- SUGGESTED TOPICS
- The Magazine
- Managing Yourself
- Managing Teams
- Work-life Balance
- The Big Idea
- Data & Visuals
- Reading Lists
- Case Selections
- HBR Learning
- Topic Feeds
- Account Settings
- Email Preferences
How to Write a Personal Essay for Your College Application
What does it take to land in the “accept” (instead of “reject”) pile?
How can you write an essay that helps advance you in the eyes of the admissions officers and makes a real impression? Here are some tips to get you started.
- Start early. Do not leave it until the last minute. Give yourself time when you don’t have other homework or extracurriculars hanging over your head to work on the essay.
- Keep the focus narrow. Your essay does not have to cover a massive, earth-shattering event. Some people in their teens haven’t experienced a major life event. Some people have. Either way, it’s okay.
- Be yourself. Whether writing about a painful experience or a more simple experience, use the narrative to be vulnerable and honest about who you are. Use words you would normally use. Trust your voice and the fact that your story is interesting enough in that no one else has lived it.
- Be creative. “Show, don’t tell,” and that applies here — to an extent. The best essays typically do both. You can help your reader see and feel what you are describing by using some figurative language throughout your piece.
- Make a point. As you finish your final body paragraphs ask yourself “So what?” This will help you hone in on how to end your essay in a way that elevates it into a story about an insight or discovery you made about yourself, rather than just being about an experience you had.
Where your work meets your life. See more from Ascend here .
We’ve all heard about the dreaded “college essay,” the bane of every high school senior’s existence. This daunting element of the college application is something that can create angst for even the most accomplished students.
- AA Amy Allen is a writer, educator, and lifelong learner. Her freelance writing business, All of the Write Words , focuses on providing high school students with one-on-one feedback to guide them through the college application process and with crafting a thoughtful personal essay. A dedicated poet, Amy’s work has also been published in several journals including Pine Row Press , Months to Years, and Atlanta Review .
Just one more step to start saving colleges!
Sign up for an account or login to start your college list.
The True Purpose of College Essays
"What is the purpose of college essays?" Students who don't know the answer will struggle to write compelling essays. After all, how can writing be effective without knowing what the audience is looking for?
Students tend to give two answers: "I need to write essays because they're required to get into college," or "colleges want to learn something about me." Unfortunately, these answers lead students to focus on the wrong things in their essays. The full answer is:
The purpose of college essays is to prove you'll be successful in college and beyond.
Proving you'll be successful is very different than merely sharing something about yourself. We often see students writing about athletics, their love for music or a community service experience. However, scoring the game-winning goal doesn't prove you'll be successful. Enjoying playing or listening to music doesn't prove you'll be successful. Spending a few hours helping others doesn't prove you'll be successful.
Your personality traits are what prove you'll be successful, and your experiences prove you have these traits. At Prompt , we've identified five traits colleges look for in applicants : drive, intellectual curiosity, initiative, contribution and diversity of experiences. You can read more about the five traits in tomorrow's article, but first, we'll discuss the four ways colleges define success.
1. Colleges want students who will do well in their classes and will graduate. They're seeking students who are going to succeed academically. Colleges care about academic success, not just for altruistic reasons but also for monetary reasons. Students who drop out before graduating stop paying tuition. The best way to retain students is to ensure the students they admit have a high likelihood of being academically successful.
2. Colleges want students who will contribute positively to the school's community. They want a student body that will support each other and learn from one another. Each student should have a unique contribution to the college's community. Colleges know academics aren't the only reason to attend the college. The "network" and lifelong connections are just as valuable. Therefore, colleges seek to admit students who are highly likely to engage with other students and seek out ways to make the community better.
3. Colleges want students who will have a positive impact on whatever they choose to do in the future. They fulfill their mission by having successful alumni. While each college may have a different definition of a successful alum, all colleges seek out students who have traits that are likely to make them more successful after graduation, such as leadership, entrepreneurship and contributing to a group.
4. Colleges want students who the college can help achieve their goals or put them on a path to achieving them. Colleges are more likely to admit students who are a good fit for the college, and the college is a good fit for the students. Colleges like it when they feel they are uniquely positioned to help a student along their journey.
What you've accomplished in the past is indicative of what you're likely to do in the future. Sharing your experiences related to one or more of the five traits will help you prove you'll be successful. Students with the five traits are more likely to succeed academically. They're more likely to contribute to the college's community. They're more likely to succeed after they graduate.
Next, we'll discuss the five traits: drive, intellectual curiosity, initiative, contribution and diversity of experiences. You can also access free step-by-step guidance by creating a free account at Prompt.com that will help you identify what to write about in your applications.
Next: The Five Traits Colleges Look for in Applicants.
Attribution: This article was provided by Prompt.com , the world leader in admissions essay coaching and feedback.
Share Your Thoughts
We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out the CC College Essay forum to ask questions and discuss essay writing!
More on applying to college.
Authentic Voice in College Essays
That’s why you want to use your authentic voice when writing any college essay .
So what’s the problem? A student has shared an ess…
College Interview Prep Tips: Brainstorm, Research, Analyze, Generalize
I recently visited Washington University in Saint Louis and was lucky enough to set up an interview. By speaking with peers of mi…
Academic Index Scores: Why They Matter and How They're Calculated
Note: Click here for 10 Summer Programs You Can Still Apply For or keep reading to learn more about academic index scores.
7 Podcasts for Students Going Through the Admissions Process
Podcasts can offer a wealth of information to busy students, particularly when it comes to the college admissions process. We…
Avoid College Application Regrets: Tips For Getting It Right the First Time
Decision Day occurs each year on May 1st and is the deadline for students to inform the college of their choice of their intent t…
Get a student loan that goes beyond tuition.
Ascent offers cosigned and non-cosigned student loans with exclusive benefits that set students up for success.
Find Your Scholarship
Want to find money for school that doesn’t need to be paid back? Access insights and advice on how to search and apply for scholarships!
- How to Write a College Essay
College admissions experts offer tips on selecting a topic as well as writing and editing the essay.
Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App, an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Getty Images
For college applicants, the essay is the place to showcase their writing skills and let their unique voice shine through.
"The essays are important in part because this is a student's chance to really speak directly to the admissions office," says Adam Sapp, assistant vice president and director of admissions at Pomona College in California.
Prospective college students want their essay, sometimes called a personal statement, to make a good impression and boost their chances of being accepted, but they have only several hundred words to make that happen.
This can feel like a lot of pressure.
"I think this is the part of the application process that students are sometimes most challenged by," says Niki Barron, associate dean of admission at Hamilton College in New York, "because they're looking at a blank piece of paper and they don't know where to get started."
That pressure may be amplified as many colleges have gone test optional in recent years, meaning that ACT and SAT scores will be considered if submitted but are not required. Other schools have gone test-blind and don't consider such scores at all. In the absence of test scores, some admissions experts have suggested that more attention will be paid to other parts of an application, such as the essay.
But just as each applicant is unique, so are college admissions policies and priorities.
"Being test optional hasn't changed how we use essays in our selection process, and I wouldn't say that the essay serves as a substitute for standardized test scores," Barron wrote in an email. "A student's academic preparation for our classroom experience is always front and center in our application review process."
On June 29, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled against college admissions policies that consider an applicant's race. The ruling, though, does not prohibit students from writing essays on how their race has affected them, which experts say could significantly affect how students approach this portion of their applications.
Essay-writing tips offered by experts emphasize the importance of being concise, coherent, congenial, unique, honest and accurate. An applicant should also flex some intellectual muscle and include vivid details or anecdotes.
From brainstorming essay topics to editing the final draft, here's what students need to know about crafting a strong college application essay.
Getting Started on the College Essay
How long should a college essay be, how to pick a college essay topic, writing the college essay, how the affirmative action ruling could change college essays, editing and submitting the college essay.
A good time for students to begin working on their essays is the summer before senior year, experts say, when homework and extracurricular activities aren't taking up time and mental energy.
Starting early will also give students plenty of time to work through multiple drafts of an essay before college application deadlines, which can be as early as November for students applying for early decision or early action .
Students can go online to review essay requirements for the colleges they want to apply to, such as word limits and essay topics. Many students may start with the Common App , an application platform accepted by more than 1,000 schools. Students can submit that application to multiple schools.
Another option is the Coalition Application, an application platform accepted by more than 130 schools. Students applying through this application choose from one of six essay prompts to complete and include with their application.
In addition to the main essay, some colleges ask applicants to submit one or more additional writing samples. Students are often asked to explain why they are interested in a particular school or academic field in these supplemental essays , which tend to be shorter than the main essay.
Students should budget more time for the writing process if the schools they're applying to ask for supplemental essays.
"Most selective colleges will ask for more than one piece of writing. Don't spend all your time working on one long essay and then forget to devote energy to other parts of the application," Sapp says.
Though the Common App notes that "there are no strict word limits" for its main essay, it suggests a cap of about 650 words. The Coalition Application website says its essays should be between 500 and 650 words.
"While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you'd hoped it would," the Common App website states.
The word count is much shorter for institution-specific supplemental essays, which are typically around 250 words.
The first and sometimes most daunting step in the essay writing process is figuring out what to write about.
There are usually several essay prompts to choose from on a college application. They tend to be broad, open-ended questions, giving students the freedom to write about a wide array of topics, Barron says.
The essay isn't a complete autobiography, notes Mimi Doe, co-founder of Top Tier Admissions, a Massachusetts-based advising company. "It's overwhelming to think of putting your whole life in one essay," she says.
Rather, experts say students should narrow their focus and write about a specific experience, hobby or quirk that reveals something personal, like how they think, what they value or what their strengths are. Students can also write about something that illustrates an aspect of their background. These are the types of essays that typically stand out to admissions officers, experts say. Even an essay on a common topic can be compelling if done right.
Students don't have to discuss a major achievement in their essay – a common misconception. Admissions officers who spoke with U.S. News cited memorable essays that focused on more ordinary topics, including fly-fishing, a student's commute to and from school and a family's dining room table.
What's most important, experts say, is that a college essay is thoughtful and tells a story that offers insight into who a student is as a person.
"Think of the college essay as a meaningful glimpse of who you are beyond your other application materials," Pierre Huguet, CEO and founder of admissions consulting firm H&C Education, wrote in an email. "After reading your essay, the reader won't fully know you – at least not entirely. Your objective is to evoke the reader's curiosity and make them eager to get to know you."
If students are having trouble brainstorming potential topics, they can ask friends or family members for help, says Stephanie Klein Wassink, founder of Winning Applications and AdmissionsCheckup, Connecticut-based college admissions advising companies. Klein Wassink says students can ask peers or family members questions such as, "What are the things you think I do well?" Or, "What are my quirks?"
The essay should tell college admissions officers something they don't already know, experts say.
Some experts encourage students to outline their essay before jumping into the actual writing, though of course everyone's writing process differs.
The first draft of an essay doesn't need to be perfect. "Just do a brain dump," Doe says. "Don't edit yourself, just lay it all out on the page."
If students are having a hard time getting started, they should focus on their opening sentence, Doe suggests. She says an essay's opening sentence, or hook, should grab the reader's attention.
Doe offered an example of a strong hook from the essay of a student she worked with:
"I first got into politics the day the cafeteria outlawed creamed corn."
"I want to know about this kid," she says. "I’m interested."
The key to a good college essay is striking a balance between being creative and not overdoing it, Huguet says. He advises students to keep it simple.
"The college essay is not a fiction writing contest," Huguet says. "Admissions committees are not evaluating you on your potential as the next writer of the Great American Novel."
He adds that students should write in the voice they use to discuss meaningful topics with someone they trust. It's also wise to avoid hyperbole, as that can lose the readers' trust, as well as extraneous adverbs and adjectives, Huguet says.
"Thinking small, when done right, means paying close attention to the little things in your life that give it meaning in unique ways," he says. "It means, on the one hand, that you don’t have to come up with a plan for world peace, but it also means thinking small enough to identify details in your life that belong only to you."
The Supreme Court's ruling on affirmative action has left some students feeling in limbo with how to approach their essays. Some are unsure whether to include racial identifiers while others feel pressure to exclude it, says Christopher Rim, CEO and founder of Command Education, an admissions consulting company.
"For instance, some of our Asian students have been concerned that referencing their culture or race in their essay could negatively impact them (even moreso than before)," Rim wrote in an email. He noted that many students he works with had already begun crafting their essays before the ruling came. "Some of our other students have felt pressure to disclose their race or share a story of discrimination or struggle because they expect those stories to be received better by admissions officers."
Some of the uneasiness stems from what feels like a contradictory message from the court, Rim says. In his majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., said the ruling shouldn't be construed "as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise." But he added that colleges may consider race only if it's tied to an applicant’s individual experiences or qualities, such as demonstrating courage against discrimination.
Personal essays shouldn't serve as a way for universities to ask students about their race as a means to admit them on such basis, Roberts added.
Rim says he expects there to be a lot of confusion from parents and students as they navigate that line when writing their essay. He says his guidance will vary with each student depending on their specific situation.
"For a student from an immigrant family, sharing their racial and cultural background may be integral to understanding their identity and values and therefore should be included in the essay," he says. "On the other hand, a student who has never meaningfully considered ways in which their race has shaped their life experience and worldview should not push themselves to do so in their essay simply because they believe it will better their chances."
While admissions officers try to learn about students via the essay, they are also gauging writing skills, so students want to make sure they submit top-notch work.
"The best writing is rewriting," Sapp says. "You should never be giving me your first draft."
When reviewing a first essay draft, students should make sure their writing is showing, not telling, Huguet says. This means students should show their readers examples that prove they embody certain traits or beliefs, as opposed to just stating that they do. Doing so is like explaining a joke to someone who's already laughed at it, he says.
"Let’s say, for example, that the whole point of a certain applicant’s essay is to let admissions officers know that she thinks outside the box. If she feels the need to end her essay with a sentence like, 'And so, this anecdote shows that I think outside the box,' she’s either underestimating the power of her story (or the ability of her reader to understand it), or she hasn’t done a good enough job in telling it yet," Huguet says. "Let your readers come to their own conclusions. If your story is effective, they’ll come to the conclusions you want them to."
