6 Most Common Mistakes When Writing “Why This College” Essay

“Why do you want to attend this college/ university?” is the question, and the answer is not easy. It takes research, and that may be the best thing you can do for yourself- know before you go. Many times this question may be hidden within another question so make sure you are answering the prompt, directly, without a floral introduction to the meat of your answer.  Your essays help colleges evaluate your interest in their school. They want to know why you decided to apply to their particular school and if what they offer matches what you want. They are assessing whether you’re a good fit for their community and whether you’ll be able to contribute to and enrich the school’s learning environment inside and outside of the classroom. Will you attend, get involved, be engaged, graduate in 4 years, and be an active alumnus?

Mistake #1: Writing about the school’s size, location, reputation, weather, or ranking.

Why shouldn’t you do this? Because that’s what many other students are writing about and you don’t want to blend in. Take a hint from Emory University, whose “Why us?” prompt used to read:

Many students decide to apply to Emory University based on our size, location, reputation, and yes, the weather. Besides these valid reasons as a possible college choice, why is Emory University a particularly good match for you?

Or check out Georgia Tech’s old prompt:

Beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech? 

Clearly, their admissions readers are tired of reading about those things.

Mistake #2: Simply using emotional language to demonstrate fit.

Telling the school that you walked onto campus and “it just felt right” is a) something else a lot of students say and b) doesn’t the reader understand how are a good match for the school. And, for that matter, neither does the statement, “I can see myself rooting for the Wildcats at MetLife Stadium on Sundays.”

Mistake #3: Screwing up the mascot, stadium, team colours or names of any important people or places on campus

Why avoid this? It’s the quickest way to show you’re a sloppy researcher. In the example above, the Wildcats play neither at MetLife Stadium nor on Sundays. Also, the “I can see myself in [insert school colours here]” is a cliché in the “Why this college” essay. Avoid it too.

Mistake #4: Parroting the brochures or website language. 

It could be that the person reading your essay and evaluating your application actually wrote the words you’re copying and pasting.

“On the one hand, it shows that a student has actually researched us and I appreciate that,” says Brian Liechti of Warren Wilson College. “On the other, as one of those people who wrote the words you’re copying, I’d rather see evidence of how what I wrote resonated with you—do we share values? What stood out or spoke to you in that brochure or on that web page? That’s what I really want to see.”

Mistake #5: Describing traditions the school is well-known for.

In fact, find out the school’s common traditions (like throwing toast on the field at Penn, for example, or painting the rock at Northwestern) and then don’t write about those things. Why? Everyone and their brother already has. How do you learn these? Google the name of the school and the word “traditions.” 

Mistake #6: Thinking of this as only a “Why them” essay.

The school knows it’s awesome. “You probably don’t need to tell us about the beautiful Nott Memorial,” says Nicole Buenzli of Union College. “I pass the Nott every day, it’s on every brochure we create, and we all know it has 16 sides!”

Instead, think of this as a “Why we are perfect for each other” essay. 

In fact, imagine you’re on a date and the person sitting across from you leans in to ask, “So, why do you like me?” Don’t just say, “Because you’re hot,” or, “My auntie says a relationship with you will improve my job prospects.” When it comes to the “us” in “Why us?” think of it this way:

“Us” ≠ the college you’re applying to

“Us” = the school + you

In order to prove you and the school are destined to be together, make connections between the two of you.