#College Essays and Applications

We all know campus visits are an important part of applying to college – they can give students and families a “feel” for a school, provide information not easy to find elsewhere, and help students “demonstrate interest” to a college. (Yes, some schools track which applicants do and do not visit as an admissions factor.)

What most students do not consider when visiting colleges is how their visit can help them write their admissions essays.

Many colleges require a “Why College” essay. A few examples include:

  • Penn  Arts & Sciences– The flexible structure of The College of Arts and Sciences’ curriculum is designed to inspire exploration, foster connections, and help you create a path of study through general education courses and a major. What are you curious about and how would you take advantage of opportunities in the arts and sciences?
  • Michigan – Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?
  • Boston University – What about being a student at BU most excites you? How do you hope to contribute to our campus community?

A more complete (but not comprehensive) list of colleges requiring “Why College” essays is available at the end of this article.

In these essays, details are key. You need to be able to show a college why you are interested and how you see yourself fitting in on campus, not just tell them that you are interested. The campus visit should be a key step in developing this essay.

Below are tips on how to maximize your college visit in preparing for the essays you will have to write.

Do Good Research Beforehand

Go into your campus visit with a plan. What academic programs and student groups do you want to learn more about? What professors do you want to meet with? Send them an email to set a time – as far in advance as you can – if you want to sit in on one of their classes, for example. What landmarks and sites on campus do you most want to see?

One student of ours wrote about meeting with Dr. Beth Wee at Tulane to learn more about the different engineering paths he could take. What stuck out? The fact that Dr. Wee allowed a meeting with an advisee to go twenty minutes long, delaying his own meeting. Her dedication to her students and generosity with her time attracted him to Tulane.

Another student wrote in his “Why Carnegie Mellon” essay about wanting to see the penguin-patterned guardrail of the Pausch Bridge lit up at night. He used that vantage point to paint a deeply personal picture of the campus as it seemed to him in that moment.

Take Good Notes… on Everything

Apart from helping you compare and contrast schools as you decide where to apply and attend, thorough notes will be invaluable when you sit down to explain why you want to attend a certain college.

Of course you should take note of anything that sticks out as important or relevant to you personally. What student organizations and activities do you see yourself participating in? Where do they meet on campus? What majors and academic programs are you most interested in?

Remember that you don’t have to have a clear major to have academic interests. If your tour guide studies an area you may be interested in, ask them about the program. Student organizations/activities and academics tend to make up the backbone of the best “Why College” essays, so this should be what you focus your note-taking on. And of course continue your research at home.

Take notes on all the little things, too: the names of your tour guide and any professors, students, or admissions officers you meet with; fun facts; and quirky little things you like/dislike about the school. Small details like these may seem insignificant, but over the course of your entire essay they convey a vividness and authenticity to your experience.

Go Beyond the Tour and Info Session(s)

Visit any building you want that your tour does not go through. Go to a popular lunch spot on campus. Strike up conversations with current students. Don’t be shy – many students (especially your tour guide!) are eager to share their experiences with visitors. If you would be more comfortable doing this without mom or dad, ask for some space.

Make sure to ask good questions when on your tour or while speaking with students, professors, or admissions representatives. Do not be shy. But make sure you have done your research beforehand so you can come equipped with some questions to ask. If your question could easily be answered from a quick Google search, then that is not a good question.

And just as importantly, listen to others’ questions on your tour. You are not going to think of everything. Let other people’s curiosity inform you and you may just be surprised by what you will learn.

The primary goal of your campus visit should be to get information about how interested you are in the school. At the same time, it can give you valuable insight into the essays you will eventually have to write.

Your “Why College” essay does not need to revolve solely around your tour, but your firsthand account of your own time on campus will add valuable insight to your writing.

List of Popular Colleges Requiring “Why College” Essays

Note that this list, while extensive, is not comprehensive.

  • Barnard
  • Boston University
  • Brown
  • Chapman
  • Cornell
  • Dartmouth
  • Davidson
  • Duke
  • Georgetown
  • Georgia Tech
  • Harvey Mudd
  • Lafayette
  • Lehigh
  • Michigan
  • Notre Dame
  • Penn
  • Princeton
  • Purdue
  • Rice
  • Rochester
  • San Francisco
  • SMU
  • Tufts
  • Tulane
  • University of Chicago
  • USC
  • Wake Forest
  • Wellesley
  • Wisconsin
  • Yale

If you would like help writing your own “Why College” essays, contact Ivy Experience or call (267) 888-6489.