Skip to content

Writing A College Essay On Why You Want To Go There

Sample College Admission Essays


This section contains two examples of good college essays.

  1. College Essay One
  2. College Essay Two
  3. College Essay Three

College Essay One

Prompt: Please submit a one-page, single-spaced essay that explains why you have chosen State University and your particular major(s), department(s) or program(s).

State University and I possess a common vision. I, like State University, constantly work to explore the limits of nature by exceeding expectations. Long an amateur scientist, it was this drive that brought me to the University of Texas for its Student Science Training Program in 2013. Up to that point science had been my private past time, one I had yet to explore on anyone else’s terms. My time at UT, however, changed that. Participating for the first time in a full-length research experiment at that level, I felt more alive, more engaged, than I ever had before. Learning the complex dynamics between electromagnetic induction and optics in an attempt to solve one of the holy grails of physics, gravitational-waves, I could not have been more pleased. Thus vindicated, my desire to further formalize my love of science brings me to State University. Thanks to this experience, I know now better than ever that State University is my future, because through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion for science and engineering.

In addition to just science, I am drawn to State University for other reasons. I strive to work with the diverse group of people that State University wholeheartedly accommodates – and who also share my mindset. They, like me, are there because State University respects the value of diversity. I know from personal experience that in order to achieve the trust, honesty, and success that State University values, new people are needed to create a respectful environment for these values. I feel that my background as an American Sikh will provide an innovative perspective in the university’s search for knowledge while helping it to develop a basis for future success. And that, truly, is the greatest success I can imagine.

This emphasis on diversity can also be found in the variety of specialized departments found at State University. On top of its growing cultural and ethnic diversity, State University is becoming a master at creating a niche for every student. However, this does not isolate students by forcing them to work with only those individuals who follow their specific discipline. Instead, it is the seamless interaction between facilities that allows each department, from engineering to programming, to create a real learning environment that profoundly mimics the real world. Thus, State University is not just the perfect place for me, it is the only place for me. Indeed, having the intellectual keenness to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented through my time in the IB program, I know that I can contribute to State University as it continues to cultivate a scholarly climate that encourages intellectual curiosity.

At the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at State University, I will be able to do just that. In a department where education and research are intermixed, I can continue to follow the path that towards scientific excellence. Long-mesmerized by hobbies like my work with the FIRST Robotics team, I believe State University would be the best choice to continue to nurture my love for electrical and computer engineering. I have only scratched the surface in this ever evolving field but know that the technological potential is limitless. Likewise, I feel that my time at State University would make my potential similarly limitless.

This is a picture-perfect response to a university-specific essay prompt. What makes it particularly effective is not just its cohesive structure and elegant style but also the level of details the author uses in the response. By directly identifying the specific aspects of the university that are attractive to the writer, the writer is able to clearly and effectively show not only his commitment to his studies but – perhaps more importantly – the level of thought he put into his decision to apply. Review committees know what generic responses look like so specificity sells.

Find your school with our USA School Search

College Essay Two

Prompt: What motivates you?

For as long as I can remember, I have dreamed of science. Where others see the engineering, experimentation, and presentation of science as a chore, I only see excitement. Even as a child I constantly sought it out, first on television with Bill Nye and The Mythbusters, then later in person in every museum exhibit I could find. Science in all its forms fascinated me, but science projects in particular were a category all to themselves. To me, science projects were a special joy that only grew with time. In fact, it was this continued fascination for hands-on science that brought me years later to the sauna that is the University of Alabama in mid-June. Participating in the Student Science Training Program and working in their lab made me feel like a kid in a candy store. Just the thought of participating in a project at this level of scientific rigor made me forget that this was supposed to be my summer break and I spent the first day eagerly examining every piece of equipment.

Even at first, when the whole research group sat there doing rote calculations and others felt like they were staring down the barrel of defeated purpose, I remained enthusiastic. Time and time again I reminded myself of that famous phrase "great effort leads to great rewards," and sure enough, soon my aspirations began to be met. This shift in attitude also coincided with a shift in location: from the computer desk to the laser lab. It was finally time to get my hands dirty.

