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The Why This College Essay: How to do it

As students start working on their college essays, they struggle to make it distinct and original and specific and really aren’t sure about how to convince the school that they really do want to go there.

education Updated: Aug 18, 2017 15:11 IST
College Essay,Study abroad,Applying abroad
As students start working on their college essays, they struggle to make it distinct and original and specific and really aren’t sure about how to convince the school that they really do want to go there. (Getty Images)

As students start working on their college essays, one of the more challenging ones they tend to face isn’t the wacky or the emotionally searching topics. It’s actually the one about giving their reasons for choosing a particular college.

Students, we work with, tend to struggle with this topic more partly because it is so open ended. The reason behind the fumble could also be the fact that students in India rarely have the chance to visit a college abroad and get a sense of what the school is really like. So when they approach this essay, students often write about mascots, professors, and clubs, and end up writing a paper that feels superficial at best.

Students struggle to make their essays distinct and original and specific and really aren’t sure about how to convince the school that they really do want to go there. It makes what should be a fairly simple essay far more difficult and they end up frustrated and overwhelmed, which is just another sinkhole of stress in the already overwhelming process of seeking admission.

So here are my top three tips for approaching your Why This College essays:

1. Treat the college like you would like to be treated

So often I see students prepare one essay and just cut and paste the name of the school. This is a terrible way to approach this task. First of all, imagine if the situations were reversed and your application was substituted with someone else’s. You could be lumped in with 10 other people, who had the same qualifications, similar scores, similar activities, and were also from India and even from your own city or region.

How would you feel? You want the school to treat you like an individual, to learn about you and your hopes and dreams and interests. You don’t want to be treated like an interchangeable unit and want to be seen as you, the unique person that you are. You should treat the school the exact same way.

When you write this essay look at what makes this school different. Every school on your list probably shares a bunch of qualities. So what makes this one unique? It’s not the clubs or the classes because, frankly, most of those will be similar or the same. What is it about the school that you haven’t seen anywhere else? What is it about the philosophy of learning there that excites you? Does the school claim to want its students to engage strongly in the world? How does it actually do that, what programs are in place for that, and how do those excite you? Is this a program focused on interdisciplinary learning? Why does that work for you?

Drill into the bedrock of what makes this school unique and not what makes it like everything else you are looking at, and for the love of god, be specific. After all, that’s what you want them to be with you.

2. Remember it’s not just the school but the people you will meet

So many students forget that there is going to be a whole community of people who will also attend the school with them. These people are going to be your friends, your classmates, your collaborators, your future business partners, your fellow app developers, and your colleagues. You will learn as much from your fellow students as you will from your teachers and they are going to be the people who really define your college experience and your educational environment. So thinking and writing about whom you want to meet in college, who you will have around you to inspire you and educate you about the world is really important. Who do you think this school will attract? What kind of people are you excited to be in college with? What is the average student like at this school and how does that excite you? You aren’t going to be in college alone. So stop writing like you are.

3. Professors come and go, school’s philosophy stays the same

Students often write about professors and classes in these essays. While that’s not a terrible idea, it’s often a little off because, frankly, professors leave a school. Unless they have tenure, chances are they might be moving on. So, if you as an applicant talk about loving this one teacher or this one class, you aren’t really seeing the whole picture and gushing about something that might not exist in a year. So if there is a specific program, a class that’s always held, a professor who is the head of a department that you love, discuss them away but reciting names of people and courses like a list doesn’t show the college that you really understand the school, it just shows that you can use a website.

This essay, in sum, should be fun. It should be a chance for you to place yourself at this amazing school and really think about what it is you love about this place you are planning to spend your four formative years in, so treat it that way. Think of it as a chance to get excited about your future and let that excitement live on the page. As long as you have that, you should be fine.

(Ganeriwala is the co-founder of Collegify. Views expressed here are personal.)

First Published: Aug 18, 2017 15:11 IST