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  • Bentham Team

Writing the Why Us essay

Before we talk about how to write the “Why Us” essay, let’s talk for a moment about what supplements are and how to budget your time to write them well. Many applicants make the mistake of devoting most of their time and energy to the personal statement, only to discover late in the game that each school to which they apply requires a variety of supplemental essays. The term “supplement” can mislead students into assuming these essays are of secondary importance.

In fact, supplements can be even more important than the Common App personal statement, because they answer the college’s own questions about what you would contribute as a scholar to the courses you will take and the major you choose, how you would use the resources of the college and whether you will make a positive contribution to the college community. Don’t view these questions as a chore or as a test, but as an invitation. Working on them should feel less like a tedious series of hoops to climb through than like a chance to talk about yourself without being interrupted. Who doesn’t want that?

Supplements do need to be well-written, original, and focused. They take time. Ideally, you will finish your college essay over the summer, revise it at the beginning of the school year, and then spend several weeks on the supplementals for your early action and early decision schools. The most important and challenging of these is the “Why Us?” essay, which can range in assigned length from 100 to 600 words. Why does the college or university want to know your answer to this question? Everyone wants to be wanted. Are you a student who knows the unique offerings of this institution? Are you excited about this particular school, not just using it as a backup? Have you been paying attention to its special qualities?

Do your research

In this essay, you want to write about how you and the university to which you are applying are a perfect fit. In order to do this, you have to do research. You want to find programs, classes, and professors that you are genuinely excited about. This does not mean saying you are interested in taking Introduction to Economics, or Computer Science Fundamentals - any school will have these classes. But if you say that you are interested in taking Professor Soandso’s summer field course on Water and Soil Sustainability at the Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island because you have been working for AquaClear, an organization devoted to providing clean water around the world, you are demonstrating fit.

You should also learn about the school’s mission and philosophy beyond the boilerplate statement on the website or in the brochure. Maybe the school has a travel abroad program that fits your interests (but be specific - what country, and why), or they let you design your own major, or their premed program requires you to take liberal arts courses, and you like that. Google around - it can be laborious to go through all the pages of a university website looking for an answer. Sometimes it’s more efficient to see how another website characterizes your school. Google “What’s unique about…” and go from there!

Common Mistakes Students Make on “Why Us?” Essays

Mistake #1: Writing about the college's size, location, reputation, or climate. These things are going to be true of several other colleges, and they don’t reveal how you are going to use their resources or contribute to life on campus.

Mistake #2: Simply using emotional language to demonstrate fit. More on that below

Mistake #3: Thinking of this as only a "Why us" essay. Every essay is actually about you, the applicant. Here you are explaining how this college is right for YOU.

Effective Strategies Students Employ

  1. Decide on an angle. What is your singular passion that everything in your application supports and celebrates?

  2. Research schools with an eye towards things that dovetail with your passion.

  3. Find a field of study and a niche within that. In the example above, the student’s interest in clear water, within the environmental studies major, showed him off as a purposeful student who would be an ideal candidate for a University program.

  4. Research the activities, programs, course guide, clubs, research opportunities, alumni network, etc. looking for "fits" - things at this particular school that fit with your mission and your major.

  5. Outline your essay - short as it is, you will want to decide in advance exactly which "fits" you need to fit into the word count.

  6. Jump right into how you intend to use the resources of the institution. Do not merely list, or start by praising the college. They know the college, they want to know you.

  7. Structure this essay in thirds. Who you are, what the college offers, how you will grow at the college and the college will benefit from your presence.

What emotional language is, and why you should avoid it

Sometimes a student wants to talk about how much they love the school, how happy they will be there, how much they loved going to the football games growing up, and how much pride they will feel walking the halls. This emotional language does not really communicate how you will contribute to the classes and activities, how will you use the unique programs and features of the institution, or how you will contribute to life on campus.

Example: using emotional language to demonstrate fit, versus using detailed knowledge of the college and of your own interests.

  1. When I visited the beautiful campus, I really loved the way people were having intellectual conversations on the lawn. This made me happy because I love intellectual conversations.

  2. When I visited the campus I noticed how everyone was talking about what they were studying with enthusiasm. I believe this enthusiasm results from Brown’s open curriculum, which allows students to study only what they’re interested in, even if that means designing their own course of study. I know I study best when I am intrinsically motivated, and because I love both history and cultural anthropology, I look forward to constructing a major centered on how cultural myths determine historical events.

Writing a great “Why Us” essay can really tip the scales in persuading the admissions officers that you’re right for their school. If you are still worried about writing a successful response to this question, talk to Bentham Admissions about guiding you through the process.


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