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How to Write the “Why This College” Essay (With an Example!)

Applying to college is a big decision that brings a lot of excitement and stress. This is especially so when it comes to answering the “why this college” prompt asked by many colleges.  Keep reading to learn tips and tricks to write your “why this college” essay, and take a look at an example essay!

“Why this college?” essay prompts 

The “Why this college?” essay is probably one of the most common essays you’ll come across during your application process. This is partially because admissions committees want students that are as interested and passionate about their institution. Some popular colleges that offer “why this college?” prompts include:

  • Columbia University: “Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 words or fewer). 
  • Duke University: “What is your sense of Duke as a university and a community, and why do you consider it a good match for you? If there is something in particular about our offerings that attracts you, feel free to share that as well. (max. 250 words)”
  • University of 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? (Required for all applicants; minimum 100 words/maximum 550 words.)”

As you can see, all three of the prompts are a variation of the basic “why this college” question. Let’s take a look at a sample response essay for Columbia University. 

“Why this college?” sample essay

Dear Columbia University, 

This is probably the hundredth essay you’ve read in the sea of applicants that want to attend Columbia University next fall. As you’re probably expecting, I could tell you that I’m different from them all. Though in some ways, I’m exactly the same. Just like them, I want to stand on the corner of Broadway and 116th St. and feel completely confident that I chose the perfect school to study literary arts with a focus on fiction writing. 

Even more so, I strive to be amongst the Columbia Greats that inspired me to pick up a pen in the first place. Though Columbia, you shouldn’t want me just because I might be the next Allen Ginsberg, but because I plan on being a writer that captures the virtue found in the rye of J.D. Salinger, the watchful gaze of Zora Neale Hurston, and the freshness of my own perspective and style. Amongst your walls and tutelage, these literary greats blossomed, much as I hope to.


Applicant Name

Why this essay works:

  • Starts with a compelling statement to interest the audience
  • Answers the “why this college?” question by discussing notable alumni and the arts program
  • Uses a unique approach to the prompt question that reflects interest in the major of choice
  • Explains why the admissions committee should choose this applicant
  • Stays within the word count limit.

Also see: How to respond to this year’s Common App essay prompts

Mistakes to avoid when writing a “why this college” essay


When writing any essay, generalizing usually isn’t the way to go. Readers want to get invested in the story or argument you’re presenting, and the admissions office is no different. Details are a key component of making your essay stand out. The admissions committee wants to get to know you and assess how you’ll fit into their institution. 

No two applicants are the same, and you should strive to prove that through your unique essay. 

Placating the admissions office

It can be easy to fall back on simply telling your college’s admissions committee what they want to hear. However, you shouldn’t just pull facts and figures from the website or quote the college’s brochure. Individualize your essay not only to capture the attention of your reader, but to display interest in your college of choice.

Anyone can put general information in their application, but it takes effort to explain why you want to attend a particular school, how admission would affect your life, and what the school has to gain from your attendance. Think of it as a persuasive essay where you have to back up your argument with details. 

Also see: An insider’s perspective into what goes on in college admissions offices

Tips for writing your essay

Find a connection

Even before you start writing your essay, figure out the connection between you and your college of choice. Is there a particular professor you want to study under? Are you a legacy applicant? Is it the campus of your dreams? Are you excited for a particular program? Asking yourself questions like this can help pinpoint what’s motivating you to apply to a university and why they should admit you. 

Explaining your connection to your school of choice can show the admissions committee that you belong on their campus. It will strengthen your application and help you individualize your application. Create an interesting or anecdotal story out of your connection in order to set yourself apart.

Also see: How to write an essay about yourself

Outline and edit

College essays usually range from around 200500 words, which can go by much quicker than you might think. This is why it’s ideal to outline your essay once you’ve decided what to write about. It can be easy to get distracted by the little details, but highlight the main points that are essential to the story you’re trying to tell the admissions office. 

It’s also a good idea to thoroughly read and edit your essay multiple times. You’ll want to submit the complete and final version of your essay, not something that reads like a rough draft. Remember, your parents, advisors, teachers, and peers can be helpful resources during revision. Feedback is an important aspect of the editing process.

Additional resources

Congratulations on starting your applications to college and working so diligently on them! Fortunately, Scholarships360 has even more resources to offer that can help propel your college journey in the right direction. 

Frequently asked questions

What should I say for why this college?

Essay questions that ask “Why this college?” are basically asking you to describe why you would be a good fit and succeed at that particular school. So, you should use a combination of knowledge about the school you’re applying to and knowledge about yourself and your strengths to craft a successful response. Find some aspects of the school that attract you and list some past achievements that indicate that you would be able to use these assets to the fullest extent possible. 

What should you not say in a college essay?

One thing to avoid in your college essays is redundancy. If you’ve already listed your accomplishments in your main application, don’t spend time rehashing them using the same language. Try to build upon them; take your achievements to the next step and use them as stepping stones to describe your future potential and how the school you’re applying to will help you get there. You should also try to avoid using negative language; even if you are describing a difficulty that you underwent, try to frame it through a positive learning experience and use it to demonstrate your potential for the future rather than opining about the difficulty, no matter how grave it was, that you experienced.