Ivy League Admission Tips: How to Write a Brilliant “Why This College” Essay

When the time comes to apply to your dream college, there’s a lot to prepare. You’ve ordered your transcript to showcase your academic prowess, collected reference letters, and penned a convincing personal statement. You’re done now, right?

Not quite. You’re overlooking a crucial part of the Ivy League admission process: the “why this college” essay. If your target college is highly competitive, the “why this college” essay can be your ticket either to your dream school or the rejection pile.

So, no pressure, but you can’t afford to mess this up. But where should you start?

Step 1: Reflect.

The first thing you should do is consider why you want to attend this college. Think about it. Take notes.

What did you come up with? Ideally, you came up with specific, academically based reasons that can only apply to your school in question. Your motivations to attend this college should persuade the admissions team that you will grace the school with your presence if you are admitted.

It would be best to identify these motivations at the beginning of the process, but don’t fret if you can only come up with generic or location-based reasons. You still have time to figure out why you want to attend this university.

Step 2: Research.

University admissions offices can generally tell how much research you’ve put into your application. Insufficient research will make you look lazy and passionless.

So, learn everything you can about the institution.

  • Find out what courses are offered.
  • Do research on the faculty. Try to scout out your future professors and acquaint yourself with them.
  • Explore the extracurricular activities and campus culture.
  • Read up on the school’s history.
  • If possible, visit the campus and talk to faculty and student representatives.

Step 3: Determine what not to write.

Now, it’s time to start writing the essay.

But what should you not do?

  • Don’t tell the admissions team that you think the campus is gorgeous. They know it’s breathtaking—they work there.
  • The admissions team doesn’t need to know that you like the small class sizes.
  • Don’t tell the admissions team that you’re excited about their outstanding ranking.

Basically, don’t teach them about their own institution.

Step 4: Write—about yourself.

Think of it as the academic version of a date. You wouldn’t tell the cute guy you’re out with all about his own accomplishments and reputation, right? You’d tell him about yourself.

It’s the same way with college applications. The admissions office isn’t likely to be impressed by how much you know about the school. You really have to grab their attention.

So, what should you write?

  • Write in a specific, detailed manner (within the word limit). Most importantly, write things that reflect your background, interests, and personality as they relate to the university.
  • Mention your campus visits. Tell them about personal experiences you’ve had with the school, including any meetings with faculty.
  • Be authentic. Let your personality shine through.

Step 5: Thoroughly check your essay.

Proofreading your essay is an essential Ivy League admission strategy. Spelling and grammar mistakes make you look silly and could fundamentally change the meaning of your message. Avoid them at all costs.

  • Use a spellchecker or a proofreading service.
  • Go over your essay once you’re done and correct the typos you didn’t notice while writing it.
  • Have a family member or friend read your essay, too—we’re often blind to our own typos.

Step 6: Repeat as necessary.

If your essay can be recycled for any school in the country, you’re doing it wrong.

Many applicants write one generic “why this college” essay, change the institution and place names, and send the same lackluster paper to every school on their wish list.

Remember, your essay will still be generic even if you manage to avoid all references to other colleges. Make sure to write something that specifically applies to your university of choice.

Step 7: Wait.

Following all these steps does not guarantee that your college of choice will accept you. Ultimately, this essay is just one part of your overall application.

Still, following these steps will make your application stand out.

Do extensive research to learn not only about the institution but also about yourself and your own goals and desires.

Don’t teach them about themselves.

Do tell them about yourself and what you can uniquely bring to the school.

Do proofread.

This process may sound arduous, but it’s definitely worth it.