College Admission Essays: Answering the Most Common Short-Answer Question (page 2)

By — John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Updated on Apr 30, 2014

Dealing with “Why us” questions

When the romantic partner of your rosiest and most far-fetched fantasies finally calls, you may be tempted to ask, “Why me?” just so you can hear how wonderfully attractive you are. (I know, I know. In the real world the answer to “Why me?” is “because everyone else will probably turn me down,” but that’s not a suitable response for a college application.) The application version of the romantic “Why me?” is “Why us?” and resembles the following:

  • What first made you think of our college?
  • What aspects of this school influenced your decision to apply?
  • What experiences in your life prompted you to apply here?
  • Why are you a good match with our institution?
  • Discuss your reasons for applying to our school.
  • What characteristics of our school do you find most appealing?

You may imagine that the institution you’re applying to has a collective ego and that this sort of question requires you to stroke that ego a little. Well, you’re probably right! Institutions are made up of human beings, and human beings (you may have noticed) like to be appreciated. But rather than meaningless flattery, the admissions committee asks “Why us?” because they really want to know the answer. Keep these points in mind as you reply to the “Why us?” question:

  • In any sort of writing, specifics are better than generalities, but details are absolutely crucial in a “Why us?” response. A canned, vague statement such as “I want to learn and your school will help me do so” tells the admissions committee one of two things: a) you don’t know much about their college or b) you have put very little thought into your choice. Remember, admissions committees want to admit students who will stay at their college through graduation, and applicants who actually know something about the place they’re applying to are a better bet. If you give the impression that you stabbed a pin randomly into a college list in order to come up with a selection, the committee will not be pleased. They may rightly assume that you’re too lazy to think carefully about your future and to check up on the place where you want to spend the next chunk of your life.
  • If you’ve actually visited the campus, refer to that experience, citing buildings and activities by name. If you sat in on a class, explain why the teacher or students impressed you. Once again, be specific.
  • If relatives or friends attended the university you’re applying to or the university representative visited your high school for an information session, you may cite their comments, explaining what impressed you.
  • Mention your own educational or career plans in relation to the college. (I’d like to study Egyptian pyramids with Professor Tomb of your archeology department and then excavate in conjunction with the Ministry of Antiquities, for example.) At the risk of annoying you I’ll say it again: Be specific!

Time for some examples. Here is an example of a short-answer response for an application to an institution I’m calling “Freedom University,” which is not the college’s real name. The student who wrote the “Freedom U” selection had visited the college and interacted with current students, as the essay makes quite evident. The student’s response shows that she understands the college’s self image and its pride in an “anything goes” attitude.

Now run your eyeballs over this short-answer example. The student author was not able to visit the school personally, but she did attend an information session held at her high school and speak with alumni and current students. Her answer focuses on the college’s location and her perception of its quality of life. (Note: The name of the university and its representative have been altered.)

One last example: The writer who composed this short-answer essay also relates to campus atmosphere (once again I’ve changed the name of the school) and includes information about specific areas of study in which the college is particularly strong.

The answer to “Why us?” may be placed in more than one spot in the application. Check out this essay example, a student’s answer to a question inquiring about a book that had a significant effect on his thinking. The student chose a book written by a professor at the college and indicated his desire to take a course with that individual. Note: This student was sincere and honest in his reply; he really did like the book. Don’t choose a book you haven’t read just to impress the admissions committee. What will you do if the admissions interviewer wants to discuss the book with you?

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