THE BRIDGE TO COLLEGE
The Most Common Problems in ‘Why’ Essays
Many universities ask students to write essays explaining “why” they want to attend the school. Despite all the hullaballoo and hysteria about the main Personal Statement essay, “why” essays are by far the most difficult to write. Why? Although the admissions readers know their universities well – the work there almost every day – students know comparatively little about the schools to which they are applying.
These essays are often more important than your Personal Statement. A successful “why” essay can vault a student into a class and also bring a hefty scholarship. A poor “why” essay can destroy an applicant’s chances of admissions. Please give them your best effort.
Here are some of the most common mistakes students make in writing “why” essays:
- Avoid Generic Statements. If you can replace the name of a school with the name of another school and still have an accurate statement, then the statement is non-specific to the college and demonstrates weak research, thought or writing.
- Avoid Praise. References to rankings, reputation, and prestige do not impress admissions officers. Those references speak to the school’s name, not its education.
- Avoid Hyperbole. Superlatives such as “perfect” (especially “perfect fit”) and “unique” (as in “unique opportunity”) are both unconvincing and impossible. Nothing is perfect, and an opportunity is not unique if thousands of students have the same opportunity (and if hundreds of colleges offer similar opportunities).
- Avoid Shallow Research. A proper “why” essay proves the sophistication of the writer’s knowledge of a school. It should not reflect a quick grab of information from a website. For example, reference to specific classes does not prove an understanding of a school’s complete education (and a class may not even be offered anymore). Reference to specific professors is similarly inappropriate unless the applicant has actually been following the professor’s work for years. Recitation of a school’s motto does not prove the applicant’s understanding of the school’s educational philosophy. Go deep in your research.
What should you do to write a proper “why” essay?
First, explain your academic or career path. What is your path, how and when did this path begin, and what have you being doing on this path thus far? Explanation of a good merger between school and student requires a contextual understanding of the student, not just the school.
Second, demonstrate your deep knowledge of the school’s education. Think of the “why” essay as a pyramid. Start with the educational philosophy of the school. Continue with the educational structure of required classes, majors, and electives; colleges design their curricula in very different ways. Next, show your knowledge of specific (and relevant) concentrations, coursework, and other academic facets that will enhance your path. Finally, explain other resources that can enhance your education, such as laboratories, internships, experiential learning programs, clubs, and even off-campus opportunities for self-education. Along the way, explain how you researched the school. Proof of intelligent research demonstrates an authentic interest in the university.
Third, give only one or two genuine reasons for wishing to attend the college. Students often want to present a plethora of things they like about a school. More is not better. Providing too many reasons gives the impression that there is no real reason, making the “why” essay sound like a regurgitation of the school’s website. You should have a good reason for picking every school to which you apply. Tell them your reason. Be courageous and honest. Give them your honest rationale, even if you feel that the rationale is somehow “not enough.” As long as it is authentic, the reason will resonate.
In balance, a good “why” essay is usually one-half about the student and one-half about the school. A good university fit is a merger between you and them. Prove the fit.
Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com
You Know You’re an Auntie When …
These days, it seems that we’re not allowed to bask in the perks middle age offered our mothers’ generation, such as unapologetically swelling waistlines and adherence to age-appropriate style. Still, there’s a time when it happens to all of us: We become aunties. It may happen to you slightly earlier or later than your friend, but sooner or later, we all get there. How can you tell you’ve arrived at this milestone? Here are eight dead giveaways:
You become a tattletale and are grateful when your friends reciprocate. As teens, we were wary of that twitching curtain that signified spying aunties who reported our suspicious activities to our parents. Recently, when I saw my friend’s son riding his bicycle on a school morning, I picked up my cell phone and ratted him out to his mother without a second thought. Things had come full circle. And I was thankful when my alarmed friend texted me a photo of the unfamiliar car my daughter climbed into in front of her. It was just my husband making a rare car rider line appearance, but that sort of spy network is exactly why I love my community.
You no longer speak the same language as your children. I google acronyms to make sure I understand everything I’m reading when I snoop through my daughter’s texts. The kids won’t translate because then we might try to talk like them and that would be “cringey.” This means wasting valuable time researching things like “What is a VSCO girl?”
Your era is cool again. Apparently, the ’90s are back in style! I remained a 20-something college girl in my mind until I found out that this year marks the 25th anniversary of “Friends.” I offered my genuine ’90s “vintage” clothes to my daughter to wear. She declined, saying they probably hadn’t been in style back then either.
You take forever to say goodbye at a party. Raise your hand if you remember dozing off in the back seat of the family car while your mother spent 45 post-party minutes holding a rolling conversation through the open window, your father gliding the car down the driveway at glacial speed. Now, our kids are the ones waiting as we spend half an hour doing the goodbye round at the India Cultural Center in Tampa.
You know what a gasket is. Without this mysterious item, the pressure cooker didn’t work properly and life as our mothers knew it came to an end. Now, not only do I know what a gasket is, I spent nearly two hours this summer in India in a shop that was devoted to nothing but steel kitchen appliances. It was the kind of shopping that left us catatonic with boredom when we were younger, and there I was, delighting in an adorable teeny tiny kadai and a spatula with a slightly different pressing angle than the several I already own.
You own an Indian calendar — the one with mysterious moon-related events, auspicious times and special events. And you actually consult it once in a while.
You’re still on Facebook. The young and the older-but-trendy have long abandoned this clunker for cooler social media. Facebook is still where you’ll find me, watching Tasty videos, scrolling through 37 photos of someone’s relative’s vacation photos, and commenting on everyone’s kids’ first-day-of-school portraits.
You spin a web, the kind that you were cocooned in as a child without even realizing. I didn’t just have my parents and relatives watching out for me but was the center of a network of aunties who wanted to know how I was doing in school, what I was wearing and who I was hanging out with. Now I know why they cared so much. While our children are growing up, we as their parents are growing up right alongside them. We don’t just remember our child’s milestones; we remember the ones of all the children in our tribes — our friend circles, our neighborhoods, our schools. We know who’s a picky eater, who army-crawled when they were a baby, who’s especially attached to a grandparent and which one has an unpredictable temper. Our field of love has grown to encompass all of them. When my “aunties” are visiting their children in the U.S., they always make it a point to call all of us kids, and they still want to know everything — now their inquisitiveness extends to my kids too. When I was a child, I thought it was nosiness. Now that I’m all grown up and one of them, I recognize it for what it is: love. And this auntie is happy to bask in that at any age.
Anu Varma Panchal is a mother of two and owner of www.YourEditingSolutions.com