After editing their essay, students should seek outside editing help, experts recommend. While there are individuals and companies that offer paid essay help – from editing services to essay-writing boot camps – students and families may not be able to afford the associated fees. Some providers may offer scholarships or other financial aid for their services.
The availability and level of feedback from free essay advising services vary. Some college prep companies offer brief consultations at no charge. Free essay workshops may also be available through local high schools, public libraries or community organizations. Khan Academy, a free online education platform, also offers a series of videos and other content to guide students through the essay writing process.
Colleges themselves may also have resources, Barron notes, pointing to pages on Hamilton's website that offer writing tips as well as examples of successful admissions essays. Likewise, Hamilton also holds virtual panel discussions on writing admissions essays.
Students have other options when it comes to essay help. They can ask peers, teachers, school counselors and family members for help polishing an essay. Huguet says it's typically wise to prioritize quality over quantity when it comes to seeking feedback on essays. Too many perspectives can become counterproductive, he says.
"While it can be valuable to have different perspectives, it's best to seek out individuals who are experts in the writing process," he says. "Instructors or professors can be helpful, particularly if they possess subject expertise and can provide guidance on refining arguments, structure and overall coherence."
Proofreaders should not change the tone of the essay. "Don't let anyone edit out your voice," Doe cautions.
And while proofreading is fair game, having someone else write your essay is not.
When an essay is ready to go, students will generally submit it online along with the rest of their application. On the Common App, for example, students copy and paste their essay into a text box.
Sapp says even though students often stress about the essay in particular, it's not the only thing college admissions officers look at. "The essay is the window, but the application is the house," he says. "So let's not forget that an application is built of many pieces."
Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.
What to Do After Selecting a College
- How to Complete a College Application
- Use the Common App to Apply to College
- College Application Essay Grammar Tips
- See College Essay Examples
Tags: education , colleges , college admissions , college applications , students
2024 Best Colleges
Search for your perfect fit with the U.S. News rankings of colleges and universities.
College Admissions: Get a Step Ahead!
Ask an Alum: Making the Most Out of College
You May Also Like
What is an endowment for a college.
A.R. Cabral Nov. 16, 2023
Why College Trustees Matter
LaMont Jones, Jr. Nov. 16, 2023
How Multiple Kids in College Affects Aid
Sarah Wood Nov. 15, 2023
Colleges and Competency-Based Education
Kate Rix Nov. 15, 2023
Prepare for College Apps in Junior High
Cole Claybourn Nov. 14, 2023
Learning Disabilities and College Apps
Benefits of a Liberal Arts Education
Anayat Durrani Nov. 9, 2023
What Is Semester at Sea?
Sarah Wood Nov. 9, 2023
Supporting First Gen College Students
Alejandra Campoverdi Nov. 8, 2023
The War on College Campuses
Lauren Camera Nov. 2, 2023
Celebrating 150 years of Harvard Summer School. Learn about our history.
12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay
College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.
When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.
Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.
So, what does this mean for you?
Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.
A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.
A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.
Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.
More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.
Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.
Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.
Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.
Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.
Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.
Grab the Reader From the Start
You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.
Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.
Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.
Focus on Deeper Themes
Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.
College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.
They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.
Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?
Show Don’t Tell
As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.
The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.
Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.
Try Doing Something Different
If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?
If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.
You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.
However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.
Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students
Write With the Reader in Mind
Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.
Use transitions between paragraphs.
Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?
Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?
Write Several Drafts
Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.
Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.
Read It Aloud
Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.
If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.
Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.
Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.
Ask Others to Read Your Essay
Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.
Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.
Pay Attention to Form
Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.
“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.
In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.
End Your Essay With a “Kicker”
In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.
It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.
So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.
While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.
Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!
Experience life on a college campus. Spend your summer at Harvard.
Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students.
About the Author
Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”
How Involved Should Parents and Guardians Be in High School Student College Applications and Admissions?
There are several ways parents can lend support to their children during the college application process. Here's how to get the ball rolling.
Harvard Division of Continuing Education
The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) at Harvard University is dedicated to bringing rigorous academics and innovative teaching capabilities to those seeking to improve their lives through education. We make Harvard education accessible to lifelong learners from high school to retirement.
If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.
If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.
Course: college admissions > unit 4.
- Writing a strong college admissions essay
- Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes
- Brainstorming tips for your college essay
- How formal should the tone of your college essay be?
- Taking your college essay to the next level
- Sample essay 1 with admissions feedback
- Sample essay 2 with admissions feedback
- Student story: Admissions essay about a formative experience
- Student story: Admissions essay about personal identity
- Student story: Admissions essay about community impact
- Student story: Admissions essay about a past mistake
- Student story: Admissions essay about a meaningful poem
Writing tips and techniques for your college essay
Pose a question the reader wants answered, don't focus exclusively on the past, experiment with the unexpected, don't summarize, want to join the conversation.
- Upvote Button navigates to signup page
- Downvote Button navigates to signup page
- Flag Button navigates to signup page
Have a language expert improve your writing
Check your paper for plagiarism in 10 minutes, generate your apa citations for free.
- Knowledge Base
- College essay
How to Write a College Essay | A Complete Guide & Examples
The college essay can make or break your application. It’s your chance to provide personal context, communicate your values and qualities, and set yourself apart from other students.
A standout essay has a few key ingredients:
- A unique, personal topic
- A compelling, well-structured narrative
- A clear, creative writing style
- Evidence of self-reflection and insight
To achieve this, it’s crucial to give yourself enough time for brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.
In this comprehensive guide, we walk you through every step in the process of writing a college admissions essay.
Table of contents
Why do you need a standout essay, start organizing early, choose a unique topic, outline your essay, start with a memorable introduction, write like an artist, craft a strong conclusion, revise and receive feedback, frequently asked questions.
While most of your application lists your academic achievements, your college admissions essay is your opportunity to share who you are and why you’d be a good addition to the university.
Your college admissions essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s total weight一and may account for even more with some colleges making the SAT and ACT tests optional. The college admissions essay may be the deciding factor in your application, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.
What do colleges look for in an essay?
Admissions officers want to understand your background, personality, and values to get a fuller picture of you beyond your test scores and grades. Here’s what colleges look for in an essay :
- Demonstrated values and qualities
- Vulnerability and authenticity
- Self-reflection and insight
- Creative, clear, and concise writing skills
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
It’s a good idea to start organizing your college application timeline in the summer of your junior year to make your application process easier. This will give you ample time for essay brainstorming, writing, revision, and feedback.
While timelines will vary for each student, aim to spend at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing your first draft and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Remember to leave enough time for breaks in between each writing and editing stage.
Create an essay tracker sheet
If you’re applying to multiple schools, you will have to juggle writing several essays for each one. We recommend using an essay tracker spreadsheet to help you visualize and organize the following:
- Deadlines and number of essays needed
- Prompt overlap, allowing you to write one essay for similar prompts
You can build your own essay tracker using our free Google Sheets template.
College essay tracker template
Ideally, you should start brainstorming college essay topics the summer before your senior year. Keep in mind that it’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic.
If you want to write about a common essay topic, such as a sports injury or volunteer work overseas, think carefully about how you can make it unique and personal. You’ll need to demonstrate deep insight and write your story in an original way to differentiate it from similar essays.
What makes a good topic?
- Meaningful and personal to you
- Uncommon or has an unusual angle
- Reveals something different from the rest of your application
You should do a comprehensive brainstorm before choosing your topic. Here are a few questions to get started:
- What are your top five values? What lived experiences demonstrate these values?
- What adjectives would your friends and family use to describe you?
- What challenges or failures have you faced and overcome? What lessons did you learn from them?
- What makes you different from your classmates?
- What are some objects that represent your identity, your community, your relationships, your passions, or your goals?
- Whom do you admire most? Why?
- What three people have significantly impacted your life? How did they influence you?
How to identify your topic
Here are two strategies for identifying a topic that demonstrates your values:
- Start with your qualities : First, identify positive qualities about yourself; then, brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities.
- Start with a story : Brainstorm a list of memorable life moments; then, identify a value shown in each story.
After choosing your topic, organize your ideas in an essay outline , which will help keep you focused while writing. Unlike a five-paragraph academic essay, there’s no set structure for a college admissions essay. You can take a more creative approach, using storytelling techniques to shape your essay.
Two common approaches are to structure your essay as a series of vignettes or as a single narrative.
The vignette, or montage, structure weaves together several stories united by a common theme. Each story should demonstrate one of your values or qualities and conclude with an insight or future outlook.
This structure gives the admissions officer glimpses into your personality, background, and identity, and shows how your qualities appear in different areas of your life.
Topic: Museum with a “five senses” exhibit of my experiences
- Introduction: Tour guide introduces my museum and my “Making Sense of My Heritage” exhibit
- Story: Racial discrimination with my eyes
- Lesson: Using my writing to document truth
- Story: Broadway musical interests
- Lesson: Finding my voice
- Story: Smells from family dinner table
- Lesson: Appreciating home and family
- Story: Washing dishes
- Lesson: Finding moments of peace in busy schedule
- Story: Biking with Ava
- Lesson: Finding pleasure in job well done
- Conclusion: Tour guide concludes tour, invites guest to come back for “fall College Collection,” featuring my search for identity and learning.
Single story structure
The single story, or narrative, structure uses a chronological narrative to show a student’s character development over time. Some narrative essays detail moments in a relatively brief event, while others narrate a longer journey spanning months or years.
Single story essays are effective if you have overcome a significant challenge or want to demonstrate personal development.
Topic: Sports injury helps me learn to be a better student and person
- Situation: Football injury
- Challenge: Friends distant, teachers don’t know how to help, football is gone for me
- Turning point: Starting to like learning in Ms. Brady’s history class; meeting Christina and her friends
- My reactions: Reading poetry; finding shared interest in poetry with Christina; spending more time studying and with people different from me
- Insight: They taught me compassion and opened my eyes to a different lifestyle; even though I still can’t play football, I’m starting a new game
Brainstorm creative insights or story arcs
Regardless of your essay’s structure, try to craft a surprising story arc or original insights, especially if you’re writing about a common topic.
Never exaggerate or fabricate facts about yourself to seem interesting. However, try finding connections in your life that deviate from cliché storylines and lessons.
Admissions officers read thousands of essays each year, and they typically spend only a few minutes reading each one. To get your message across, your introduction , or hook, needs to grab the reader’s attention and compel them to read more..
Avoid starting your introduction with a famous quote, cliché, or reference to the essay itself (“While I sat down to write this essay…”).
While you can sometimes use dialogue or a meaningful quotation from a close family member or friend, make sure it encapsulates your essay’s overall theme.
Find an original, creative way of starting your essay using the following two methods.
Option 1: Start with an intriguing hook
Begin your essay with an unexpected statement to pique the reader’s curiosity and compel them to carefully read your essay. A mysterious introduction disarms the reader’s expectations and introduces questions that can only be answered by reading more.
Option 2: Start with vivid imagery
Illustrate a clear, detailed image to immediately transport your reader into your memory. You can start in the middle of an important scene or describe an object that conveys your essay’s theme.
A college application essay allows you to be creative in your style and tone. As you draft your essay, try to use interesting language to enliven your story and stand out .
Show, don’t tell
“Tell” in writing means to simply state a fact: “I am a basketball player.” “ Show ” in writing means to use details, examples, and vivid imagery to help the reader easily visualize your memory: “My heart races as I set up to shoot一two seconds, one second一and score a three-pointer!”
First, reflect on every detail of a specific image or scene to recall the most memorable aspects.
- What are the most prominent images?
- Are there any particular sounds, smells, or tastes associated with this memory?
- What emotion or physical feeling did you have at that time?
Be vulnerable to create an emotional response
You don’t have to share a huge secret or traumatic story, but you should dig deep to express your honest feelings, thoughts, and experiences to evoke an emotional response. Showing vulnerability demonstrates humility and maturity. However, don’t exaggerate to gain sympathy.
Use appropriate style and tone
Make sure your essay has the right style and tone by following these guidelines:
- Use a conversational yet respectful tone: less formal than academic writing, but more formal than texting your friends.
- Prioritize using “I” statements to highlight your perspective.
- Write within your vocabulary range to maintain an authentic voice.
- Write concisely, and use the active voice to keep a fast pace.
- Follow grammar rules (unless you have valid stylistic reasons for breaking them).
You should end your college essay with a deep insight or creative ending to leave the reader with a strong final impression. Your college admissions essay should avoid the following:
- Summarizing what you already wrote
- Stating your hope of being accepted to the school
- Mentioning character traits that should have been illustrated in the essay, such as “I’m a hard worker”
Here are two strategies to craft a strong conclusion.
Option 1: Full circle, sandwich structure
The full circle, or sandwich, structure concludes the essay with an image, idea, or story mentioned in the introduction. This strategy gives the reader a strong sense of closure.
In the example below, the essay concludes by returning to the “museum” metaphor that the writer opened with.
Option 2: Revealing your insight
You can use the conclusion to show the insight you gained as a result of the experiences you’ve described. Revealing your main message at the end creates suspense and keeps the takeaway at the forefront of your reader’s mind.
Revise your essay before submitting it to check its content, style, and grammar. Get feedback from no more than two or three people.
It’s normal to go through several rounds of revision, but take breaks between each editing stage.
Also check out our college essay examples to see what does and doesn’t work in an essay and the kinds of changes you can make to improve yours.
Respect the word count
Most schools specify a word count for each essay , and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit.
Remain under the specified word count limit to show you can write concisely and follow directions. However, don’t write too little, which may imply that you are unwilling or unable to write a thoughtful and developed essay.
Check your content, style, and grammar
- First, check big-picture issues of message, flow, and clarity.
- Then, check for style and tone issues.
- Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.
Get feedback from 2–3 people who know you well, have good writing skills, and are familiar with college essays.
- Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your content, language, and tone.
- Friends and family can check for authenticity.
- An essay coach or editor has specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and can give objective expert feedback.
The checklist below helps you make sure your essay ticks all the boxes.
College admissions essay checklist
I’ve organized my essay prompts and created an essay writing schedule.
I’ve done a comprehensive brainstorm for essay topics.
I’ve selected a topic that’s meaningful to me and reveals something different from the rest of my application.