Now things began to get really interesting. During the experimentation phase of the project, I spent the majority of my waking hours in the lab – and I enjoyed every minute of it. From debriefing with my coordinator in the morning to checking and rechecking results well into the afternoon, I was on cloud nine all day, every day. I even loved the electric feeling of anxiety as I waited for the results. Most of all, though, I loved the pursuit of science itself. Before I knew it, I was well into the seventh week and had completed my first long-term research experiment.

In the end, although the days were long and hard, my work that summer filled me with pride. That pride has confirmed and reinvigorated my love for science. I felt more alive, more engaged, in that lab than I have anywhere else, and I am committed to returning. I have always dreamed of science but since that summer, since my experiment, I have dreamed only of the future. To me, medical science is the future and through it I seek another, permanent, opportunity to follow my passion. After all, to follow your passion is, literally, a dream come true.

In addition to its use of clear, demonstrative language, there is one thing that makes this an effective essay: focus. Indeed, notice that, although the question is broad, the answer is narrow. This is crucial. It can be easy to wax poetic on a topic and, in the process, take on too much. Instead, by highlighting one specific aspect of his personality, the author is able to give the reader a taste of his who he is without overwhelming him or simply reproducing his résumé. This emphasis gives the reader the opportunity to learn who the writer is on his terms and makes it a truly compelling application essay.

Find your school with our USA School Search

College Essay Three

The winter of my seventh grade year, my alcoholic mother entered a psychiatric unit for an attempted suicide. Mom survived, but I would never forget visiting her at the ward or the complete confusion I felt about her attempt to end her life. Today I realize that this experience greatly influenced my professional ambition as well as my personal identity. While early on my professional ambitions were aimed towards the mental health field, later experiences have redirected me towards a career in academia.

I come from a small, economically depressed town in Northern Wisconson. Many people in this former mining town do not graduate high school and for them college is an idealistic concept, not a reality. Neither of my parents attended college. Feelings of being trapped in a stagnant environment permeated my mind, and yet I knew I had to graduate high school; I had to get out. Although most of my friends and family did not understand my ambitions, I knew I wanted to make a difference and used their doubt as motivation to press through. Four days after I graduated high school, I joined the U.S. Army.

The 4 years I spent in the Army cultivated a deep-seated passion for serving society. While in the Army, I had the great honor to serve with several men and women who, like me, fought to make a difference in the world. During my tour of duty, I witnessed several shipmates suffer from various mental aliments. Driven by a commitment to serve and a desire to understand the foundations of psychological illness, I decided to return to school to study psychology.

In order to pay for school and continue being active in the community, I enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard as a Medic. Due to the increased deployment schedule and demands placed on all branches of the military after September 11, my attendance in school has necessarily come second to my commitment to the military. There are various semesters where, due to this demand, I attended school less than full time. Despite taking a long time and the difficulty in carving separate time for school with such occupational requirements, I remained persistent aiming towards attending school as my schedule would allow. My military commitment ends this July and will no longer complicate my academic pursuits.

In college, as I became more politically engaged, my interest began to gravitate more towards political science. The interest in serving and understanding people has never changed, yet I realized I could make a greater difference doing something for which I have a deeper passion, political science. Pursuing dual degrees in both Psychology and Political Science, I was provided an opportunity to complete a thesis in Psychology with Dr. Sheryl Carol a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Texas (UT) This fall I will complete an additional thesis as a McNair Scholar with Dr. Ken Chambers, Associate Professor in Latin American studies in the UT Political Science Department.

As an undergraduate, I was privileged to gain extensive research experience working in a research lab with Dr. Carol. During the three years I worked in her lab, I aided in designing a study, writing an Institutional Review Board (IRB) application, running participants through both pilot and regular studies, coding data, and analyzing said data, with these experiences culminating in my honors thesis. This thesis, entitled Self-Esteem and Need-to-Belong as predictors of implicit stereotypic explanatory bias, focuses on the relationship between levels (high and low) of self-esteem and an individual’s need to belong in a group, and how they predict whether an individual will tend to explain stereotype-inconsistent behavior. Participating in such a large study from start to finish has validated my interest in academic research as a profession.

This fall I will embark on writing an additional honors thesis in political science. While the precise topic of my thesis is undecided, I am particularly interested in Mexico and its development towards a more democratic government. Minoring in Spanish, I have read various pieces of literature from Mexico and have come to respect Mexico and Latin American culture and society. I look forward to conducting this research as it will have a more qualitative tilt than my thesis in psychology, therefore granting an additional understanding of research methodology.

