How to Write the Supplemental College Essay on “Why Us?”

prepmatters-vd-r04 prepmatters-vd-r04

This blog is part of our series on how to write the college application supplemental essays. Check out our blogs on some of the other commonly asked questions, including those about diversity, creativity, community, and activities.

The “Why Us?” essay is the college essay prompt that asks you to explain why the given school is a great fit for you. For example:

  • Syracuse University asks,“Why are you interested in Syracuse University and how do you see yourself contributing to a diverse, inclusive, accessible, and respectful campus?” (250 words)
  • Tufts University asks, “Which aspects of the Tufts undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, ‘Why Tufts?’” (100-150 words)
  • University of Pennsylvania asks, “At Penn, learning and growth happen outside of the classrooms, too. How will you explore the community at Penn?” (200 words)
  • Dartmouth College asks, “While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: “It is, sir,…a small college, and yet there are those who love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2026, what aspects of the College’s program, community, or campus environment attract your interest?” (100 words)

Meanwhile, Tulane asks directly, “Please describe why you are interested in attending Tulane University” — in at least 50 words and no more than 800 words.

So, as you can see, there’s a wide range of ways that colleges frame this question, and more practically for you, a very wide range of word limits that you need to consider when planning your essay.

Regardless of the length and the specific wording of the question, your task is to answer, specifically, what attracted to you to this school and what remains compelling to you?

In answering that question, you want to be able to show you know who you are, you know who they are, and why you and the given school are a great match for each other.

Here are some suggestions for creating a unique “Why Us?” response.

Move Beyond the Obvious

When you sit down to think about what attracted you to a college, go beyond the green space in the quad. Skip the school’s size, location, rankings, school colors, and local weather. Chop those generic words such as “amazing” and “awesome.”

Make it Personal

As you’re thinking about why you and the college are a good match, ask yourself these questions: What unique connections do you share? What concretely motivated you to apply? How is this school distinct from others?

Dig deep to determine what stands out to you. Maybe there’s a single reason you’re drawn to the school or a whole bunch of reasons. Making your reasons clear and specifically tied to the school are what’s important.

You might consider the curriculum, the approach to your major, faculty or research projects that you want to get involved in, a particular internship or study abroad program, the values or mission of the institution, a noteworthy history with the college, or a personal positive interaction on a campus visit or with a field rep.

In sum, you want to connect with the school and to communicate the specific attractions of the school that inspired you to apply.

Dig Deep for Details

Where can you learn more about the school? Start by going to the college website and read what the school has to say about its mission and what it values in an education.

Dig further by checking out the school newspaper online (what are students writing about the school?) and following the college’s social media channels. Research the majors and other academic programs of interest, along with opportunities for research, internships, and study abroad. Find out what is expected in the way of a core curriculum or a more open set of course requirements.

After that, take a virtual tour or, as time and conditions allow, plan an in-person visit. You can also join a one-on-one online chat with a current student. Connecting with an admission rep or a faculty member in your intended major are more good ways to learn about the college.

You might also read the Fisk Guide to Colleges or other reliable sources that provide comprehensive, multifaceted, and verified descriptions of the college or university.

Basically, you want to find concrete facts that support what you envision for yourself over your time in campus. One big hint: look for what inspires you.

Write to Stand Out

Differentiate yourself from others by stating a main reason and including supporting details. Lots of details. Convey your enthusiasm throughout your essay — what are you looking forward to experiencing once you’re a student at the college?

You will want to create a vision of yourself as an undergraduate and describe your intended pursuits — for most versions of this questions, that means both inside the classroom and out. In considering both your academic plans and community interests, remember that colleges see themselves as living and learning communities.

For essays with low word limits (which is most of them), get to your point quickly. Clarity and brevity are your friends — even when you’re also going into detail. Keep in mind the difference between saying why you’re interested and what you think they want to hear: the first is what’s important.

Review for Balance and Intention

Think about your application narrative. Review your main essay/personal statement and your supplemental essay as together — how do they complement each other rather than repeat what you’ve said?

Are there any major parts of your story that are missing from your application — interests, skills, talents, or experiences, for example? Does it fit to weave those into your supplemental essay, say, “I’ve done such-and-such and I want to expand on that through this program/club/team/campus community?”

Look back to make sure your details are specific, that you’re telling the school about yourself and that you know who they are, why you and the school are a good match, and thus why you can envision yourself there?

If you were asked how you would engage with the college community, did you offer specific contributions you can offer?

Did you put the finishing touches on your “Why Us?” essay and demonstrate more enthusiasm for the school? Yay! Good work!

Maureen Delaney

Educational Counselor

As a Counselor in Educational Planning, Maureen Delaney considers the strengths and interests of students and helps them to achieve their academic and personal goals. As the former Director of College Guidance at independent schools in both the Washington DC area and Manhattan, Maureen uses her deep experience to establish authentic connections both to students planning for college and those ad...

See Full Profile