I’ve created an outline to guide my structure.
I’ve crafted an introduction containing vivid imagery or an intriguing hook that grabs the reader’s attention.
I’ve written my essay in a way that shows instead of telling.
I’ve shown positive traits and values in my essay.
I’ve demonstrated self-reflection and insight in my essay.
I’ve used appropriate style and tone .
I’ve concluded with an insight or a creative ending.
I’ve revised my essay , checking my overall message, flow, clarity, and grammar.
I’ve respected the word count , remaining within 10% of the upper word limit.
It looks like your essay ticks all the boxes. A second pair of eyes can help you take it to the next level – Scribbr's essay coaches can help.
Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.
Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.
A standout college essay has several key ingredients:
- A unique, personally meaningful topic
- A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
- Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
- Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
- Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
- A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending
While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.
You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.
Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.
You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.
If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.
Is this article helpful?
Other students also liked.
- What Do Colleges Look For in an Essay? | Examples & Tips
- College Essay Format & Structure | Example Outlines
- How to Revise Your College Admissions Essay | Examples
More interesting articles
- Choosing Your College Essay Topic | Ideas & Examples
- College Essay Examples | What Works and What Doesn't
- Common App Essays | 7 Strong Examples with Commentary
- How Long Should a College Essay Be? | Word Count Tips
- How to Apply for College | Timeline, Templates & Checklist
- How to End a College Admissions Essay | 4 Winning Strategies
- How to Make Your College Essay Stand Out | Tips & Examples
- How to Research and Write a "Why This College?" Essay
- How to Write a College Essay Fast | Tips & Examples
- How to Write a Diversity Essay | Tips & Examples
- How to Write a Great College Essay Introduction | Examples
- How to Write a Scholarship Essay | Template & Example
- How to Write About Yourself in a College Essay | Examples
- Style and Tone Tips for Your College Essay | Examples
- US College Essay Tips for International Students
Skip to Content
Other ways to search:
- Events Calendar
3 Tips to Creating the College Essay
3 tips to creating the college essay:
- Give yourself enough time to work. You should brainstorm your essay idea and figure out how you want your essay to contribute to admissions committees' understanding of your application. You also want to work on a draft or two and get feedback on your drafts from a trusted source. It is very hard to do this work in a short amount of time.
- Write what you think you should write, not what you think the admission committee wants to hear. Writing and reading essays are subjective experiences. You want to make sure that you create an essay that you are proud of and that you feel expresses your point. Remember - the more passionate you are about your subject, the more engaging it is for the reader.
- Make sure the essay gives the reader a greater understanding of you – not about someone or something else. Oftentimes, when we try to describe what we value or what we care about, we do so by talking about someone or something that is a great example of those values and priorities. Be careful not to center the example in your essay and instead, explain why the example resonates with you.
This is a chance for you to share your voice. If you have any questions, reach out to your CU Boulder admissions counselor !
Written by CU Boulder Office of Admissions
- Application Tips
The University of Colorado does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age, pregnancy, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation, or political philosophy. All qualified individuals are encouraged to apply. You may view the list of ADA and Title IX coordinators and review the Regent policy .
As a student or prospective student at CU Boulder, you have a right to certain information pertaining to financial aid programs, the Clery Act, crime and safety, graduation rates, athletics and other general information such as the costs associated with attending CU Boulder. To view this information visit colorado.edu/your-right-know .
Apply for Admission
Support CU Boulder
- Safety & Health Services
- COVID-19 Information
- Campus Communications
- Emergency Alert System
- New Student & Family Programs
- Campus Events
- Parking & Transportation
- Visit Information
- Faculty & Staff
- Business & Industry Collaborations
- Diversity & Community Engagement
- Free Speech
- Innovation & Entrepreneurship
- Public & Outreach Programs
- Understanding Your Cost of Attendance
Choose Your Test
Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to write a perfect "why this college" essay.
Did you think you were all done pouring out your blood, sweat, and tears in written form for your personal statement , only to be faced with the "why this college?" supplemental essay? This question might seem simple but is in fact a crucial and potentially tricky part of many college applications. What exactly is the "why us?" essay trying to understand about you? And how do you answer this question without falling into its many pitfalls or making any rookie mistakes?
In this article, I'll explain why colleges want you to be able to explain why you are applying. I'll also discuss how to generate and brainstorm topics for this question and how to make yourself sound sincere and committed. Finally, we'll go over some "why this school?" essay do s and don't s.
This article is pretty detailed, so here's a brief overview of what we'll be covering:
Why Do Colleges Want You to Write a "Why Us?" Essay?
Two types of "why this college" essay prompts, step 1: research the school, step 2: brainstorm potential essay topics, step 3: nail the execution, example of a great "why this college" essay.
College admissions officers have to read an incredible amount of student work to put together a winning class, so trust me when I say that everything they ask you to write is meaningful and important .
The purpose of the "why us?" essay goes two ways. On one hand, seeing how you answer this question gives admissions officers a sense of whether you know and value their school .
On the other hand, having to verbalize why you are applying gives you the chance to think about what you want to get out of your college experience and whether your target schools fit your goals and aspirations.
What Colleges Get Out Of Reading Your "Why This College?" Essay
Colleges want to check three things when they read this essay.
First, they want to see that you have a sense of what makes this college different and special.
- Do you know something about the school's mission, history, or values?
- Have you thought about the school's specific approach to learning?
- Are you comfortable with the school's traditions and the overall feel of student life here?
Second, they want proof that you will be a good fit for the school.
- Where do your interests lie? Do they correspond to this school's strengths?
- Is there something about you that meshes well with some aspect of the school?
- How will you contribute to college life? How will you make your mark on campus?
And third, they want to see that this school will, in turn, be a good fit for you.
- What do you want to get out of college? Will this college be able to provide that? Will this school contribute to your future success?
- What will you take advantage of on campus (e.g., academic programs, volunteer or travel opportunities, internships, or student organizations)?
- Will you succeed academically? Does this school provide the right rigor and pace for your ideal learning environment?
What You Get Out Of Writing Your "Why This College?" Essay
Throughout this process of articulating your answers to the questions above, you will also benefit in a couple of key ways:
It Lets You Build Excitement about the School
Finding specific programs and opportunities at schools you are already happy about will give you a grounded sense of direction for when you start school . At the same time, by describing what is great about schools that are low on your list, you'll likely boost your enthusiasm for these colleges and keep yourself from feeling that they're nothing more than lackluster fallbacks.
It Helps You Ensure That You're Making the Right Choice
Writing the "why us?" essay can act as a moment of clarity. It's possible that you won't be able to come up with any reasons for applying to a particular school. If further research fails to reveal any appealing characteristics that fit with your goals and interests, this school is likely not for you.
At the end of your four years, you want to feel like this, so take your "Why This College?" essay to heart.
Want to write the perfect college application essay? Get professional help from PrepScholar.
Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.
Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now :
The "why this college?" essay is best thought of as a back-and-forth between you and the college . This means that your essay will really be answering two separate, albeit related, questions:
- "Why us?": This is where you explain what makes the school special in your eyes, what attracted you to it, and what you think you'll get out of your experience there.
- "Why you?": This is the part where you talk about why you'll fit in at the school; what qualities, skills, talents, or abilities you'll contribute to student life; and how your future will be impacted by the school and its opportunities.
Colleges usually use one of these approaches to frame this essay , meaning that your essay will lean heavier toward whichever question is favored in the prompt. For example, if the prompt is all about "why us?" you'll want to put your main focus on praising the school. If the prompt instead is mostly configured as "why you?" you'll want to dwell at length on your fit and potential.
It's good to remember that these two prompts are simply two sides of the same coin. Your reasons for wanting to apply to a particular school can be made to fit either of these questions.
For instance, say you really want the chance to learn from the world-famous Professor X. A "why us?" essay might dwell on how amazing an opportunity studying with him would be for you, and how he anchors the Telepathy department.
Meanwhile, a "why you?" essay would point out that your own academic telepathy credentials and future career goals make you an ideal student to learn from Professor X, a renowned master of the field.
Next up, I'll show you some real-life examples of what these two different approaches to the same prompt look like.
Clarifying why you want to study with a particular professor in a specific department can demonstrate to college admissions staff that you've done your research on the school.
"Why Us?" Prompts
- Why [this college]?
- Why are you interested in [this college]?
- Why is [this college] a good choice for you?
- What do you like best about [this college]?
- Why do you want to attend [this college]?
Below are some examples of actual "why us?" college essay prompts:
- Colorado College : "Describe how your personal experiences with a particular community make you a student who would benefit from Colorado College’s Block Plan."
- Tufts University : " I am applying to Tufts because… "
- Tulane University : "Describe why you are interested in joining the Tulane community. Consider your experiences, talents, and values to illustrate what you would contribute to the Tulane community if admitted." (via the Common App )
- University of Michigan : "Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?"
- Wellesley College : " When choosing a college, you are choosing an intellectual community and a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but it's a good place to start. Visit the Wellesley 100 and select two items that attract, inspire, or celebrate what you would bring to our community. Have fun! Use this opportunity to reflect personally on what items appeal to you most and why. "
In a "why us?" essay, focus on the specific aspects of the school that appeal to you and how you will flourish because of those offerings.
"Why You?" Prompts
- Why are you a good match or fit for us?
- What are your interests, and how will you pursue them at [this college]?
- What do you want to study, and how will that correspond to our program?
- What or how will you contribute?
- Why you at [this college]?
- Why are you applying to [this college]?
Here are some examples of the "why you?" version of the college essay:
- Babson College : " A defining element of the Babson experience is learning and thriving in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives and interests. Please share something about your background, lived experiences, or viewpoint(s) that speaks to how you will contribute to and learn from Babson's collaborative community. "
- Bowdoin College : "Generations of students have found connection and meaning in Bowdoin's 'The Offer of the College.' ... Which line from the Offer resonates most with you? Optional: The Offer represents Bowdoin's values. Please reflect on the line you selected and how it has meaning to you." (via the Common App )
In a "why you?" essay, focus on how your values, interests, and motivations align with the school's offerings and how you'll contribute to campus life.
No matter how the prompt is worded, this essay is a give-and-take of what you and the college have to offer each other. Your job is to quickly zoom in on your main points and use both precision and detail to sound sincere, excited, and authentic.
How do you effectively explain the benefits you see this particular school providing for you and the contributions you will bring to the table as a student there? And how can you do this best using the small amount of space that you have (usually just one to two paragraphs)?
In this section, we'll go through the process of writing the "Why This College?" essay, step-by-step. First, I'll talk about the prep work you'll need to do. Next, we'll go through how to brainstorm good topics (and touch on what topics to avoid). I'll give you some tips on transforming your ideas and research into an actual essay. Finally, I'll take apart an actual "why us?" essay to show you why and how it works.
Before you can write about a school, you'll need to know specific things that make it stand out and appeal to you and your interests . So where do you look for these? And how do you find the details that will speak to you? Here are some ways you can learn more about a school.
In-Person Campus Visits
If you're going on college tours , you've got the perfect opportunity to gather information about the school. Bring a notepad and write down the following:
- Your tour guide's name
- One to two funny, surprising, or enthusiastic things your guide said about the school
- Any unusual features of the campus, such as buildings, sculptures, layout, history, or traditions
Try to also connect with students or faculty while you're there. If you visit a class, note which class it is and who teaches it. See whether you can briefly chat with a student (e.g., in the class you visit, around campus, or in a dining hall), and ask what they like most about the school or what has been most surprising about being there.
Don't forget to write down the answer! Trust me, you'll forget it otherwise—especially if you do this on multiple college visits.
Virtual Campus Visits
If you can't visit a campus in person, the next best thing is an online tour , either from the school's own website or from other websites, such as YOUniversityTV , CampusTours , or YouTube (search "[School Name] + tour").
You can also connect with students without visiting the campus in person . Some admissions websites list contact information for currently enrolled students you can email to ask one or two questions about what their experience of the school has been like.
Or if you know what department, sport, or activity you're interested in, you can ask the admissions office to put you in touch with a student who is involved with that particular interest.
If you can't visit a campus in person, request a video chat with admissions staff, a current student, or a faculty member to get a better sense of specific topics you might write about in your essay.
If you have an interview , ask your interviewer questions about their experience at the school and about what going to that school has done for them since graduation. As always, take notes!
If you have a chance to go to a college fair where your ideal college has representatives, don't just attend and pick up a brochure. Instead, e ngage the representatives in conversation, and ask them about what they think makes the school unique . Jot down notes on any interesting details they tell you.
The College's Own Materials
Colleges publish lots and lots of different admissions materials—and all of these will be useful for your research. Here are some suggestions for what you can use. (You should be able to find all of the following resources online.)
Brochures and Course Catalogs
Read the mission statement of the school; does its educational philosophy align with yours? You should also read through its catalogs. Are there any programs, classes, departments, or activities that seem tailor-made for you in some way?
Pro Tip: These interesting features you find should be unusual in some way or different from what other schools offer. For example, being fascinated with the English department isn't going to cut it unless you can discuss its unusual focus, its world-renowned professors, or the different way it structures the major that appeals to you specifically.
Are any professors highlighted? Does their research speak to you or connect with a project you did in high school or for an extracurricular?
Sometimes alumni magazines will highlight a college's new focus or new expansion. Does the construction of a new engineering school relate to your intended major? There might also be some columns or letters written by alumni who talk about what going to this particular school has meant to them. What stands out about their experiences?
School or Campus Newspaper
Students write about the hot issues of the day, which means that the articles will be about the best and worst things on campus . It'll also give you insight into student life, opportunities that are available to students, activities you can do off campus, and so on.
The College's Social Media
Your ideal school is most likely on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, TikTok, and other social media. Follow the school to see what it's posting about. Are there any exciting new campus developments? Professors in the news? Interesting events, clubs, or activities?
Wikipedia is a great resource for learning basic details about a college's history, traditions, and values. I also recommend looking for forums on College Confidential that specifically deal with the school you're researching.
Another option is to search on Google for interesting phrases, such as "What students really think about [School Name]" or "[School Name] student forum." This will help you get detailed points of view, comments about specific programs or courses, and insight into real student life.
