Written by Lisa Bleich.
Each school that participates in the Common Application or the Coalition has the ability to request supplemental essays ranging from a short answer (150 words) to a longer essay (500 words, or in some cases no limit). The most common supplemental essay questions are the “Why school?” and “Why academic interest(s)?” This essay is a chance for you to make the match between your interests and talents and the school’s offerings.
Many admissions professionals say that they read the “Why school?” essay first. They want to see if you as an applicant truly know why you want to attend the school other than its excellent reputation, outstanding location, or world-renowned faculty. So how do you do this?
Start with your interests, goals, and school criteria. Depending on how much room is allowed, it’s good to start out with an anecdote that helps admissions counselors understand what is driving you in your school search or your academic interests. Do you want a school that will allow you to pursue engineering and music? Do you want a college with a nurturing environment where you can get to know your professors and do undergraduate research in marine biology? The more specific, the better.
Describe how you will pursue your academic interests at a given school. Even if you do not know what you want to major in, you can identify some areas of interest and why. One student described how she became interested in environmental engineering through her involvement with the energy committee at Model UN. She combined her strength in math and science with her interest in creating sustainable energy solutions. She then identified specific courses and programs at each school that would help her achieve her goal.
One of the programs that really caught my interest is the interdisciplinary Global Change Curriculum. I am intrigued by the topics listed in this curriculum, such as climate change and human impact to the environment. In particular, I would want to use my math and analytical skills in classes such as Environmental Informatics: GIS and Modeling Program. The Environmental Informatics curriculum emphasizes the science and societal issues behind environmental problems, which would allow me to dig deeper into this field of study.
Avoid sounding like a brochure. I often ask students to do the brochure test. If it looks like what you wrote came straight out of the college’s brochure or website, then go back to the drawing board. You and your interests, goals, etc. need to be front and center in this essay.
Do your research. And don’t half-ass it! The more time you spend researching specific courses, professor’s areas of research, undergraduate research opportunities, specific clubs that match with your interest, study abroad opportunities and internships the more you will be able to plan out your journey at the school. The most compelling Why School/Why Academic Interest essays help admissions see you making your mark at their school in a very specific way.
Make it personal. If you’ve visited the school or spoken to current students, admissions counselors, or professors, infuse those experiences into the essay. It’s great to tie in those encounters to why they made you interested in the school or why they helped you confirm the match.
Do the substitute test. Can you substitute another college into the essay without any issues? If so, you have not been specific enough. While the template can stay more or less the same, the specific courses, research projects, clubs, etc, are unique to each school.
After you write these essays, you should be genuinely excited about the school because you (and hopefully admissions!) see what a great match it is!