My present decision to switch from social psychology to political science is further related to a study abroad course sponsored by the European Union with Dr. Samuel Mitchell, an Associate Professor in the Political Science Department at UT. Professor Mitchell obtained a grant to take a class of students to Belgium in order to study the EU. This course revealed a direct correlation between what I had studied in the classroom with the real world. After spending several weeks studying the EU, its history and present movement towards integration, the class flew to Brussels where we met with officials and proceeded to learn firsthand how the EU functioned.

My interest in attending the University of Rochester in particular, relates to my first semester at OU and the opportunity to take an introductory course in statistics with the now retired Dr. Larry Miller. Through the combination of a genuine appreciation and knack for statistics and with his encouragement, I proceeded to take his advanced statistics class as well as the first graduate level statistics course at OU. I continued my statistical training by completing the second graduate statistics course on model comparisons with Dr. Roger Johnson, a Professor in the Psychology Department. The model comparison course was not only the most challenging course I have taken as an undergraduate, but the most important. As the sole undergraduate in the course and only college algebra under my belt, I felt quite intimidated. Yet, the rigors of the class compelled me to expand my thinking and learn to overcome any insecurities and deficits in my education. The effort paid off as I earned not only an ‘A’ in the course, but also won the T.O.P.S. (Top Outstanding Psychology Student) award in statistics. This award is given to the top undergraduate student with a demonstrated history of success in statistics.

My statistical training in psychology orientates me toward a more quantitative graduate experience. Due to the University of Rochester’s reputation for an extensive use of statistics in political science research, I would make a good addition to your fall class. While attending the University of Rochester, I would like to study international relations or comparative politics while in graduate school. I find the research of Dr.’s Hein Goemans and Gretchen Helmke intriguing and would like the opportunity to learn more about it through the Graduate Visitation program.

Participation in the University of Rochester’s Graduate School Visitation Program would allow me to learn more about the Department of Political Science to further see if my interests align with those in the department. Additionally, my attendance would allow the Political Science department to make a more accurate determination on how well I would fit in to the program than from solely my graduate school application. Attending the University of Rochester with its focus on quantitative training, would not only allow me to utilize the skills and knowledge I gained as an undergraduate, but also would expand this foundation to better prepare me to conduct research in a manner I find fascinating.

From attending S.E.R.E. (Survival/POW training) in the military and making it through a model comparisons course as an undergraduate, I have rarely shied away from a challenge. I thrive on difficult tasks as I enjoy systematically developing solutions to problems. Attending the University of Rochester would more than likely prove a challenge, but there is no doubt in my mind that I would not only succeed but enable me to offer a unique set of experiences to fellow members of the incoming graduate class.

Find your school with our USA School Search

Sample Essays

Related Content:

Anyone who’s applying to a selective college in the U.S. will likely be asked a seemingly simple question: Why do you want to attend this school?

It may be phrased succinctly — “Why Brown?” to name one highly selective school — or as part of a more complicated question: “Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application?” or: “How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying.”

Whether concise or wordy, these prompts are really asking the same thing.

Why “Why”?

Students are often surprised that they are asked to defend their choice of college; shouldn’t the effort they’ve put into (researching, applying, and paying a fee) be enough?

It depends.

Yield

In the first place, colleges want to admit students who will enroll. Their yield rates (the percentages of accepted students who choose to attend) are crucial factors in a their publicity campaigns and perceived prestige; they're also used in rankings. One way that colleges look desirable to prospective students is, in short, to be desirable to accepted applicants.

Demonstrated Interest

Generally speaking, the more selective a school, the greater the number of factors it’ll consider to determine whom to admit.

Colleges want to know how much you want them, a factor they call demonstrated interest. Other parts of an application — grades, test scores, activities, recommendations — being roughly equal, decisions at selective colleges are often made because a student does a good job of conveying the desire to be there.

Fit

The “Why School X?” question speaks to the idea of fit. Colleges want students who will come back after their first year, and eventually graduate (preferably within six years). Schools use these rates of first-year retention and graduation (when they’re favorable) in marketing materials. Plus, college rankings often take them into account, as well.

