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Score at the Top Blog

Why This School? How to respond to a common application essay question.

Monday, August 01, 2011

With the pleasure of being at the top of the heap—the senior in high school—most teens who enter their final year are different from students below them in one significant way: they have an eye on the college process looming with ever more certainty.

The best of the best at the admissions process are bookkeepers and detail fanatics! These students have their plastic box from Office Depot into which every piece of college literature has made its way. Folders contain letters and catalogues. There is, perhaps, a printout of the latest simple spreadsheet with schools listed, application due dates, the names of teachers who will provide recommendation letters, etc. And one spreadsheet column for essays. Ah yes, essays, universally perceived as the hardest hurdle in the application process.

It’s true. The essay is the toughest and most insightful aspect of the application, and most schools require one or more. All the rest of the application is merely data input. But the essay requires time, energy, thoughtfulness, hours of drafting and re-drafting. That’s because of all the elements of the application, the essay(s) will contain a unique picture, an element of personality, an angle that is nowhere else to be found in the college application. Because colleges rarely offer individual interviews, what with the sheer number of applicants (thirty thousand applications for about 6 thousand freshman spots, for instance!), how you write your essay is paramount.

Many schools ask this simple, justified question among others: Why do you want to come to our institution? Your answer often takes the form of a single paragraph, but sometimes the school requests a longer response. To reply, you best serve your chances by visiting the campuses of your choice, where you take notes, visit buildings, sit in on a class or two, check out the student union, chat some current students, and generally take down names of campus community members with whom you’ve interacted. How come?

Schools know they are attractive to some segment of high school students. Whether urban, suburban, rural, or anywhere in between, campuses are beautiful in the eyes of the pre-disposed student who ventures to them. So don’t tell the admissions officer that the place is pretty. She knows that already. Explain why you think the school is an academic fit. Indicate how, when you were on the 2nd floor of “Smith Hall,” you visited Professor Ayala’s psych class, and you were struck by the interaction between teacher and student. “That’s the kind of community I’d like to be a part of.”

First, the reader will know that you have visited. That’s no small thing in considering your intentions about attending. Second, you demonstrate the presence of mind to remember the name of the building, professor and class subject. Hey, says the reader, I’ve got a student with enough aplomb to recall Smith Hall, second floor, and write about it. There’s a degree of maturity there. Relate to the reader what you want to study, and then, perhaps, you can talk about the physical environment of the school in response to this particular question.

Be sure to write carefully and have your parents and/or college counselor review your draft before you enter it on line. Be savvy. Show your savvy. Don’t wait until this last minute to write. Senior year, and the clock is ticking.