So what should you do now that you've completed a bunch of research? Answer: use it to develop connection points between you and your dream school. These connections will be the skeleton of your "why this college?" essay.
Find the Gems in Your Research
You have on hand all kinds of information, from your own personal experiences on campus and your conversations with people affiliated with your ideal school to what you've learned from campus publications and tidbits gleaned from the web.
Now, it's time to sift through all of your notes to find the three to five things that really speak to you. Link what you've learned about the school to how you can plug into this school's life, approach, and environment. That way, no matter whether your school's prompt is more heavily focused on the "why us?" or "why you?" part of the give-and-take, you'll have an entry point into the essay.
But what should these three to five things be? What should you keep in mind when you're looking for the gem that will become your topic?
Here are some words of wisdom from Calvin Wise , director of recruitment and former associate director of admissions at Johns Hopkins University (emphasis mine):
" Focus on what makes us unique and why that interests you. Do your research, and articulate a multidimensional connection to the specific college or university. We do not want broad statements (the brick pathways and historic buildings are beautiful) or a rehash of the information on our website (College X offers a strong liberal arts curriculum). All institutions have similarities. We want you to talk about our differences. "
Time to find that diamond, amethyst, opal, tourmaline, or amber in the rough.
Check Your Gems for Color and Clarity
When I say "check your gems," I mean make sure that each of the three to five things you've found is something your ideal school has that other schools don't have.
This something should be seen from your own perspective. The point isn't to generically praise the school but instead to go into detail about why it's so great for you that they have this thing.
This something you find should be meaningful to the school and specific to you. For example, if you focus on academics (e.g., courses, instructors, opportunities, or educational philosophy), find a way to link them either to your previous work or to your future aspirations.
This something should not be shallow and nonspecific. Want to live in a city? Every city has more than one college in it. Find a way to explain why this specific college in this specific city calls to you. Like pretty architecture? Many schools are beautiful, so dwell on why this particular place feels unlike any other. Like good weather, beach, skiing, or some other geographical attribute? There are many schools located near these places, and they know that people enjoy sunbathing. Either build a deeper connection or skip these as reasons.
Convert Your Gems into Essay Topics
Every "why this college?" essay is going to answer both the "why us?" and the "why you?" parts of the back-and-forth equation. But depending on which way your target school has worded its prompt, you'll lean more heavily on that part . This is why I'm going to split this brainstorming into two parts—to go with the "why us?" and "why you?" types of questions.
Of course, since they are both sides of the same coin, you can always easily flip each of these ideas around to have it work well for the other type of prompt . For example, a "why us?" essay might talk about how interesting the XYZ interdisciplinary project is and how it fits well with your senior project.
By contrast, a "why you?" essay would take the same idea but flip it to say that you've learned through your senior project how you deeply value an interdisciplinary approach to academics, making you a great fit for this school and its commitment to such work, as evidenced by project XYZ.
Describing how project XYZ demonstrates your investment in a particular course of study that then happens to align with a specific program at the university is an effective approach to the "why you?" essay.
Possible "Why Us?" Topics
- How a particular program of study, internship requirement, or volunteer connection will help further your specific career goals .
- The school's interesting approach to your future major (if you know what that will be) or a major that combines several disciplines that appeal to you and fit with your current academic work and interests.
- How the school handles financial aid and the infrastructure setup for low-income students and what that means for you in terms of opening doors.
- A story about how you became interested in the school (if you learned about it in an interesting way). For example, did the institution host a high school contest you took part in? Did you attend an art exhibit or stage performance there that you enjoyed and that your own artistic work aligns with?
- How you overcame an initial disinterest in the school (be sure to minimize this first negative impression). Did you do more research? Interact with someone on campus? Learn about the school's commitment to the community? Learn about interesting research being done there?
- A positive interaction you had with current students, faculty, or staff, as long as this is more than just, "Everyone I met was really nice."
- An experience you had while on a campus tour. Was there a super-passionate tour guide? Any information that surprised you? Did something happen to transform your idea about the school or campus life (in a good way)?
- Interesting interdisciplinary work going on at the university and how that connects with your academic interests, career goals, or previous high school work.
- The history of the school —but only if it's meaningful to you in some way. Has the school always been committed to fostering minority, first-generation, or immigrant students? Was it founded by someone you admire? Did it take an unpopular (but, to you, morally correct) stance at some crucial moment in history?
- An amazing professor you can't wait to learn from. Is there a chemistry professor whose current research meshes with a science fair project you did? A professor who's a renowned scholar on your favorite literary or artistic period or genre? A professor whose book on economics finally made you understand the most recent financial crisis?
- A class that sounds fascinating , especially if it's in a field you want to major in.
- A facility or piece of equipment you can't wait to work in or with and that doesn't exist in many other places. Is there a specialty library with rare medieval manuscripts? Is there an observatory?
- A required curriculum that appeals to you because it provides a solid grounding in the classics, shakes up the traditional canon, connects all the students on campus in one intellectual project, or is taught in a unique way.
If the school can boast a cutting-edge laboratory where you dream of conducting research, that would be a strong focus for a "Why Us?" essay.
Possible "Why You?" Topics
- Do you want to continue a project you worked on in high school? Talk about how or where in the current course, club, and program offerings this work would fit in. Why will you be a good addition to the team?
- Have you always been involved in a community service project that's already being done on campus? Write about integrating life on campus with events in the surrounding community.
- Do you plan to keep performing in the arts, playing music, working on the newspaper, or engaging in something else you were seriously committed to in high school? Discuss how excited you are to join that existing organization.
- Are you the perfect person to take advantage of an internship program (e.g., because you have already worked in this field, were exposed to it through your parents, or have completed academic work that gives you some experience with it)?
- Are you the ideal candidate for a study abroad opportunity (e.g., because you can speak the language of the country, it's a place where you've worked or studied before, or your career goals are international in some respect)?
- Are you a stand-out match for an undergraduate research project (e.g., because you'll major in this field, you've always wanted to work with this professor, or you want to pursue research as a career option)?
- Is there something you were deeply involved with that doesn't currently exist on campus? Offer to start a club for it. And I mean a club; you aren't going to magically create a new academic department or even a new academic course, so don't try offering that. If you do write about this, make double (and even triple) sure that the school doesn't already have a club, course, or program for this interest.
- What are some of the programs or activities you plan to get involved with on campus , and what unique qualities will you bring to them?
- Make this a mini version of a personal statement you never wrote. Use this essay as another chance to show a few more of the skills, talents, or passions that don't appear in your actual college essay. What's the runner-up interest that you didn't write about? What opportunity, program, or offering at the school lines up with it?
One way to impress admissions staff in a "Why You?" essay is to discuss your fascination with a particular topic in a specific discipline, such as kinetic sculpture, and how you want to pursue that passion (e.g., as a studio art major).
Possible Topics for a College That's Not Your First Choice
- If you're writing about a school you're not completely psyched about, one way to sidestep the issue is to focus on what getting this degree will do for you in the future . How do you see yourself changing existing systems, helping others, or otherwise succeeding?
- Alternatively, discuss what the school values academically, socially, environmentally, or philosophically and how this connects with what you also care about . Does it have a vegan, organic, and cruelty-free cafeteria? A relationship with a local farm or garden? De-emphasized fraternity involvement? Strong commitment to environmental issues? Lots of opportunities to contribute to the community surrounding the school? Active inclusion and a sense of belonging for various underrepresented groups?
- Try to find at least one or two features you're excited about for each of the schools on your list. If you can't think of a single reason why this would be a good place for you to go, maybe you shouldn't be applying there!
Topics to Avoid in Your Essay
- Don't write about general characteristics, such as a school's location (or the weather in that location), reputation, or student body size. For example, anyone applying to the Webb Institute , which has just about 100 students , should by all means talk about having a preference for tiny, close-knit communities. By contrast, schools in sunny climates know that people enjoy good weather, but if you can't connect the outdoors with the college itself, think of something else to say.
- Don't talk about your sports fandom. Saying, "I can see myself in crimson and white/blue and orange/[some color] and [some other color]" is both overused and not a persuasive reason for wanting to go to a particular college. After all, you could cheer for a team without going to the school! Unless you're an athlete, you're an aspiring mascot performer, or you have a truly one-of-a-kind story to tell about your link to the team, opt for a different track.
- Don't copy descriptions from the college's website to tell admissions officers how great their institution is. They don't want to hear praise; they want to hear how you connect with their school. So if something on the college brochure speaks to you, explain why this specific detail matters to you and how your past experiences, academic work, extracurricular interests, or hobbies relate to that detail.
- Don't use college rankings as a reason you want to go to a school. Of course prestige matters, but schools that are ranked right next to each other on the list are at about the same level of prestige. What makes you choose one over the other?
- If you decide to write about a future major, don't just talk about what you want to study and why . Make sure that you also explain why you want to study this thing at this particular school . What do they do differently from other colleges?
- Don't wax poetic about the school's pretty campus. "From the moment I stepped on your campus, I knew it was the place for me" is another cliché—and another way to say basically nothing about why you actually want to go to this particular school. Lots of schools are pretty, and many are pretty in the exact same way.
Pop quiz: This pretty gothic building is on what college campus? Yes, that's right—it could be anywhere.
Want to build the best possible college application?
We can help. PrepScholar Admissions is the world's best admissions consulting service. We combine world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies . We've overseen thousands of students get into their top choice schools , from state colleges to the Ivy League.
We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit. We want to get you admitted to your dream schools .
Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in.
When you've put together the ideas that will make up your answer to the "why us?" question, it's time to build them into a memorable essay. Here are some tips for doing that successfully:
- Jump right in. The essay is short, so there's no need for an introduction or conclusion. Spend the first paragraph delving into your best one or two reasons for applying. Then, use the second paragraph to go into slightly less detail about reasons 2 (or 3) through 5.
- To thine own self be true. Write in your own voice, and be sincere about what you're saying. Believe me—the reader can tell when you mean it and when you're just blathering!
- Details, details, details. Show the school that you've done your research. Are there any classes, professors, clubs, or activities you're excited about at the school? Be specific (e.g., "I'm fascinated by the work Dr. Jenny Johnson has done with interactive sound installations").
- If you plan on attending if admitted, say so. Colleges care about the numbers of acceptances deeply, so it might help to know you're a sure thing. But don't write this if you don't mean it!
- Don't cut and paste the same essay for every school. At least once, you'll most likely forget to change the school name or some other telling detail. You also don't want to have too much vague, cookie-cutter reasoning, or else you'll start to sound bland and forgettable.
For more tips, check out our step-by-step essay-writing advice .
Avoid cookie-cutter responses to "why this college?" essay prompts. Instead, provide an essay that's personalized to that particular institution.
At this point, it'll be helpful to take a look at a "why us?" essay that works and figure out what the author did to create a meaningful answer to this challenging question.
Here is a "Why Tufts?" essay from James Gregoire '19 for Tufts University :
It was on my official visit with the cross country team that I realized Tufts was the perfect school for me. Our topics of conversation ranged from Asian geography to efficient movement patterns, and everyone spoke enthusiastically about what they were involved in on campus. I really related with the guys I met, and I think they represent the passion that Tufts' students have. I can pursue my dream of being a successful entrepreneur by joining the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society, pursuing an Entrepreneurial Leadership minor, and taking part in an up-and-coming computer science program.
Here are some of the main reasons this essay is so effective:
- Interaction with current students. James writes about hanging out with the cross-country team and sounds excited about meeting them.
- "I'm a great fit." He uses the conversation with the cross-country team members to talk about his own good fit here ("I really related with the guys I met").
- Why the school is special. James also uses the conversation as a way to show that he enjoys the variety of opportunities Tufts offers (their fun conversation covers Asian geography, movement patterns, and other things they "were involved with on campus").
- Taking advantage of this specialness. James doesn't just list things Tufts offers but also explains which of them are of specific value to him. He's interested in being an entrepreneur, so the Tufts Entrepreneurs Society and the Entrepreneurial Leadership courses appeal to him.
- Awareness of what the school is up to. Finally, James shows that he's aware of the latest Tufts developments when he mentions the new computer science program.
The Bottom Line: Writing a Great "Why This College?" Essay
- Proof that you understand what makes this college different and special
- Evidence that you'll be a good fit at this school
- Evidence that this college will, in turn, be a good fit for you
The prompt may be phrased in one of two ways: "Why us?" or "Why you?" But these are sides of the same coin and will be addressed in your essay regardless of the prompt style.
Writing the perfect "why this school?" essay requires you to first research the specific qualities and characteristics of this school that appeal to you. You can find this information by doing any or all of the following:
- Visiting campuses in person or virtually to interact with current students and faculty
- Posing questions to your college interviewer or to representatives at college fairs
- Reading the college's own materials , such as its brochures, official website, alumni magazine, campus newspaper, and social media
- Looking at other websites that talk about the school
To find a topic to write about for your essay, find the three to five things that really speak to you about the school , and then link each of them to yourself, your interests, your goals, or your strengths.
Avoid using clichés that could be true for any school, such as architecture, geography, weather, or sports fandom. Instead, focus on the details that differentiate your intended school from all the others .
Are you also working on your personal statement? If you're using the Common App, check out our complete breakdown of the Common App prompts and learn how to pick the best prompt for you .
If you're applying to a University of California school, we've got an in-depth article on how to write effective UC personal statements .
And if you're submitting ApplyTexas applications, read our helpful guide on how to approach the many different ApplyTexas essay prompts .
Struggling with the college application process as a whole? Our expert guides teach you how to ask for recommendations , how to write about extracurriculars , and how to research colleges .
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.
Student and Parent Forum
Our new student and parent forum, at ExpertHub.PrepScholar.com , allow you to interact with your peers and the PrepScholar staff. See how other students and parents are navigating high school, college, and the college admissions process. Ask questions; get answers.
Ask a Question Below
Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!
Improve With Our Famous Guides
- For All Students
The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 160+ SAT Points
How to Get a Perfect 1600, by a Perfect Scorer
Series: How to Get 800 on Each SAT Section:
Score 800 on SAT Math
Score 800 on SAT Reading
Score 800 on SAT Writing
Series: How to Get to 600 on Each SAT Section:
Score 600 on SAT Math
Score 600 on SAT Reading
Score 600 on SAT Writing
Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests
What SAT Target Score Should You Be Aiming For?
