Writing the Why Us? Essay

Of the 22 colleges currently on my spreadsheet of essay prompts, over half of them have the prompt “Why Us?”  They ask it in different ways and expect different word counts.

  • Please tell us what you find most appealing about Columbia and why. (300 words)
  • What influenced you to apply to Harvey Mudd College? What about the HMC curriculum and community appeals to you? (500 words)
  • Why Brown? (100 words)
  • How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania?  Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying. (650 words)
  • How will opportunities at Purdue support your interests, both in and out of the classroom? (100 words)
  • Beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech? (150 words)

Regardless of how the “Why Us?” question is asked, it wants to know two things: what your goals are and how will you contribute to the school. The information needs to be conveyed in such a way that no other person could have written the essay and no other college’s name could be substituted in the essay. 

Your goals, fortunately, can be used across all of the schools you are applying to with a little appropriate tweaking.  How you will contribute, however, is unique to each school and takes research.  It took me a while to understand how to respond to this question of contribution, but when I realized that telling the school what you intend to do on their campus answers their question of contribution it became much easier to get my head around.  

When you do your research and find something unique to the school that you like (therefore not its location, weather, size, reputation) you no longer have to gush using overly emotional and vacuous words.  Instead, you can get specific and relate what you like to your goals – much more convincing. Get into the specific academic programs and their curriculum (actual courses that sound cool to you), professors’ research, clubs on campus that you intend to get involved in, off-campus opportunities are fine too…in each case, relate it to the goals you told them about.  

A tip regarding your research:  Don’t describe their programs to them, they know what their programs and classes are and don’t need you to waste precious word count on what they already know.  Particularly avoid quoting from the website at any length. Do, of course, connect what you like about the program to your goals.

Last, the Why Us? essay is an essay and, like all the others, it is an opportunity for you to convey your character.  Wherever relevant add specific details of experiences that provide the reader with a better understanding of who you are and what makes you tick.