The short on this one is that the admissions counselors really want to know why you want to come to their school. This isn’t a trick question. There are no right answers, although there can be meh or even wrong responses. There must be some detail, aspect, or characteristic of the school that makes you want to go there instead of other options you have. That’s what admissions want to understand from you.
The colleges that ask this question tend to be the private schools where the student body may be smaller and where you’ll actually be building a relationship with the school, the professors, and your classmates. You’ll be known by your first name in a number of these settings. And in a relationship you want to know that both parties care and are invested in building the relationship. In order to let admissions know that you’ve done your homework and really want to come to their school, some good places to start are reflecting about your fit with the college’s mission statement (read it and think about it); how this school helps you with your intended major, the courses offered, and your goal after graduation; or the professors and their specialties, speakers who’ve come to campus that interest you, appealing traditions, unique residence experiences or overseas programs, or professional degrees. The admissions counselors will read your response and picture you as one of their students. The more vivid and accurate picture you can create, the better your connection with the admissions counselors making the decisions. Let them know you love their school and would like nothing more than being a student there.
One admissions counselor says, “I don’t think there’s a formula or a ‘how to’ for this question. I just want to know why they’re interested in applying to our school. I read so many different answers to this question and the large majority are interesting and clearly genuine.”
Another admissions counselor recounted an essay that talked about the trees on campus and the park-like setting of the college. The student “talked about how looking at them would comfort her when she was homesick, reading under them would take away the stress of final exams, and walking through them would guide her into adulthood… She got accepted.”
You can respond in a way that hurts your effort if you respond too generically.
A counselor for MIT recounted, “The most common response I see is I want this school because of x major or program, where a student could replace our name with any other school. What specifically about our program/dept/how you can study this at MIT?” How do you make sure your response isn’t too generic? After writing your first draft, think about your response. If you can submit this to any school without having to change the specifics, then your response probably needs to do a better job defining what unique aspects of the school drives your interest. Then answer the question, “So why should this school give you one of their spots,” and add that detail to your response.
If you are truly interested in the school but can’t seem to pinpoint exactly why, try surfing the social profiles of other students at the school. See what other students love about the school. Perhaps that will help you make your thinking more concrete as you learn about what life is really like on campus.
Here’s more detail about the “why us” essay. Take a look. There are some good approaches here along with strong DOs and DON’Ts. For instance, if you want to be different from all the other responses, don’t write about what half of the other students are writing about. Emory tactfully lets their applicants know what these topics are and that they are sick of reading about them.
Many students decide to apply to Emory University based on our size, location, reputation, and yes, the weather. Besides these valid reasons as a possible college choice, why is Emory University a particularly good match for you?
This should get you started down the right path here. You have a lot of good information to build a solid framework for your essay.