15 Strategies to Improve Your SAT Essay
The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 4+ ACT Points
How to Get a Perfect 36 ACT, by a Perfect Scorer
Series: How to Get 36 on Each ACT Section:
36 on ACT English
36 on ACT Math
36 on ACT Reading
36 on ACT Science
Series: How to Get to 24 on Each ACT Section:
24 on ACT English
24 on ACT Math
24 on ACT Reading
24 on ACT Science
What ACT target score should you be aiming for?
ACT Vocabulary You Must Know
ACT Writing: 15 Tips to Raise Your Essay Score
How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League
How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA
How to Write an Amazing College Essay
What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?
Is the ACT easier than the SAT? A Comprehensive Guide
Should you retake your SAT or ACT?
When should you take the SAT or ACT?
Get the latest articles and test prep tips!
Looking for Graduate School Test Prep?
Check out our top-rated graduate blogs here:
GRE Online Prep Blog
GMAT Online Prep Blog
TOEFL Online Prep Blog
Holly R. "I am absolutely overjoyed and cannot thank you enough for helping me!”
What are your chances of acceptance?
Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.
Your chancing factors
How to Write the “Why this Major” College Essay + Example
←Tips for Writing a Stand Out Community Service Essay
How to Write the “Why This Major” Essay If You’re Undecided→
The “Why This Major?” essay is a common prompt that nearly every college applicant will have to answer. In this post, we’ll be going over the purpose of this essay, examples of real prompts, sample responses, and expert tips for writing your own essay. If one of the colleges on your list asks you to respond to this prompt, you’ll be well-prepared after reading this post.
What is the “Why This Major” Essay?
In the college admissions process, you’ll need to submit two main types of essays: the personal statement and supplemental essays. The personal statement is your main application essay that goes to every school you apply to. The goal of this essay is to share more about who you are and your development.
On the other hand, s upplemental essays only go to specific schools, and each school requests their own essays. The goal of these essays is to showcase your fit with the school. Common prompts include “ Why This College? ”, “ Describe an Extracurricular ,” and “Why This Major?”.
As a supplemental essay, the “Why This Major?” prompt asks you to explain your interest in your intended major. Colleges want to understand your academic background, what your intellectual passions are, and what you plan to do professionally. It’s also meant to gauge your academic fit with the college, as you should also cover the school-specific resources that will help you achieve your goals. This prompt should actually be considered “Why This Major at This School?”.
Examples of “Why This Major?” Essay Prompts
Before we dive in, let’s first take a look at some real-life examples of these prompts.
For example, Yale requests that students write a supplemental essay based on the following prompt:
Students at Yale have plenty of time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the list provided. Why do these areas appeal to you? (100 words or fewer).
Similarly, Purdue asks applicants to write 100 words in response to the below statement:
“Briefly discuss your reasons for pursuing the major you have selected.”
Another top college, Carnegie Mellon requires students to discuss the evolution of their proposed field of study in 300 words:
“Most students choose their intended major or area of study based on a passion or inspiration that’s developed over time—what passion or inspiration led you to choose this area of study?”
Finally, UPenn asks students to craft a slightly longer essay (300-450 words) explaining how they chose their major:
“How did you discover your intellectual and academic interests, and how will you explore them at the University of Pennsylvania? Please respond considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected.”
“Why This Major?” Essay Example
To give you a better idea of what these essays should actually look like, here’s an example of a response to the “Why This Major?” prompt.
Prompt: If you are applying to the Pratt School of Engineering as a first year applicant, please discuss why you want to study engineering and why you would like to study at Duke (250 words).
One Christmas morning, when I was nine, I opened a snap circuit set from my grandmother. Although I had always loved math and science, I didn’t realize my passion for engineering until I spent the rest of winter break creating different circuits to power various lights, alarms, and sensors. Even after I outgrew the toy, I kept the set in my bedroom at home and knew I wanted to study engineering. Later, in a high school biology class, I learned that engineering didn’t only apply to circuits, but also to medical devices that could improve people’s quality of life. Biomedical engineering allows me to pursue my academic passions and help people at the same time.
Just as biology and engineering interact in biomedical engineering, I am fascinated by interdisciplinary research in my chosen career path. Duke offers unmatched resources, such as DUhatch and The Foundry, that will enrich my engineering education and help me practice creative problem-solving skills. The emphasis on entrepreneurship within these resources will also help me to make a helpful product. Duke’s Bass Connections program also interests me; I firmly believe that the most creative and necessary problem-solving comes by bringing people together from different backgrounds. Through this program, I can use my engineering education to solve complicated societal problems such as creating sustainable surgical tools for low-income countries. Along the way, I can learn alongside experts in the field. Duke’s openness and collaborative culture span across its academic disciplines, making Duke the best place for me to grow both as an engineer and as a social advocate.
This student does a great job of sharing how their interest in biomedical engineering developed. They begin the essay with an anecdote, which is more engaging and personal than simply stating “I want to study X major because…” The student also details how Duke specifically can help them achieve their goal of being an engineer and social advocate. It’s clear they’ve done their research, as they’re able to name resources at Duke, such as DUhatch, The Foundry, and the Bass Connections program.
Tips for Writing the “Why This Major?” Essay
Answering the “Why This Major?” essay prompt may seem like a difficult task. However, there are tips to help simplify the process and ensure your response addresses the question fully and effectively. Here are three steps for writing a standout essay about your major of choice:
1. Share how your academic interest developed.
The first step in crafting an effective “Why This Major?” essay example is explaining your emotional resonance with the subject, and your background in it. While you might be tempted to write about your passion for the subject in flowery language, it’s better to share specific experiences that show how your interest developed. You should cover both the coursework that you’ve done and any relevant extracurricular experiences. If you have space, you can also add in the specific subtopics that interest you within the major (i.e. analyzing gender relations or racism within the broader topic of sociology).
You might also consider sharing a short anecdote related to your interest in the major. This is especially effective at the beginning of the essay, as telling a story will draw in the reader while providing context for your academic interest. For example, if you’re interested in attending Yale University to study English, you could start your essay by describing a childhood ritual in which you and your dad went to the library every Saturday.
While anecdotes are effective components of a college essay, students should choose what details to include with care. The most impactful essays tell a story, so you should refrain from listing all of your extracurricular activities that relate to your chosen major. This is not a resume! Instead, find ways of connecting your initial anecdote with your desire to pursue your major. For example, perhaps your early experiences at the library led you to get a job at a local bookstore and organize author readings for the community.
2. Detail your reasoning and goals.
It’s not enough to express your passion for a particular subject. You also want to describe your goals and explain how majoring in a field will help you achieve them. Perhaps your early experiences with authors inspired you to start a novel. You can further explain how majoring in English will enable you to study the great works of literature, thereby providing you with the background and foundation needed to find success as a writer.
3. Explain your school choice.
Finally, a “Why This Major?” essay should reveal how the college in question will help you achieve your goals. Your reasons should extend beyond “the college is highly ranked for this major,” and should dive into the curriculum, teaching methodology, and specific classes or resources.
For example, if you’re passionate about becoming a writer one day, take time to explain how Yale’s English program will set you on the road to success. Perhaps you’re interested in studying British greats through the famed Yale in London study abroad program. Or, maybe you plan on pursuing the Writing Concentration as a senior to further your creative writing skills. You could also mention a desire to take a particular course, study with a certain professor, or work on the school newspaper. Just be careful not to “name-drop” professors — only mention a specific faculty member if their work is actually highly-relevant to your interests. Otherwise, your interest will look disingenuous.
What to Do If You’re Undecided
Just because you haven’t decided on a concentration doesn’t mean you’re out of luck when it comes to writing the “Why This Major?” essay. If you’re still undecided, you can opt to write about 1-3 potential majors, while detailing how the school can help you meet your goals. For best results, include personal anecdotes about a few academic subjects or courses that have inspired you, and share some potential career paths stemming from them. For more tips, see our post on how to write the “Why this major?” essay if you’re undecided .
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
Related CollegeVine Blog Posts
How to Write a “Why This College” Essay
Reviewer & Writer
www.bestcolleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Turn Your Dreams Into Reality
Take our quiz and we'll do the homework for you! Compare your school matches and apply to your top choice today.
- "Why this college" essays allow applicants to describe why they should gain admission.
- Writing a successful "why this school" essay involves doing research about the college.
- Applicants should also be as specific as possible when crafting their essays.
When it comes to college application essays , one common type of prompt deals with "why this college." This essay gives applicants the opportunity to share their knowledge of the school and demonstrate why they belong there.
Read on for practical tips on how to craft this unique type of college essay and see a "why this school" essay example.
What Is the Purpose of "Why Us" College Essays?
Colleges and universities don't ask students to write a "why did you choose this college" essay just so they can hear compliments about the school. These essays serve a specific purpose: to help you convince admissions committees that you're a good fit.
You can also use "why this college," or "why us," essays as a way to introduce yourself and your passions.
Admissions officers look for several points when evaluating "why this college" essays. They want to know about a student's interests, values, and goals. They also look for students who demonstrate genuine interest in the school.
Popular Online Programs
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
Examples of "Why This College" Essay Prompts
"Why this college" essays are not always as straightforward as simply answering the question "Why do you want to study with us?" Colleges and universities often ask particular questions, hoping to see how students respond to a prompt and follow instructions.
The list below shows how several of these essay prompts may differ. For example, a University of Central Florida prompt encourages applicants to write about themselves. In contrast, the University of Michigan and New York University provide prompts that ask about what students find interesting about the schools.
- Columbia University : "Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia."
- University of Central Florida : "Why did you choose to apply to UCF? What qualities or unique characteristics do you possess that will allow you to contribute to the UCF community?"
- University of Michigan : "Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate college or school (including preferred admission and dual-degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?"
- New York University : "We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU ? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and/or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand — Why NYU?"
- University of Pennsylvania : "Considering the specific undergraduate school you have selected, how will you explore your academic and intellectual interests at the University of Pennsylvania?"
5 Tips for Writing a Great "Why This College" Essay
Follow the five tips below to help your "why this school" essay leave a memorable impression on admissions officers.
1. Treat Each "Why Us" Essay Individually
Although it may seem tempting to write one essay about why you want to attend college and send it to every school, this strategy isn't likely to get you far. Essay readers can tell when applicants write a general essay, and this may make it seem like you failed to make an effort. Instead, acknowledge specific characteristics of the school.
2. Spend Time Researching Your Schools
By researching your target schools, you can reference that information in your essays to impress admissions officers. In short, research shows you did your homework.
Instead of writing about general details like school size, try to include more in-depth information you can find by looking at faculty websites, student reviews, and course offerings. You can also reference info you received during any on-campus visits or admissions events.
3. Focus on Your Fit With the School
Highlight elements of the school that appeal to you and discuss why the school is a good fit for you based on these factors. You'll want to consider the institution's strengths and how these align with your own interests and your personality as a whole. Also, take time to explain how this college can help you meet your academic and career goals.
4. Provide Specific Details and Examples
Avoid general cliches, tropes, and superlatives — generalizations won't impress admissions officers. Instead, refer to specific details that explain why you want to attend that particular school. For example, you could make note of unique programs that stand out to you, your interest in research opportunities, or a desire to take classes from a certain professor.
5. Demonstrate a Sense of Enthusiasm
Find ways to communicate your excitement in your essay to liven it up and demonstrate your interest to the admissions committee. For instance, you might talk about a positive interaction you've had with a professor, student, or alum. Alternatively, you could tell a story about your experience visiting the campus.
Once again, avoid generalities — enthusiasm expressed through cliches can come across insincere.
How to Structure a "Why This College" Essay
The beginning of your essay is an opportunity to introduce yourself, your academic goals, and your passions. Catch the reader's attention by starting out with a surprising statement or interesting anecdote. Then, give the reader a sense of who you are so they know why you believe you're a good fit for the school.
In the body of your essay , address the specifics of the school and why these resonate with you. Describe details that prove you've done your research and that demonstrate your interest in a certain academic area. Remember to stay away from generalities, which can sound unconvincing.
Close the essay by communicating your enthusiasm for the college. Avoid any trite or cliche phrases. Be authentic when expressing your hope to attend this college. You can circle back to the first paragraph or end on a note looking toward your future at the school.
"Why This College" Essay Example
When I was four years old, I told my parents with the utmost certainty that I would grow up to be Buzz Lightyear. Although I eventually learned that becoming a fictional character is impossible, my fascination with space continued throughout the years. I've attended space camp for the past four years and enrolled in advanced math and science classes, all with the dream that I can eventually make a real impact in the mission of exploring the stars.
That's why the University of Michigan is my top choice for college. I know exactly what I want to do with my career, and I'm confident that the Aerospace Engineering SUGS Program would be a perfect fit. The ability to earn both my bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering in five years could help me dive straight into my passion.
I'm also eager to take advantage of the many advantages of the program that help students gain real-world experience. The opportunity to design an entire spacecraft system in the capstone course during my senior year already excites me. I'd love to gain hands-on research experience through the summer research program, especially under the guidance of a faculty mentor. Plus, the ability to study engineering during a semester abroad in Berlin or Hong Kong already has me browsing language classes at U-M for my electives.
I may never grow up to become Buzz Lightyear. But the unique opportunities available at U-M would allow me to make a legitimate career out of my lifelong passion.
Explore More College Resources
7 expert tips for the common app essay.
9 Tips for Raising Your College Admission Chances
Writing About COVID-19 in Your College Essay
BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
Compare Your School Options
View the most relevant schools for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to finding your college home.
Common App Essay Examples + Writing Guide 2023
November 13, 2023
If there’s a surefire way to strike fear into the heart of a college-bound high school senior, it’s the prospect of writing a college personal statement. We can understand why: this is a high-stakes piece of writing that adds much-needed dimension and personality to your application’s quantitative elements, providing important insight into what type of student and community member you will be on campus. Compounding these factors is the decision of what to write about, and then, after you decide, figuring out how to express it all in under 650 words. No pressure, right? Understand that your nerves are normal, but don’t let them induce midlife crisis levels of panic–you can do this! Wondering how to write a personal statement for college? In today’s blog, we cover ten important tips. In addition, we also analyze several Common App essay examples and offer insight into what they can teach us.
