December 2008 Newsletter
With application deadlines looming, all the essays should have been written by now. So what are these essays? There’s the personal statement, the significant activity, the one about academic interests, or the intellectual experience. There’s the reaction to an honor code, the tell us when you gained respect for diversity, the person of significant influence, the song you would choose to sing in a talent show, the story of a street, real or imagined or metaphorical, the world you come from, the one issue you would raise if you had an hour to meet with a government official, the values you believe are important in fostering a cohesive, successful, and supportive campus community, how at present you need to live the question, a daily routine or tradition of yours that may seem ordinary to others but holds special meaning for you, the one accomplishment you achieved in an unlikely way, or the letter to a future roommate. Then when the student thinks that everything that he or she can possibly write about has already been done, there’s the my space, something you find fun and humorous, anything else you want to tell us, p. 217 of your 300 page autobiography, or the optional statement. All these essays take considerable time and sometimes, an extraordinary degree of imagination, creativity, and out-of-the-cube thinking.
“The-Why-I-Want-to-Go-to-Whichever-College-that-I’m-Applying Essay” takes not only time and ingenuity, but it also takes some careful study and research. An essay of this nature needs to focus on the student’s interests and aspirations, but it specifically needs to address why the college to which the applicant is applying is a great match. Most importantly, it has to be realistic, plausible, and convincing. When the applicant writes about his or her academic interests and extracurricular involvements, those interests and activities need to match the academic disciplines and extracurricular activities that are offered at the college, and the student has to make it fundamentally clear that there are some very specific reasons for wanting to attend that particular college. There is no room for any errors here. For example, if a student writes about how he or she intends to study business in college, but the college does not offer business courses, this statement alone could adversely affect his or her chances of admissions. Similarly, if the student writes that he or she intends to continue a passion for fencing in college, but the college doesn’t have a fencing team, this too can have a negative affect on an admissions decision.
The best way to write the “Why College Essay” is to first take a tour of the college, attend an information session, and sit in on a class. For some applicants the campus visit is not always possible, and so the next best place to learn about a college is from the school’s website, and from the college’s literature, or course catalogue. Again, this requires a great deal of time and some additional study and creativity. The answers aren’t going to just pop out, but once the applicant knows what to look for, he or she can write a credible and meaningful essay.
When writing a “Why College Essay,” it is essential that it is not in any way generic. Since most colleges today want to admit applicants who will ultimately enroll, if an applicant writes an essay where it is apparent that the college is not a top choice, or that mommy or daddy have coerced the student to apply, that applicant may very well not be admitted based upon a sheer lack of interest. Probably one of the most common sentences students tend to write in this type of essay is “from my campus visit it was apparent that XYZ College is the perfect fit for me.” There is nothing specific here in this statement, and there is no reason for an admissions counselor to believe that the student would enroll if accepted. Generic sentences, and worse, a generic essay can have a most negative effect on an admissions decision.
While specificity is the key in the “Why-I-Want-to-Go-to-This-College Essay,” it’s perfectly fine to recycle this statement for another college that has the same or a similar question. In doing so, however, the student needs to make sure that any particular reasons that he or she has for attending another college, any programs, courses of study, or extracurricular activities, are substituted accurately. In using a template of this essay for another college, of paramount importance is that the name of the college is changed whenever it’s mentioned. So when writing the essay, “Why I Want to Go to Boston University,” George Washington University’s name cannot be even mistakenly included.