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Tips for Tackling the “Why College X” Essay

The supplemental essays get a bad rap. First of all, there tends to be a lot of them. And they pile up in a seemingly insurmountable heap of need-to-do writing on top of the already stressful academic load that comes with fall semester, senior year. 

Though they can feel overwhelming, your supplements don’t have to be impossibly stressful. They’re actually a great opportunity to showcase different facets of your experiences, and the “Why x?” essay offers a unique means of expressing your enthusiasm for a particular school’s programs. 

Here, ESM’s Essay Coaching Team offers 4 tips to ensure you’re approaching this important question with confidence and style. 

  1. Be specific and dive deep 

Now’s the time to really utilize those researching skills you’ve been developing and explore the school’s myriad opportunities. Look through the school and department you’re applying to; find professors and classes that speak to your interests and goals. 

Consider study abroad opportunities, internships, work-study opportunities, undergraduate research, publications you can get involved with—anything unique to that school that you’d take advantage of as a student. As a general rule, if you’re writing something that could easily be said about another university, it’s not specific enough to include.     

  1. It’s not you, it’s me 

Even though you’re using this essay to talk about the school’s offerings, you should focus on why you’re a good fit for those offerings. How do your goals and interests align with the opportunities? Which of your past experiences can you build upon in this next phase of your journey? 

  1. Think “vibe”

Finding your “best fit” school certainly goes beyond academic opportunity: the community, ethos, and feeling of the school contribute to the why behind your application. Try to consider these factors when writing your essay, too. 

What’s the school’s mission statement, and how does it align with your own values? What kinds of opportunities for engagement on-campus are especially exciting to you? If you visited, do you have a memory or an interaction that you feel particularly showcases why you loved the school? This is also where factors like school size, athletics, alumni conversations and anecdotes,  and service opportunities come in. 

  1. Avoid the no no’s: 

There are certain common pitfalls we want to avoid as we approach this essay. The first is: 


This happens quite a bit, especially when we’re writing about our first choice school. You’ll need to temper your language to be thoughtfully enthusiastic, not melodramatically obsessed. 

For example: “It’s always been my dream to attend X, and I absolutely can’t imagine going anywhere else but this incredibly amazing school.” 

Even though we can see you’re excited, this sentence actually doesn’t tell us anything about you or the school! 

The best way to effectively convey your interest is to focus on meaningfully addressing steps 1-3 to show the school how excited you are and demonstrate why you’re a strong candidate for admission. 

For example:   “An ESMU education—one brimming with possibility and collaboration—would mold me into a civically-engaged, well-rounded global citizen and an agent for change.”


Students often fall victim to the location-obsessed essay. Think: “It’s always been my dream to attend college in New York City!!” Of course location plays a huge role in where you choose to attend school, and it’s definitely worth mentioning, but the focus of your essay should be on the school’s specific and unique opportunities, not solely on the coolness of the city in which it's located. 

There’s a “but”: if there are program-driven interactions with the city (your Art History program has an internship partnership with the Met, for example), then discuss those! This is a case in which the location of the school becomes integral to its offerings. 

Family Ties

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go to college where your mom/dad/brother/grandpa went. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a sentence or two about tailgating memories with your family or your mom’s rich account of her student experience contributing to your love of the school. However, we definitely want to avoid a “Why X?” essay that focuses entirely on another family member’s nostalgia. You—your goals, interests, quirks, and personality and how they fit with the school’s ethos—should be the focus of this essay.

Ultimately, this essay is your chance to apply who you are to what you want to do at a specific school. Don’t be afraid to bring your personality into it—to consider quirky clubs and classes that speak to your passions—and celebrate your authentic goals!