College Personal Statement Tip #1: Remember your essay’s purpose.
To write the most effective piece of writing in any discipline, it’s important to understand the context in which that piece of writing is being evaluated and for what purpose. Your personal statement for college is a single subjective element of your application that helps tell the story of you, alongside other quantitative and qualitative information such as grades, test scores, teacher recommendations , and your extracurricular profile . It’s certainly true that essays can be a weighty element depending on the school you’re applying to and where you fall in relation to the rest of the applicant pool. However, since essays are often the final application piece that can be controlled, it’s common to overinflate their importance.
If your essay does its job, readers will obtain a clear sense of who you are and what you value. They’ll also have a better understanding of how you might contribute to their academic institution’s learning and social communities. Additionally, admissions officers should be able to sum up your essay’s main message in about one sentence.
College Personal Statement Tip #2: Be authentic.
You might be tired of hearing this one, but it’s the most salient piece of advice we can offer. Often, students attempt to manufacture certain application narratives, which typically wind up sounding forced or over-engineered. If you do make genuine connections between certain experiences, great! Perhaps your lifelong love of camping really did contribute to your engineering aspirations. However, if that connection doesn’t exist, don’t invent it. If you’re writing about what truly matters most to you–an experience, a passion, an idea, an important moment of growth or conflict–the different aspects of your application will naturally come together. We promise.
College Personal Statement Tip #3: Be humble and self-aware.
A self-important tone will sink an essay faster than holes in a canoe, no matter how impressive you are. The personal statement is not an opportunity to hit people over the head with accomplishments that appear elsewhere. Instead, it’s to reveal the voice of the person behind the application–what you value and think is important. Your essays are the closest admissions officers can get to having you in the room with them. Consequently, use that power wisely and let your grades, extracurricular profile, and teacher recommendations do the heavy lifting.
College Personal Statement Tip #4: Write well and with clarity.
Good writing is good writing, period. An excellent personal statement in 2023 would also have been an excellent personal statement in 2013. The criteria haven’t changed: colleges that use holistic admissions still rely on essays to obtain a sense of an applicant’s unique voice and hear their story in their own words.
However, packing your essay with figurative devices, subtle or abstract references, and complex syntax is not in your best interest. Your reader will not be sitting with your essay for 15-20 minutes appreciating its style. Instead, they’ll be reading it once–perhaps twice. They’ll synthesize its message and then move on. As such, your essay’s overall message–and its clarity–is paramount. When you do make sentence-level revisions, focus on those that will enhance your essay’s narrative or present your ideas even more clearly rather than worrying about using overly flowery language or uncommon vocabulary.
College Personal Statement Tip #5: Structure your essay in the way that makes the most sense for your story.
Too often, we see students attempting to make their essays stand out by adopting a “unique” structure or approach. However, to be quite frank, your chance of presenting admissions officers with something that they’ve never seen before has approximately the same probability as seeing a velociraptor in your backyard. Remember, they read thousands of applications per year. Their objective is not to be surprised but to get to know you . Style and presentation shouldn’t get in the way of substance.
College Personal Statement Tip #6: Trust your intuition .
When it comes to choosing topics, the way you write about any given topic often outweighs the topic itself. ( See exceptions here . ) As such, the topic that is often the most successful is the one that you feel most excited or inspired to write. In addition, many writing teachers and scholars agree that the most effective revision takes place when writers are interested and invested in their topics. Essentially, make sure you like what you’re writing about!
College Personal Statement Tip #7: Choose a topic you feel comfortable writing about.
Writing about trauma or deeply personal challenges is not a prerequisite for your application. Every student is so incredibly multidimensional with myriad stories to tell about themselves (yes, it’s true!). As such, you shouldn’t feel pressured to reveal details or experiences that you aren’t ready to write about or share. If you do elect to write about a traumatic experience or difficult circumstance, we’d advise engaging in a quick self-check. How much are you attaching yourself to this essay? In other words, if your application is not accepted to College X, will you be okay with that? If that question immediately induces self-doubt and negativity, you likely want to choose something else to write about.
College Personal Statement Tip #8: Solicit feedback.
Most professional writers ask a trusted peer, mentor, or colleague to read their work at least once before finalizing it. It can be difficult to be objective, so receiving quality feedback from an outside reader can make an important difference .
However, this tip has one important caveat: be choosy about whom you solicit feedback from. The person you ask should be familiar with the college essay genre and understand what is expected. Otherwise, it would be like asking someone who doesn’t play baseball to give you advice on your swing.
If you do ask a friend, family member, or teacher for feedback who is not familiar with college essay conventions, a great question to ask is “Does this essay sound like me?” In addition, the feedback you receive should, ideally, be very specific with well-explained reasoning. This allows you to decide if and how to use it.
College Personal Statement Tip #9: Use spell check.
An error or two won’t hurt you–we promise. We’re all humans and miss a comma here and there. However, if your essay is littered with typos that could have been remediated by running a Grammarly scan , a reader may assume you’re not serious about the application or lack attention to detail.
College Personal Statement Tip #10: Read Common App essay examples (with perspective).
How can we write a good poem without ever reading a piece of poetry? Or craft a short story without first immersing ourselves in the classics? Or develop a college personal statement without reading good examples? Well–that last one isn’t exactly rhetorical.
We’ve noticed that providing Common App essay examples is more complicated than providing examples for other types of writing. This is because college essays are often associated with a particular desired outcome. As such, students are prone to arrive at unhelpful and/or inaccurate conclusions after reading. For example: “If so-and-so got into Harvard by theming all their essays about chicken soup, then I should do the same!” or “This person used an extended metaphor, so that must be the way to do it!” What happens even more frequently is that students compare their writing styles and life experiences to others. They’ll then (falsely) conclude that they’re not good enough or interesting enough to be accepted to College X. This can result in confidence issues and unnecessary panic.
It’s also important to note that reading a college personal statement by itself is akin to watching a fish out of water. To truly understand its context, it should be read within the framework of the application. That said, to better understand the basics of the genre, it can be helpful to read a variety of Common App essay examples, observing their general structure and what they reveal about their writers. Below, we’ve included several personal statement examples along with a short breakdown of what writers can learn from each piece.
Common App Essay Examples: Essay #1
On a hot day last summer, my brother ran his bike into the mailbox. He skinned his knee, but was less worried about that and more worried about the chipped paint on his new bike. Tears welling in his eyes, he rubbed it with his finger and even more paint flaked off.
“Wait,” I said. “Wait here for just one minute.”
I had taken my brother outside because my mom was sleeping after a chemo treatment, but I ran upstairs as quickly and quietly as I could to get my box of paints. It’s a wooden box, smudged with charcoal fingerprints and streaks of acrylics. I hadn’t always been an artist, but when my art teacher noticed the designs in my notebook margins and asked if I wanted to come to an art club meeting, I decided to try it.
At that first meeting, my teacher taught us how to create a mountain sunrise. As the painting took shape, I marveled at the techniques–using my thumbprint to create the sun, crafting shadows with surprising colors, creating different effects by applying varying types of pressure to my brush. I was also surprised that focusing on my piece felt so meditative–it was the first time since my mom’s diagnosis that I hadn’t been preoccupied with whether her treatments would work or what I was going to cook my brother for dinner.
Common App Essay Examples (Continued)
“What do you want on your bike?” I asked my brother. “Instead of the scratch.” I opened up my box and pointed toward his bike. His eyes widened.
“Anything I want?” he asked.
He chose a baseball bat, and crouched next to me as I painted. When I was done, he said, “Can you paint a baseball, too? Over here.” He pointed to the other end of the bike.
“I’ll show you how.” I dipped his thumb in white and pressed it on the bike’s frame, then showed him how to use my thinnest brush to add curved red stitching.
Word spread quickly about my bike designs. My brother’s friends stopped by the house with pictures of designs that they wanted, and my neighbor’s little girls shyly approached when I was outside with my brother, asking for butterflies. I started carrying my paints around just in case. The kids always gave me something–a shiny rock they’d found, a few quarters, a special feather. It makes me smile when I look out the window and see those bikes pedaling around the neighborhood, my brother’s among them. It makes my mom smile, too. I asked what she would want painted on her bike if she had one, and she said a sunflower. I painted one on our mailbox, cheery and yellow, its stem curling around the handle and down the post.
There are always new techniques to learn and improvements to strive toward, but I feel that art is about trying to create meaning within a chosen medium. There’s so much I can’t control, but what I can do is create beauty in my life and in the lives of others. It’s why I started teaching an afterschool art class at my brother’s elementary school, why I’m currently working on a wall mural in the children’s room at the library, why I’ve taught myself graphic design skills to create posters for art club events and shows. Also, my mailbox paint creations gained so much popularity that my entire street commissioned me to do their boxes. I donated the money to cancer research, but more importantly, the designs are a beacon of support to my mom each day that she feels strong enough to walk outside and check the mail.
Although college will bring new challenges, I also know it will bring a new collection of scratched-up bikes and bare mailboxes, waiting to be painted with brightly colored designs that allow me to express myself and impact others.
What we can learn from this personal statement example:
Many students have hobbies or passions that are a defining part of their lives. This writer’s involvement in the arts is given context and dimension here. Upon reviewing other parts of the application, such as the extracurricular profile, the reader might wonder, Why art? What sparked this interest? Why is it so important to her? As such, it can be helpful to provide insight on the influence of a certain hobby or passion by sharing a related personal experience.
In addition, the writer alludes to her family circumstances and responsibilities without going too in-depth. This is an excellent choice for students who may not feel comfortable sharing anything other than a basic level of information.
Finally, this writer reflects throughout the essay, tying everything together at the end with just one sentence. It’s a good reminder that just a few well-placed moments of insight can go a long way.
Common App Essay Examples: Essay #2
By some people’s standards, my grandma might be considered a hoarder. When I say there is stuff everywhere at our house, I mean it: broken crystal glasses from a hundred years ago, old watch straps, a shockingly large collection of thumbtacks. Three coffee makers that haven’t worked since before I was born. A broom no one uses because it doesn’t actually sweep anything up.
Whenever I make a motion to throw something out–an empty spice jar for example, or socks with holes in them, my grandma acts personally insulted. (She has also been known to survey the trash can for offending items.) She’ll take it from me grouchily and remind me of its potential uses–spice jars can be cinnamon-and-sugar shakers! Socks are free dusters! Sometimes, though, she doesn’t have a reason beyond “I might need it someday.”
At first, I thought this statement was weird. What could we possibly need a cracked Tupperware container for? But then I learned that her attitude stems, in part, from growing up on a rural farm. Everything was repurposed, and it was common to keep things that may not have direct uses, knowing you’d likely find one at some point or another. For example, a large plastic container with a broken lid could be turned on its side and stuffed with hay for the cat in the winter, or plastic bread bags could be used to pack school lunches. Dried-up markers? Homemade watercolor paint. Egg cartons and dryer lint? Fire starters. Chipped bowl? Bird bath.
Her attitude made me interested in our collective willingness to sentence an item to the trash before finding a reuse for it. We buy cheap clothes knowing they might only last us a year. Single-use plastic still dominates, even though the vast majority of it heads to the landfill instead of being recycled. Old jeans are tossed instead of patched up and used as gardening pants, like my grandma does. The worst part is that we do all this knowing that our planet is undergoing irreversible shifts as a result of climate change. The world we’re heading toward is a world none of us can possibly be prepared for.
But what if people could be convinced to adopt my grandma’s mindset? And what would it take to inspire such behavioral changes on a large scale? I started learning about the field of neuroeconomics through books, podcasts, and a summer course at our local college, and became fascinated with the neuroscience behind decision-making. Could principles of neuroeconomics influence environmental policy? What factors could help people make long-lasting, environmentally conscious changes, and how we might facilitate them? These are massive, long-term questions. For now, was there a way to inspire my friends to start being more mindful of their consumption? To start reusing spaghetti jars and dusting with hole-y socks? And what might people be willing to donate or repurpose when there was a community effort to do so?
So, me and my grandma started advertising our services, and the response was unlike anything I could have possibly imagined. We now have a garage full of items that we either donate, sell, or repair, everything from antique dresses that my grandma soaks the stains out of to custom-patched jeans to dressers and wooden toys that need a quick sanding and fresh coat of paint. Our yard sales have become legendary and I’m the go-to kid when people have an old end table with Buzz Lightyear on it that they don’t know what to do with. “Drop it off at my grandma’s,” I say, and they do. Until I can figure out how to effect the kind of large-scale change I’d like to make, I’ll start small and keep going, hopeful that I’m making a difference one revitalized sock at a time.
If you’re naturally humorous, feel free to incorporate it into your college essay! That said, if you do write a humorous piece, avoid waiting until the last paragraph to be funny or sarcastic. Otherwise, your one joke may not be received the way you intend.
It was important to this author to demonstrate intellectual curiosity, which was accomplished in several ways. For starters, the writer asked open-ended, interesting questions. Secondly, the writer provides examples of formal and informal engagement with neuroeconomics. Finally, the writer attempts to create a solution to at least one of their questions. This move gives the reader an opportunity to see how the writer’s mind works as well as how they process and utilize information. Finally, the writer is careful not to make future claims that are too grandiose in nature. For example: “I will single-handedly save the planet by repurposing furniture!”
Moreover, their use of vivid details and examples supports the narrative instead of acting as filler. Notice that the writer only provides examples of repurposable items (which are the focal point of the story). Other types of details, such as the house’s design features or Grandma’s physical attributes, may have felt distracting. When incorporating descriptive elements, it’s important to make sure that they’re serving a purpose and pulling their weight.
Common App Essay Examples: Essay #3
My life has always been punctuated by my father’s military deployments, like periods placed in the middle of sentences. I often measured time in relation to them: before, during, or after , holding my breath for my father’s departure or homecoming, for the inevitable extensions and sporadic phone calls, for the unexpected emotions and responsibilities. By the time I was in high school, my father had been gone for more of my childhood than he had been present, and in tenth grade, my parents decided to divorce.
