might edit and adapt them. It’ll allow you to weave ideas more naturally, versus trying to fit a peg in a hole where it might not want to go.
Additionally, when writing these ‘Why Essays’ make sure 1000% you do not accidentally have the wrong university’s name in an essay. It happens more often than you think and it doesn’t matter how good your essay is. If the wrong name is in there, it’s careless, and you will not get admitted. They have other applicants who have taken the time to ensure their essays are pristine and will move along.
Overall, the ‘Why School’ essays are an excellent time for you to show how excited you are about the university. You can discuss anything that appeals to you from majors to study abroad to student life to community service. Be genuine, be specific, be enthusiastic, and you’ll be off to a solid start!
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