Six Tips for Writing College-Specific Essays
You've finally wrapped up your Common App essays, and you take a deep breath. The end is in sight! Well, once you tackle the college-specific essays that your top choice schools require. It can be tempting to slack a bit on these... after all, they aren't the important, main essays, right? Don't fall into this trap – these essays are one of the best ways you can show your school that it's your dream college, and you're their dream student. Here are six tips for nailing your college-specific essay!
If you can make it happen, visit the campus!
I can’t stress this enough. Not only will visiting the campus help you decide if that school is actually right for you in the first place, it will give you firsthand information to use in your college-specific essays. College visits allow you to meet and talk with real students, scout out things you love about the campus, and get a better idea about the overall atmosphere of the school. Mentioning something along the lines of, “When I visited the ___ campus, I was blown away by ____,” also shows admissions counselors that you’re interested enough to spend your time visiting.
Of course, it’s not always possible to visit faraway schools. If that’s the case, the Internet is your best friend! Ask an admissions rep from the school to put you in touch with a current student who goes there who is involved in the major or extracurriculars that you’d like to join. Check out the school’s website and social media. Read everything about the school that you can get your hands on. The more you know about the specific class, the more info you have for your college-specific essay.
Don’t treat these essays like an afterthought.
It can be easy to spend all your time on the “main” essays and then rush through the college-specific essays but DON’T! Even though they’re typically shorter in length and may seem more “relaxed,” these are just as important as your main essay (if not more so, in some situations). This is your one and only chance to show this school that not only are you hoping to get into college, you’re hoping to get into THEIR college, and only theirs. It’s your chance to show them how much their institution would benefit you, and how much you would benefit it.
Don’t just name drop, restate the college website, or rely on flattery. Think deeper!
It’s easy to look up a few professors in your department of choice and name drop. “I’d love to learn under the guidance of the brilliant Professor ____, who teaches ____.” I know it’s easy, because I see it in essay after essay! It’s also easy to say the superficial things you love about the school or its location, and compliment the university for its reputation or ranking.
Think beyond that. Why would YOU specifically excel under that professor? How have you already demonstrated passion or aptitude for the specific courses they teach? What stands out to you about the college that isn’t even mentioned on their website, or easily found in their brochures? Once you’ve pinpointed something that attracts you to the school, go three steps further.
If it was mentioned during your campus tour, 83% of other applicants are using it in their essay.*
*OK, so I totally made this statistic up, but it can’t be too far off.
I’m not dissing the tour guide, but unless you somehow got an aspiring comedian as your guide, you probably heard tidbits, interesting facts, and jokes that are regurgitated day after day, tour after tour. I still recommend jotting down the information that you hear on your tour, but don’t use it as your only source for your college essays. Trust me, other people on your tour will be doing the same thing and admissions counselors will be BORED.
Answer the two questions “Why us?” and “Why you?”
These should be at the front of your mind as you’re writing these essays. Why is this one particular school the ultimate school for you? What does it have that no other college has? Don’t say that they have a “great business school” or an “excellent European Studies program.” So do a lot of schools! Why is this one the best of the best, at least in your opinion? If you can’t answer this question, why are you applying? Find your answer – it’s in there!
When it comes to answering “Why you?” consider this. I love my high school best friend. She’s the coolest, funniest, kindest person I’ve ever met. That said, we went to different colleges that were both perfect fits for US. Why is this school right for you and not your best friend or your neighbor or your classmate? What do you bring to their table that other people don’t? How have you already proven yourself, and how will you continue to prove yourself in their specific programs, clubs, etc.?
Give your own perspective.
Don’t rely on the words you read and the things you hear about a school. As much as you can, try to forget those things and focus on your authentic perception of the school, the campus, and the prospect of spending four years there. How did walking on the campus make you feel? What would an acceptance from their school mean to you? Why and how would you absolutely thrive in their classrooms? If you genuinely love the university, you should your own unique, genuine emotions about what they offer. Tap into those! If the college-specific essay that you wrote could be written by any other applicant, it’s not personal to you.