In addition to your other essay prompts, just about every college will give you some version of the “why this college?” question and expect a compelling essay in response. Don’t stress out about this or look at it as another chore, though. It’s one of your best opportunities to stand out from the crowd and convince the college that you’re a great fit.
Your essay in response to this question should demonstrate two major things: a deep understanding of what makes a college unique, and an explanation of why its particular uniqueness is the right fit for you.
In terms of demonstrating your understanding of a college, be specific. Anything that you could copy and paste to other colleges simply by changing the name of the school shouldn’t be in your essay. Ask yourself this question: “Does this explain why I want to go to this school rather than any other college?” Having great weather and a thriving social scene might explain why you want go to that college, but it fails at the second half of the question; there are plenty of other colleges that offer the same things.
Don’t stop there, though; remember to explain how the unique traits of the college are a great fit for you. The admissions officer already knows that the school has the top-ranked archaeology program in the country; he or she doesn’t know that you’re the right fit for this program because you’ve been interested in archaeology since you were a child and have spent your last three summers volunteering in a museum to learn more about the field. This essay is the perfect place to sell yourself to the school.
First, read this: “I really value a great education that involves taking challenging classes with talented professors. I also look forward to exploring my passions and expanding my horizons with the wide assortment of classes available in other fields at El Cerrito University.”
Now, compare that with this one: “El Cerrito University originally caught my attention when I saw that it consistently ranks as having the most challenging history program in the country. The possibility of taking Dr. Smith’s classes is particularly exciting; it was a chance encounter with one of his essays three years ago that got me excited about modern Scottish history in the first place! I’d also love to take some classes in your ethnomusicology department to better understand the link between Scotland’s history and its music, which I play on the fiddle.”
See the difference? It’s not only that the second one is more detailed — it’s that the details are specific to that school. There’s no way that you’re copying and pasting that essay to all the schools on your list, and admissions officers realize (and appreciate) that. It demonstrates a genuine interest in that particular school, and shows that you’ve done your research. It also helps explain why this school is a good fit for you, not just a great school overall.