So, the “Why?” question is important!

In my experience, however, most students answer this question last, as something of an afterthought — perhaps with the notion that the response is (or should be) self-evident. I’d bet that most applicants spend a fraction of the time answering this question that they spend on their other essays. But the answer to this question needs to be just as compelling as anything else you write.

Here are some examples of what to do and what not to do, followed up by a discussion of what made the good ones good and what would help make the not-so-good ones better.

Other Students Explain “Why?”

Here are some (totally unedited) student responses to the ever-important question: “Why?”

Student 1: Boston University

I want to study at a reputed university, with a stimulating environment as I have always lived in major cities where I can go to cafes, to hear music, to museums and sports events as part of my everyday life. Boston University has become one of the best in the US; it has top professors and is located in the middle of a historic city, and accessible to everything. It has a strong international relations program which would be perfect for me since I have attended a diverse international school. I noticed all these things when I visited. Given Boston University’s notable reputation and history, I would be excited by the opportunity to attend such a strong and knowledgeable institution . . .

Student 2: Northwestern University

The most unique trait of Northwestern University is its focus on undergraduate research. I am very interested in biology and chemistry; I just love working in laboratories. In the “Gymnasium”, the Swiss pre-university school, we were often confronted with a problem that we had to solve in groups. Such problems could be as easy as distinguishing water from ethanol, or as complex as building a hydrogen fuel cell. To find a solution we were given time in our laboratory and could ask for practically anything we needed . . .

A further very good quality of Northwestern University is its rather high rank and great reputation. I seek a good education and definitely appreciate it, if the university I attend is renowned. If I went to a second-rank college I would be better off studying in Switzerland . . .

A last point is the location: It’s just great; right next to the lake, in the nice and cosy town of Evanston. You have the advantages of a small town, such as lots of greenery and a quiet environment, and yet Chicago is very close and accessible . . .

Student 3: Northwestern University

(This is a different student, applying six years after Student 2.)

Because I intend to pursue a career in photojournalism, I see the Medill School of Journalism as the Holy Grail of education. Offering the impressive intellectual and technical resources of a prestigious research university, Northwestern would provide me the confidence of knowing that I would be getting the most forward-focused education in journalism.. . . The quarter system and Medill’s internship requirements create an ideal confluence for exactly that experience . . .

Northwestern has a gorgeous location. When I visited the campus, I was smitten with Evanston’s cozy feel. Although I initially pictured myself in the heart of a city, Evanston eclipsed this vision. The small town environment is comforting without being limiting, offering plenty of cafés, restaurants, and shops to explore . . . Meanwhile, Northwestern’s scenic lakeside location is the perfect retreat for studying or relaxing . . .

Brimming with enthusiasm, Northwestern has infectious school spirit. Because I assume leaving home after eighteen years will be difficult, I count on school pride to bring me a sense of community and belonging. From the famed painted rock to the fountain spewing purple water, the robust loyalty to the university captures my heart . . . In short, Northwestern is my dream school because it embodies everything I value: journalism, incomparable internship opportunities, dance, and an inspiring atmosphere . . .

Student 4: New York University

(You may find this essay posted on Parke Muth's blog)

I’m done being a New Yorker born and raised in sheltered suburbia — I’m ready to get slapped in the face by the unforgiving hand of NYC and to become a true Noo Yawk-ah. While not an accurate representation of what all NYU students think, the NYU Secrets Facebook page constantly posts the thoughts of NYU students resenting the bittersweet independence of such a large, non-traditional school, but at the same time falling in love with the knowledgeable and nurturing faculty and classes.

I’m done dancing around on the outskirts of the arena — I’m ready to plop myself right into the frenzied mist of action. No walls insulate NYU from the sprawling labyrinth of NYC, which is ideal for a unique and exciting college experience . . .

Breaking Them Down

Would Student 1 get into BU?

Her response could have been used for nearly any large or mid-sized urban university. Do I, an admissions officer, believe that this student has chosen my unique university with care? No. Do I learn anything from this response that I don’t already know from elsewhere in the student’s application? No.

And why not?

