52 Weeks to College: Week 14 — 'Why College X' Essays

Most college applications ask you to write some version of a "Why College X" essay. Here are some examples:

  • Please tell us what you find most appealing about Columbia and why.
  • Given your interests, values, and goals, explain why Oberlin College will help you grow (as a student and a person) during your undergraduate years. 

Most of these types of questions suggest an answer in the short-answer range (250-300 words), while others allow for an answer that's as long as the personal essay (250-500 words.)

Regardless of the length or the particular wording of the question, your job here is to explain why College X is a good match for you. Most applicants' "Why College X" answers are pretty bad, and good chunk of those are truly horrible. This should be an easy way for you to stand out—in a good way! We'll show you how. For more tips on the "Why College X" essay and some examples of how to make an average one really great, check out chapter 12 of our book.

Week 14 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Finalize your 5th application.
  • Finalize your supplementary materials. (See Week 4.)
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to a place near you. Sign up, and add those meetings to your calendar.
  • Finalize your 3rd scholarship application.
  • Begin working on your CSS/PROFILE forms and college financial aid applications.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. (See Week 6.)
  • Order your test score reports.
  • Take the SAT.

Tips & Tricks

1. Be specific and personal. For your "Why College X" essays, it's not enough to identify what makes College X interesting in general; you need to specify why College X is interesting to you in particular. Is it the massive library where you want to get lost in the stacks? Is it the respect for vegan students? Is it the creative writing instructor who happens to be your favorite author? Whatever it is, name it. And if you're interested in a college because of its ranking, that's not a good reason to mention here. It might be why you're actually applying, but it won't be interesting at all to the college. Do your research and figure out why that school makes it to the to pof your own ranking.

2. Connect College X to your goals. It's not enough to say that there's a connection between you and the school. You also have to show it, and one way to do that is to connect the college to your goals. What is it that you actually want to get out of your college experience? Check out the last sentence of your story in Week 3—you have articulated some career goals in the last sentence. What do you need to accomplish in college to put you on a path to those career goals? If you don't have career goals yet, look at sentence 2 of your story—your academic interests—and go from there. College is first and foremost an academic enterprise, so those reasons should be front and center.

3. Learn how Expected Family Contribution (EFC) works. In particular, pay attention to the difference between Federal Methodology and Institutional Methodology. Some great online resources to learn about EFC and the different methodologies are FinAid.org, the College Board, and the college's financial aid pages themselves.

4. Collaborate with your parents in the financial aid effort. Unless you are declaring yourself financially independent from your parents for financial aid purposes, your parents will be key to filling out these financial aid forms, and you will need their input to secure the best financial aid package possible. It helps if you're all rowing in the same direction when you're working together on these forms.

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.