Answering that simple question will be among the dozen essays and short answers the upcoming class of college applicants will have to write. The “why us” question helps colleges know why you want to attend their university.
If you have not started the process of writing your college essays, especially your personal statement, you are missing a great opportunity to get ahead. Consuming hours of screen time is not propelling you into your future.
Don’t be the applicant who is demanding that an essay editor review their submission hours before the application deadline.
Be the applicant who is praised because they are prepared in advance.
As a part of your preparation, understand that applying to seven colleges that require 3 or 4 essay questions will take time. You have a lot of words to write. As an essay reader, I know what to expect within the first sentence. Readers know when responses are rushed or thoughtful.
When it comes to the essay questions themselves, some prompts are designed to be silly while others are serious. However, your responses to the silly and serious questions will be read and evaluated. For some, it is less than 10 percent of your application review. Many colleges don’t require essays. For others, the essay is the tipping point when the reader is on the fence about accepting or rejecting your application.
Here are some silly and serious examples.
“What do you hope to find over the rainbow?” – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (NC)
“A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a ______ a ______?” – University of Chicago (IL)
“Celebrate your nerdy side.” – Tufts University (MA)
“Describe your favorite ‘Bazinga’ moment.” – Lehigh University (PA)
“What song should we be listening to while reading your application?” – Chapman University (CA)
“Pick a movie or novel where the protagonist makes a difficult choice. Do you agree or disagree with the decision he or she made?” – Bucknell University (PA)
“There is a breadth of intellectual opportunities here at Rice. Further explain your intended major and other areas of academic focus you may explore.” – Rice University (TX)
“What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood, or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.” – Apply Texas Application (TX)
“Reflect on a time when you were surprised to learn that things were not as they seemed. How did those conclusions evolve and what did you learn? How did you share that learning experience with others or allow it to shape a future endeavor?” – University of Miami Honors Program (FL)
“Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about an academic interest (or interests) that excites you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue it.” – Brown University (RI)
 Read the mission statement. Learn if you are a good candidate by reading the mission statement for each college. You’ll do the same thing when you are applying for a job to see if you agree with and are willing to support their mission.
 Answer the “why” question. Research the program and find out how it connects with your personal experiences and expectations. Respond to the question based on how their program or specific focus will help improve your educational goals.
 Be unique. Shirag Shemmassian says “it's important to select a unique topic.” He reminds students that WHAT they write about is far less important than HOW they write.
 Write about what you know. Students who try to write an essay based on what they think the admissions reader wants to hear misses the point. You need to share what you want the admissions committee to know about you. Write about you!
 Think, dig deeper, and write from the heart. Colleges will ask questions about how your life experiences (triumph, trauma, etc.) has shaped who you are. For example, Columbia University asks students to explain how their current and past experiences attract them to their specific field of study.
 Don’t overthink your responses. College admissions officers want you to have fun and share about your life. For example, The University of Texas Honors Program challenges applicants to submit five sentences about their life. Here is the prompt: "Help us get to know you better. Please write five sentences (numbered 1 – 5) that give us some insight into you, your life, your interests and your experiences. There are no right answers—feel free to be creative and think outside the box."
 Review and revise. Make sure to have an adult, essay editor, teacher, or an independent educational consultant like myself review your essay after your first draft and after your first revision. Accept their help to improve your voice.
It’s time to start writing your essays.
Let’s learn from your experience. In the comments below, post some of the essay prompts that you are answering along with the name of the college.
Through student ministry and educational consulting (career and college planning), I have enjoyed guiding teenagers to discover their higher calling.