Until then, I had always been surrounded by friends who also had an active duty parent. We didn’t have to explain to each other what the ups and downs felt like. We just knew. I knew that when Mariela’s father’s deployment got extended, she could use a trip to the beach, her favorite place, knew that one of the most painful parts of the whole deployment cycle was the anticipation, and would check in with my friends more frequently during that time, knew that the first week often felt the most discombobulated, and was usually when my mom would offer to drop off meals or help ferry kids to after-school activities. That first week was also the time when things usually went wrong: a burst pipe, a dead car battery, a broken washing machine. Murphy’s Law , my mom always said.
I had spent my entire life existing within this predictably unpredictable cycle. So, when my mom and I moved right before my junior year to a small condo ten minutes from my grandparents but 2,000 miles away from my father’s last duty station, I assumed it wouldn’t be that much different from other moves. I’d join new clubs, make new friends, get to know our neighbors.
But I was immediately confronted by a sense of otherness in a community of kids who had known each other since kindergarten. Explaining where I’d lived before–and why–either solicited shocked reactions “You’ve moved six times?” or prying questions “Why didn’t you stay with your dad?” Mentioning a deployment received a blank stare. It felt like the previous version of me, the way I’d always thought of myself–as a military kid–was no longer true, or had somehow evaporated into thin air.
Then, last spring, I had an unexpected breakthrough. My chemistry lab partner struggled with some of the steps. As I explained them to her, she visibly relaxed and shot me a thankful smile. I grinned too, because in that moment, I felt more like myself than I had in months.
Later that week, I applied for a peer tutoring position and was accepted. I feel passionate about trying to make personal connections with my students so that I can try to understand and anticipate their needs. I notice whether some students like to brainstorm ideas aloud before writing them down, or prefer when I use pictures to explain concepts. Some students appreciate small talk for a few minutes before we get started, and others need to be more efficient, trying to squeeze in a tutoring session before their after-school job. Not only that, but as I got to know my fellow tutors, I found friendship and connection. When Sophia’s brother was in the hospital, I picked her up for an afternoon movie. On the night of my piano recital, Olivia and Mary were in the front row cheering me on.
I’ve come to understand that my previous identity is still part of me, even though I now live a very different lifestyle than I did several years ago. Sometimes, I still miss being a military kid. But all the lessons I learned from that time in my life–the importance of a supportive community, empathy, kindness, and anticipating others’ needs–are always with me, informing everything I do.
This essay deals with several significant personal challenges, including military deployments, divorce, and a cross-country move. Notice that the writer contains these challenges in the first half of the essay and only includes need-to-know details. For example, we don’t need to know the reason for the divorce, or every nitty-gritty deployment detail. She sticks to the facts.
In addition, there should always be a purpose to sharing a challenge, which needs to be revealed in the second half of the essay. As we often can’t control our circumstances, readers are most interested in how you handled the adversity you experienced or how it has impacted your perspective.
In essays about challenges, it’s also essential to strike a mature and positive tone, which this writer certainly demonstrates. However, positive doesn’t have to mean that you have to slap a shiny bow on an unresolved issue or arrive at a forced conclusion. Positive simply means that there is some type of upward trajectory, some type of forward momentum or thinking. At the end of the essay, one has the overall sense that, even though this writer sometimes struggles with her new lifestyle, she’s ready to take on new challenges. It’s also clear that she values and prioritizes being part of a community.
Finally, this writer chose to use several figurative devices in her essay, including similes and anaphora. However, she uses them sparingly. As such, they demonstrate her writing style without overshadowing or detracting from content.
Final Thoughts – Common App Essay Examples
The college personal statement is an important part of the application that can reveal more about who you are and what you’ll bring to a college campus. Studying the genre is an essential part of being well-prepared to do your best writing, an exercise that includes understanding the essay’s purpose as well as how it will be evaluated. In addition, reading Common App essay examples can be an insightful addition to your writing process. Relax, be yourself, and know that admissions officers are eager to get to know you –the real, multidimensional, interesting person–behind the application.
Looking for more essay writing advice? Check out the following blogs:
- How to Write the Community Essay – Guide with Examples
- How to Write the Why This Major Essay + Example
- How to Write the Overcoming Challenges Essay + Example
- Why This College Essay – 7 Tips for Success
- How to Start a College Essay – 12 Techniques and Tips
- How to End a College Essay – With Examples
- College Essay
Kelsea holds a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Tufts University, a graduate certificate in College Counseling from UCLA, and an MA in Teaching Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her short fiction is forthcoming in Chautauqua .
- 2-Year Colleges
- Application Strategies
- Big Picture
- Career & Personality Assessment
- College Search/Knowledge
- College Success
- Costs & Financial Aid
- Extracurricular Activities
- Graduate School Admissions
- High School Success
- High Schools
- Law School Admissions
- Medical School Admissions
- Navigating the Admissions Process
- Online Learning
- Summer Programs
“Innovative and invaluable…use this book as your college lifeline.”
— Lynn O'Shaughnessy
Nationally Recognized College Expert
College Planning in Your Inbox
Join our information-packed monthly newsletter.
Sign Up Now
- Purpose of Education
- Words: 1489
- Physical Education
- Active listening
- Brown V Board of Education
- Growth Mindset
- Standardized Testing
- Sex education
- Online Education Vs Tradi...
- Study skills
- Right to education
- Writing Experience
- College Education
- Technology in Education
- English Language
- Importance of Education
- Critical Thinking
- Free education
The Purpose of College Essay
College is an adventure full of many twists and turns, and students grow intellectually and socially while attending. The purpose of college is for people to expand their horizons while figuring out their career paths for the future. Education should be everyone’s number one reason to attend college, and everything else should come second. Recently Jeffrey J. Selingo, a writer from the Washington Post, posed a question, “Is it solely a college’s responsibility to make students job ready?” His question seems to suggest that students need to be more active in the pursuit of their education. Selingo argues that college students see a bachelor’s degree as a means to an end, which is a job, and they do not see it as an experience for the sake of knowledge. Why do many hold the view that college is all about getting a job? Many people think that a college education is not worth the expenses, is that true? Many reasons exist for one to attend. Personally, my purpose here at Kutztown is to excel as a writer, and to expand my education to learn as much as I can while I am here. Examining the varied purposes of a college education is essential in order to maximize one’s experiences and opportunities over the course of four years.
The choice for me to attend college was not easy for me. The 4-years of higher education is not for everyone and some people are not ready for it yet, mentally and financially. There were many factors that loomed over my head, such as the expenses that come with college, my major, and the decision if I was ready to be independent. My family members were talking to me and they all seemed to have different reasons to go to college . I was only thinking about all the work, classes, and hardships that would lead up to earning a degree. My high school years were very rough for me concerning those topics, so I was very hesitant about embarking on this new journey. I eventually realized that the purpose for me to go to Kutztown was that I wanted to grow intellectually as a writer and socially as a person. Most importantly, I considered all of the advantages of getting a degree, and realized that it would really help me to get my future dream job. I knew that this experience would be worth it and I could turn over a new leaf as an independent adult.
ready to help you now
Without paying upfront
The economic factors were very important to me while deciding which college to go to. Addressing the question if college is worth the cost, Jeffrey Selingo explains in his article that there are many ideas that could save the expense of higher education. Selingo states that, “They focus mostly on revenue, not costs. In doing so, they fail to get to the root of higher education’s financial dilemma, which is the expense of maintaining campuses that operate like minicities with an array of academic programs and faculty to teach in them, an ever-growing catalog of student services, and complex administrative systems.” A lot of people want to go to college, but they do not want to invest in it because of the issues involving the high cost. They also do not think that their experience will be equal to the cost, and they think that they will be paying for more than they will earn from it.
There are a few statistics that show the percentages of Americans that have different reasonings for the purpose of college. That being said, Russell Heimlich, a writer for the Pew Research Center, poses the question, “Do we send students to college mainly to grow and learn or strictly to prepare for a future career?” Based off of a report on the findings from a pair of Pew Research Center surveys, 47% of Americans say that college’s purpose is teaching work-related skills and 39% say that it is to help students grow personally and intellectually. I think that the 47% is too focused on “careerism” which cancels out creativity and growth. Additionally 12% of the general public vote that the time at college should be dedicated to both! Personally, I agree with the 12% of Americans because it is very important to develop both extrinsic values and intrinsic values, and have a good balance between them. My goal here at Kutztown is to work towards a degree so I will have a job with a stable lifestyle, and to grow as a person through friendships and my personal passions, such as joining clubs, Greek Life, sports teams, etc. I have always looked at college as an intellectual and social adventure, while retaining a lot of knowledge along the way.
Recently, Inside Higher Education published a collection of views under the title, “The Purpose of College.” One question appeared at the start of this piece: “Is the purpose of college to ensure a good job after graduation, to provide a broad and deep humanities education, or to create an engaged citizenry?” (Chunoo & Osteen, 2016). These questions are important to consider because people should realize their goals of attending college. Later, in this same piece, Susan D. Blum, a professor of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, argues that there are pragmatic and idealistic goals for attending college, and each type rises to different solutions. The pragmatic side refers to economics, transferable skills, return on investment, etc. She explains how people of all age groups attend college and have different economic conditions so therefore their views are very different (University of Venus).
Furthermore, today the view about college is different for everyone. In his Ted Talk, Julien Gordon examines different “capitals” attached to the college experience which list under internal and external resources. Gordon explains that the internal resources are personal and intellectual capital, and on the contrary the external resources are social and financial. The external resources focuses on earning a degree, a job, and leading a stable life. They are relate to the physical earnings of a college degree, not the inner growth that students go through during the four years.
The internal resources refer to how well people know themselves, such as their sense of purpose for the future. Gordon describes the internal resources in a powerful way, “When the world looks at you they see you as a little kitten but when you look at yourself in the mirror you ractually see something more powerful, more capable.” I highly agree with this statement because in order to do well, you have to believe that you can do anything you put your mind to. Life has taught me that everyone has different opinions of you, may judge you, and doubt you, but that does not mean that you should doubt yourself. I have struggled with keeping a good mindset here at Kutztown with the looming debt, my own worries/doubts and the independence that comes with college. On the other hand, I just have to step back and believe in myself. Gordon encourages the development of such self-confidence by explaining how you have to be passionate about what you do. As noted earlier, I want to be a novelist one day. That is my ideal profession, and I also want to enjoy tennis as a hobby. These two pursuits would allow me to grow both socially and personally.
There are many reasons why someone makes the decision to attend college and everyone benefits from different factors. Personally, I believe that the social and intellectual factors shape people as individuals and make the college experience memorable. The capitals that Gordon explain are helpful while considering the attendance of college, and people argue if the internal or external resources are more important. The economic factors play a huge part, and it is often said that the expenses are not worth it. Fortunately, when I came to Kutztown I realized that I made the best decision to go here. I have learned so much throughout my first two semesters that will help me pursue my dream of becoming a novelist and I have made so many supportive friends along the way. Kutztown University has shaped me as an independent adult and hopefully other people that were hesitant about college feel the same way about their decision.
- Blum, Susan. “The Purpose of College | Inside Higher Ed.” Inside Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, 29 Mar. 2017, www.insidehighered.com/blogs/university-venus/purpose-college.
- Heimlich, Russell. “Purpose of College Education.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 7 Feb. 2014, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2011/06/02/purpose-of-college-education/.
- Selingo, Jeffrey J. The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 Nov. 2017, www.chronicle.com/article/Networked-U-s-This-Is-What/241724.
- Selingo, Jeffrey J. “What’s the Purpose of College: A Job or an Education?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 2 Feb. 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2015/02/02/whats-the-purpose-of-college-a-job-or-an-education/?utm_term=.fb32bb485b41.
- Talks, TEDx, director. YouTube. YouTube, YouTube, 26 June 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?
Cite this page
You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers
- Health education
- Vocational education
- Multicultural education
- Writing process
Check more samples on your topics
Lab report for experiment purpose: what is the purpose of this lab.
Observations Weighed out 3.2568 grams of chemical mixture that was yellow in color. Dissolved dry chemicals in 38 ml CH2Cl2 with gentle heating. Poured the yellow solution into sep funnel. Added 10 ml CH2Cl2 to flask to rinse, poured solution into sep funnel. Added 15 ml 3 M HCl, gently mixed and vented (saw bubbles during
College Academic Performance and Attitudes towards College Educational Experiences
College Academic Performance and Attitudes towards College Educational Experiences: Differences between Private and Public High School Leadership, Curriculum and Teacher Requirements. Introduction (about 6 pages) There are a wide range of contributing factors that dictate how students will response to the transition from High School to college, one major influence has to do with the discrepancies
The Case against College by Caroline Bird: College
What you make of it. In the face of rising tuition costs, choosing to attend college has come into the limelight. In her essay, "The Case Against College", Caroline Bird argues that college is not for everyone because interviews show that most college students are getting nothing from college. If her point is to be
College Athletes: Should College Athletes Be Paid?
In today’s world, college athletes may not play a sport for “the love of the game” instead; they may play with the hopes of making it as a professional athlete. While “the love of the game” feeling may have gotten an athlete to a Division I school to play and the chance to display their
Free College Admissionss: Geography College
Admissions EssaysGeography The diverse nature of Geography has always attracted me to the subject, and the bridge it forms between the Arts and the Sciences reflects many of my interests. I am greatly enjoying the work which I am doing for the A level syllabus, on both the human and physical sides of the
Reputable College Education Gives College Students an Advantage
I believe a reputable college education gives college students an advantage at everyday life. A college graduate leads in any direction they want to precede in life with more extensive knowledge and confidence in facing life challenges. College is an opportunity for students to find their true selves by taking new responsibilities and becoming more
My College Choice Is Fsc Formally Known as Florida Southern College
My college choice is fsc formally known as Florida southern college. In this paper, I will be talking about Florida southern college and the aspects. The reason why I desire to go to this college was how much is the distance from there to home also offering one of the major that I would like
The Reality of College Life: Is Jennine Capó Crucet’s Novel an Accurate Depiction?