Student 1 speaks in generalities: Boston University is prestigious, located in a historic city, provides access to concerts and museums, and has an international relations major. She lists facts that the admission staff already knows — facts that are not even unique to BU. The personal things she writes, about living in cities and attending “a diverse international school,” would be featured on her Common Application.

Boston University receives some 50,000 undergraduate applications every year. If you read hundreds like this every cycle, would you be compelled to admit any of the students who wrote them?

What about Students 2, 3, and 4?

Though they’ve been edited for length here, their essays are much more detailed and convincing than Student 1’s response. They all got into the schools they applied to, but let’s examine their responses closely to find out why.

Notice that the two Northwestern applicants, six years apart and from different countries, not only described the college’s physical setting but talked about the same things — the lake, coffee shops, and coziness.

Student 1 talked only about her own life and not what drew her to the school. In other words, she didn’t do a great job of demonstrating interest.

While it’s a good idea to mention the location and vibe of a campus, applicants should be aware that thousands of other students, year after year, have done the same thing. It’s a paradox: Colleges attempt to distinguish themselves through their locations — mountainous backdrops, subway stops, — but talking too much about this stuff can lead you astray. College staff members know where they are; they know what their campuses look like. Spending valuable space describing a school’s location leaves you with less room to talk about how good a fit you’d be.

Despite colleges’ intense self-promotion, parroting facts back at admissions officers in your essay can waste valuable application real estate — especially when you’re working with a low word limit. Students 2 and 3 both mention rank and prestige, but they’re sure to tie these to their own application and plans. Student 1, on the other hand, uses phrases so generic they’re basically meaningless.

Colleges asking the “Why us?” question know they are good schools, and they know their rankings. You don’t need to remind them of these facts.

In fact, I suspect colleges that cap applicants’ responses to 100 words are doing so in order to keep students from discussing things that don’t connect with them personally. “Why us?” essays, especially the shortest ones, need you to focus on heart, not head.

Perhaps you’ve worked as a barista — then you should say you’re happy that School X has three coffee shops on campus so you can land a part-time job easily. If you’re a painter from the desert, say how thrilled you are by the prospect of living near a lake and learning the subtleties of using blues and greens rather than browns and oranges. These are more personal, and ultimately more effective, than reciting statistics from brochures. That’s what I mean by heart.

Answering the “Why?” Question Yourself

Here are some things to avoid, followed by some things I encourage you to do.

Don’ts

Don’t mention a college’s reputation or rank.

In my opinion — unless you’ve got a very strategic reason for doing so — this will only occupy valuable space.

Don’t mention the college’s founder.

It may seem like a good idea to talk about the importance of Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin, but it’s probably not. Admissions officers at the University of Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania don’t need to be reminded of who started their institutions!

Do’s

This sounds obvious, but many students skip this step:

Be sure you know why you are applying to a college!

If the best you can muster is its reputation or ranking, then you haven’t looked closely enough to find a good match for your needs and interests. Believe it or not, a student who is happy at one top-tier institution may be totally unhappy at another. Doing research before answering this question is crucial. Visit the school, talk to current students, go to prospective-student programs, and dig into websites.

Keep a journal as you do research.

Each entry should have two columns: head and heart. One column should lay out something factual about the school, while the other should connect this quality with your personal application.

Start with the “head.”

This includes facilities, scenery, the strength of a particular department, location, size, and course offerings. But don’t stop there.

Connect it to “heart.”

Ask yourself why these objective qualities are meaningful to you. How will you use these elements of the campus or its community to your advantage if you’re admitted? How will you contribute to each if you’re admitted?

Think in terms of high school.

Is this college like or different from your high school? Why are these similarities or differences important to you? Maybe — like Students 2, 3, and 4 — you want your college experience to be a big change. On the other hand, you can say that you're looking forward to attending a small liberal arts college because you spent your formative years in an elementary school with only six other students in your class.

A Final Word: Because

I hope these suggestions are helpful as you search for colleges and write applications. Considering why you want to attend a school isn’t just important in helping colleges determine the ultimate admissions decision, it’s also important for you — after all, you’re deciding where to spend the next four years of your life! Just don’t save the “Why us?” question for 11:30 p.m. the night before the application is due, and you’ll be fine!

Find further guidance about getting into college from Noodle Experts like Amy Garrou. You can also use Noodle to discover which colleges are best for you.