Supplemental Essays: The “Why ____ University?” Prompt

You have labored over 650 words for weeks to get your college essay just right, and it’s finally done! Now, you can hang up your writing tools for the season and coast right through your applications. Except, wait, is that a pesky supplemental prompt that you have been ignoring but is now screaming for attention?

One of the most common supplementals is the “Why ____ University?” prompt. It can take many forms, but the supplemental essay prompt, “Why U?” no matter how it is written, can be approached with a pretty simple plan.

The “Why U?” supplemental essay stumps many students who don’t take the time to look past the prompt to what the question is really asking. In reality, the “Why U?” essay is pretty easy to get right.

Let’s dissect what this prompt really means.

When this question shows up as a supplemental essay, the college admissions folks want to know that you have done your homework on the school. There are many ways to demonstrate and write about your deep dive into the college in the “Why U?” essay.

  • Have you visited the campus in-person? If so, what resonated with you on your campus tour with a student or what you heard from the admissions officer? Were there certain classes that made you excited? Did they have a unique freshman experience like Agnes Scott College or Elon University that spoke to you? Did your tour guide tell you something about their experience on campus that captured your interest? Talking about these things in the framework of having been on campus is a great approach to your “Why U?” supplement. If you are referencing a tour or meeting with an admin person and can mention them by name – even better. It shows you made a personal connection during your time on campus. And, let’s face it, these folks are human, and it is always nice to learn from someone’s writing that they made a connection with you that was strong enough for you to remember their name and what they shared with you.
  • You will likely be applying to some schools that you have not had the chance to visit. That is just fine too! You can still write a compelling essay. Most schools have virtual tours available like these Florida public universities, and all schools have comprehensive websites like this one for Colorado College. Do the virtual tour and study the website. What programs catch your interest? What extracurricular activities are you excited to participate in? Are there any professors in your area of interest that you can’t wait to take a class from/work in their lab? All of this is material that can produce a strong “Why U?” essay.

As you do your research and consider this essay focus on academics and special programs such as:

  • A really amazing study abroad experience like these offerings at Middlebury College.
  • Experiential and/or service-learning experiences like these at Eckerd College.
  • Living/learning communities that appeal to you like these at UCLA .
  • The types of courses you will take to pursue your major and/or minor and why those matter to you.
  • The professors that are doing research in areas of interest to you.
  • Internship and co-op programs that excite you like these at Drexel University.
  • Research opportunities for undergraduate students like these at University of Tampa.
  • Extracurricular activities at the school where you want to get involved and make a difference. Here you should focus on weightier activities that are civic or academic based. The chocolate club may sound fun, and you can most definitely join – but keep things a bit more highbrow for this essay. You can give a drive by reference to the hammock club, but don’t make it a central focus.
  • A campus tradition that resonates with you like the quirky ones described here.

Once you know just what draws you to this school from your research, all that is left for you is write it up in a neat 250-350 word package adding in all the things that you have learned and how these things make the school a perfect fit for your interests.

Where students go off the rails with these essays is when they write their essay as if they are going on vacation in the city or work for the tourism bureau in that town. Things like “Tulane is my top choice because New Orleans has amazing festivals” or “Boston College is in a great city, and I enjoy the waterfront areas” are not what the admissions officers are looking for. They know that they live in a great city! What they want to know is that you understand what the school offers that is unique and meets your needs as a scholar and civic-minded member of their college community.

So, spend time on the college website, look at the course requirements for the major(s) and minor(s) that you plan to pursue, and know the professors who will be leading your courses. Prove to the admissions folks that you are a serious student and have a good academic reason to attend their college. This is studying you should be doing anyway for every college on your list, and you will likely learn things along the way that will inform your decisions about your college search.

Helping students with their college essays is one of many services offered at Bell & Arch Consulting []. Contact me at [email protected] for more information.

Happy Writing!