This novel does not shy away from depicting the realities of college life. Or does it? Make an argument as to the value of such aspects, focusing in on specific moments from the text.Making your home amongst strangers is a fiction novel written by Jennine Capó Crucet, who is a Cuban-American author and was a
Statement of purpose Essay
What is a statement of purpose? The Statement of Purpose (often called “letter of intent” or “application essay” by various educational institutions) is one of the most important components of your application process. This document provides the admissions committee with information that allows them to become more acquainted with who you are; what you want to
Hi, my name is Amy 👋
In case you can't find a relevant example, our professional writers are ready to help you write a unique paper. Just talk to our smart assistant Amy and she'll connect you with the best match.
- Essay Database >
- Essay Examples >
- Essays Topics >
- Essay on Professionalism
Example Of Essay On The Purpose Of College
Type of paper: Essay
Topic: Professionalism , Education , World , Career , Competition , Students , Skills , Life
ORDER PAPER LIKE THIS
Going to college is never an end in itself without a purpose. Interestingly, the importance of college education has evolved over changing times. Notably, in the ancient days, it was proper for people to attend college in preparation for certain jobs. Nowadays, the music tune has changed. Ultimately, the world is becoming competitive each day and many individuals attend colleges not only to climb the education ladder, but also to acquire skills necessary to enrich the quality of their lives. Obviously, colleges serve as bridges to personal success and career advancement. College shapes students towards achievement of education and opens up their mind to create a bigger picture of what they want to do in life. Moreover, colleges provide students with an opportunity to choose careers that are enjoyable and exciting to them. Often, people have a lifetime opportunity to obtain college enrollment. Perhaps, the question is “what makes the difference? Certainly, the major objective of colleges is to help learners grow personally and intellectually. In college, most students have dreams concerning what they want. Similarly, the occupation they are interested to undertake in future matters. Undoubtedly, a further view of what students want to do in their life helps them set a plan for their academic goals. College provides a platform for students to evaluate their situations and teach them how to think creatively by different manners of thoughts. Perhaps, this is important to enable students identify how ripe they are to venture into the competitive world. Essentially, that is why discipline should be applied on the way that would guide pupils to get through obstacles in college and also in their daily life routine. Students with open minded can express themselves personally better in a clear vision and get more focus in their tasks depending on the student’s critical thinking skills. Students who think critically always have a positive path with fewer difficulties. Additionally, college education orients learners strategically towards the competitive job market. Obviously, a well-educated student has a maximum power to gain professional experience in their career as well in their life. Also, there are numerous career skills that students acquire in college. In fact, professionalism allows individuals to obtain a competitive edge in terms of qualifications for a specific job or career. In addition, skills shape the future of many people and reduces misery. Moreover, safe future guarantees a good life, living and less possibility of being fired. Unfortunately, the level of responsibilities becomes greater for all things as part of maturity. Therefore, it is necessary for learners to prepare and familiarize with what it is like living in the real world. Normally, that is the basis for prioritizing dedication to studies in college. Often, education is a sure way for students to secure opportunities in the real world where professionalism is an unavoidable competitive fabric. Most importantly, college allows individuals to obtain degrees. Similarly, individuals are interested in obtaining quality education. Ultimately, living a wealthy life in a professional way characterizes the beauty of education in the modern world. For instance, a college graduate has a better opportunity to have a good lifestyle by doing what they enjoy and having somebody to pay them. Notably, with a college degree it is easier to obtain higher salaries than someone who holds a high school diploma. Nowadays, every field requires skilled labor, and a college degree opens opportunities for individuals to secure high job positions. Nevertheless it takes much time, effort and motivation to get involved in a good position. Showing good skills of education through hard work is the key of demonstrating success. Besides the provision of education and skills, college is rich in variety. In fact, colleges are universal, they admit students of different races and cultures. Surely, when students from different cultures interact, they exchange ideas, motivate each other and develops understanding for amongst themselves. However, the benefits of multicultural interactions cannot all be described as good or bad. Justifiably, positive cultural exchanges in college improve behavior and instils discipline among students. Certainly, students develop good public relations, without which life outside school becomes untenable. Notably, the richness in diversity is an opportunity towards self-actualization. In conclusion, students join colleges in order to get education in their areas of interest. Similarly, college education allows students to accomplish their goals for a better life. Obviously, colleges train students to become productive persons, have good mentality and help the community. It is necessary for students to integrate skills with knowledge in order to meet the qualifications for jobs and advance in their careers. Undoubtedly, education allows individuals to have a high impression for personal development and professional experience. In the modern world, earning a good wage keeps individuals’ motivation towards their plans. College is a platform for individuals to attain self-actualization. The level of success of students relies on self-determination and personal control towards becoming intellectually responsible in their society. Therefore, college can be a real platform for shaping individuals who can live a beautiful life and become prominent in society.
Cite this page
Share with friends using:
Finished papers: 2254
This paper is created by writer with
If you want your paper to be:
Well-researched, fact-checked, and accurate
Original, fresh, based on current data
Eloquently written and immaculately formatted
275 words = 1 page double-spaced
Get your papers done by pros!
Paradise lost college essays, united states federal debt ceiling essay sample, free report on economics, example of dietary supplements essay, good example of report on agency problems and the ways in which it could be solved, sample research paper on different foreign market entry strategies, zhang essays.
Password recovery email has been sent to [email protected]
Use your new password to log in
You are not register!
Now you can download documents directly to your device!
Check your email! An email with your password has already been sent to you! Now you can download documents directly to your device.
or Use the QR code to Save this Paper to Your Phone
The sample is NOT original!
Short on a deadline?
Don't waste time. Get help with 11% off using code - GETWOWED
No, thanks! I'm fine with missing my deadline
Home — Essay Samples — Education — College Tuition — Purpose of a College Education
Purpose of a College Education
- Categories: College Tuition
About this sample
Words: 875 |
Published: May 19, 2020
Words: 875 | Pages: 2 | 5 min read
Cite this Essay
Let us write you an essay from scratch
- 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
- Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours
Get high-quality help
- Expert in: Education
+ 120 experts online
No need to pay just yet!
3 pages / 1396 words
2 pages / 819 words
1 pages / 533 words
2 pages / 874 words
Remember! This is just a sample.
You can get your custom paper by one of our expert writers.
121 writers online
Still can’t find what you need?
Browse our vast selection of original essay samples, each expertly formatted and styled
Related Essays on College Tuition
Why UCF: Your Personal Connection Discuss your personal connection to the University of Central Florida. What specific experiences or aspects of UCF, such as campus events or location, have drawn you to this [...]
Anyone who has ever attended college or thought about attending college has noticed that participating in any sort of higher education is costly. Many families are able to put their kids through school with the help of student [...]
Recently, politicians all across the United States have debated over the topic of whether college should be free or not. Although it sounds like an incredible idea, it definitely has its flaws. There are a variety of issues [...]
Should college be free? Argumentative essay on this issue is worth writing. Yes, some students, parents, and educators say that it is completely wrong for a person to attend public schools for free and now have them pay for [...]
In recent discussions of free college education, a controversial issue has been whether community colleges should be tuition free to all, no matter then economical background. On the one hand, some argue that it is good idea and [...]
It is thought in American society that a college degree is necessary to pursue a prestige high-paying career. More students are taking the path of higher education causing a growth in student and national debt. Rising debt in [...]
By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and Privacy statement . We will occasionally send you account related emails.
Where do you want us to send this sample?
Be careful. This essay is not unique
This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before
Download this Sample
Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts
Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.
Please check your inbox.
We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!
Get Your Personalized Essay in 3 Hours or Less!
- Instructions Followed To The Letter
- Deadlines Met At Every Stage
- Unique And Plagiarism Free
- Information Science
- Social Issues
- Cause and Effect
- Compare and Contrast
- What Is an Essay
- Length of an Essay
- Generate Ideas
- Types of Essays
- Structuring an Essay
- Outline For Essay
- Essay Introduction
- Thesis Statement
- Body of an Essay
- Writing a Conclusion
- Essay Writing Tips
- Drafting an Essay
- Revision Process
- Fix a Broken Essay
- Format of an Essay
- Essay Examples
- Essay Checklist
- Essay Writing Service
- Pay for Research Paper
- Write My Research Paper
- Write My Essay
- Custom Essay Writing Service
- Admission Essay Writing Service
- Pay for Essay
- Academic Ghostwriting
- Write My Book Report
- Case Study Writing Service
- Dissertation Writing Service
- Coursework Writing Service
- Lab Report Writing Service
- Do My Assignment
- Buy College Papers
Can’t find a perfect paper?
- Free Essay Samples
My Purpose in Life Essay
Updated 13 November 2023
Topic Life Goals
In most cases, it is difficult to define the purpose of life
In most cases, it is difficult to define the purpose of life in a way that people would concur duly. Each looks at the aim of life differently because not everyone shares the same beliefs and have the same life experiences. Therefore, there are no widely accepted purposes in life. However, it is paramount for everyone to identify their reason for living (Mathews, 2008, p.167).
My purpose in life is to serve God and achieve my ikigai
In most cases, individuals choose a purpose in life depending on their beliefs, experiences, and what happens around them. I for one believe in God and trust that we cannot hold our future. We cannot control situations the way we want to have a better tomorrow. For me, God exists, and he is a Supreme Being who has control over every individual's life and has a plan for everyone for he is the creator. Bearing in mind that God is the controller, my purpose in life is to serve God in everything that I do, similarly to achieve what I am passionate about, what am good at, what will pay me, and that which the world needs. I believe that by accomplishing strategic goals while serving the creator, I would have achieved my ikigai and thus will live a life full of happiness and satisfaction. (García and Miralles, 2017, p.256).
My college life and goals
I am a first-year college student, and I believe the far I have come my ikigai has been my main driving force and everything that I have experienced along the way God had planned for them to happen. Every day I wake up my goal is to prepare for anything that might occur in the future, although I may not know what tomorrow might bring. At college, each day I aim to study and take care of my duties and responsibilities as a student and also as a believer who hopes for a prosperous future. I desire to achieve all my set life goals and dreams for a prosperous future. I am not sure about what will happen after I graduate from college but I believe that if I equip myself adequately, I will achieve my desires and what God has planned for me. My undergraduate career will enable me to reach my strategic goals and passions and serve God. On the other hand be in a position of serving other people and helping them in realizing their purpose in life.
The significance of having a purpose in life
According to Yamamoto-Mitani and Wallhagen (2002, p.407), having a purpose in life gives an individual something to wake up to each day and also serves as a motivation for one to achieve set objectives. My life's biggest goal is to serve my God in every way possible. This purpose enables me to have faith in God in everything that I do and to believe that everything that happens is because of God since He has control over all humans. Furthermore, it allows me to provide service to and encourage individuals in the society by explaining to them the importance of serving God. This purpose has made me to remain steadfast in every situation no matter how bad it may be and to have faith in God despite the case at a particular time. Serving God brings peace, a feeling of satisfaction, and happiness to my life always.
Pursuing my passions and utilizing my strengths
Additionally, achieving what I am passionate about and what I am good at is another purpose that I have in life. Realizing what I am excited about gives me the confidence to always try an idea that I like. This purpose gives me a reason and strength to press on despite any challenges that I may face. Also, it assures me that I can always achieve what I love doing.
Again, accomplishing what I am good at is an ikigai that has enabled me to reach my college level of education. This reason for living has always been a motivation in my academics; it gives me an intention to regularly do my best in all the areas where I am talented. Consequently, doing my best in areas where my strengths lie has allowed me to succeed in my academics up to college levels. The aim has also ensured that I don’t give up easily on my duties and responsibilities irrespective of any obstacles that may arise. Being able to achieve my passion in life and also attaining my best in the activities that I like have been my life's pillars and sources of happiness (Sone et al. 2008, p.709).
Working towards earning and meeting societal needs
Finally, being able to achieve that which I can be paid for doing and that which the society needs are, also, my purposes in life. The goal of obtaining something that can enable me to earn while doing has always pushed me to work hard in every other thing that I do. Working hard in my education has helped me to reach the college level in my academics, henceforth can pursue my dream career. This purpose in life has made me believe in myself and my capabilities of succeeding, for this reason, all the steps that I have taken in my life so far have been because I want to achieve something that can earn me a successful life soon. I believe that the aim will enable me to graduate from college and get a well-paying job and expand my career.
Moreover, achieving that which the society needs has always been a motivating factor in my life. The aim has enabled me to still be responsible and keen on any activities that get involved me. Societies always appreciate and accept individuals who have a sense of responsibility, besides, being responsible enables an individual to achieve his/her set objectives and eventually become successful. Equally, the purpose has made me work hard to a level of pursuing my career; thus, I will be able to accomplish my career dreams. Identically, being one of the educated individuals needed for employment in the career field and serving other members of the society (Snare, 2016, p.43).
In conclusion, I have confidence that everyone has a purpose in life and everyone needs to work towards realizing their aspirations in life. And I trust that my reason for living is to serve God, achieve what I love, realize my talents, attain that which can pay me, and acquire that which the society needs. Therefore, it is crucial that every individual pursue their life's ikigai to achieve their goals and dreams and that of others. Identically it is vital for every individual to find out their reason for living and follow it faithfully. The realization will help individuals to bring out the best out of themselves and also the society would receive the best from them.
García, H. and Miralles, F., 2017. Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. Penguin.
Mathews, G., 2008. FINDING AND KEEPING A PURPOSE IN LIFE. Pursuits of happiness: Well-being in anthropological perspective, p.167.
Snare, E., 2016. Introducing Sustainability to Creative Employment Seeking Expanding Communities OF SUSTAINABLE Practice, p.43.
Sone, T., Nakaya, N., Ohmori, K., Shimazu, T., Higashiguchi, M., Kakizaki, M., Kikuchi, N., Kuriyama, S. and Tsuji, I., 2008. The sense of life worth living (ikigai) and mortality in Japan: Ohsaki Study. Psychosomatic Medicine, 70(6), pp.709-715.
Yamamoto-Mitani, N. and Wallhagen, M.I., 2002. A pursuit of psychological well-being (ikigai) and the evolution of self-understanding in the context of caregiving in Japan. Culture, medicine, and psychiatry, 26(4), pp.399-417.
Deadline is approaching?
Wait no more. Let us write you an essay from scratch
Find Out the Cost of Your Paper
Type your email