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by Ethan Currie

As seniors settle on their final choices for where they want to end up next Fall, many juniors are working to refine their college lists through research and college visits. In addition to being helpful for deciding whether to actually apply to a specific college or not, these info-gathering processes can also be extremely helpful when it comes to actually applying – in particular, they aid in the development of a specific kind of Supplemental Essay called the ‘Why Essay’.

While the Personal Statement (the essay students write and then send to (mostly) all the colleges they’ll be applying to) is very important in helping students communicate their backgrounds, interests, values, etc, Supplemental Essays, which come in many forms, are often the one place where a student can speak directly to an admissions counselor at a specific college and articulate the individualized reasons why it is the best place for a student to pursue their goals. The most common type of Supplemental Essay is – you guessed it – the Why Essay.

Aptly named, the Why Essay is a student’s opportunity to discuss the reasons they believe this specific college is the best fit for them given their background (what they have done in the past) and interests (what they want for the future). Here is a very typical example of a Why Essay prompt – this one from UW Madison:

“Tell us why you would like to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, please include why you are interested in studying the major(s) you have selected. If you selected undecided, please describe your areas of possible academic interest (650 word maximum).”  

A successful Why Essay achieves a few things: 1.) It conveys, often implicitly, that a student has taken the time to get to know the college, either by perusing a website or visiting the campus (this is important, because colleges care whether a student is really interested in them or whether they are a last resort should they not be admitted elsewhere) 2.) It connects the programs, offerings, etc of the college with the interests and goals of the student. This often involves naming specific departments, courses, faculty, research, or other programs specific to a college. 3.) Finally, and maybe least obviously, it argues why the college itself would be made better by the attendance of the student. Colleges want their students to be involved, so by showing interest in specific programs, you are indicating to the college that you would be a positive force on campus, actively improving the student experience not only for yourself, but for the entire campus community. 

So, for juniors currently working on that research as they assemble a college list, keep in mind that this work will become doubly useful this summer as you begin writing essays. In fact, a tip to remember as you work through this initial research process is keeping a Google Doc open as you browse; as you come across things that strike you as interesting or attractive about a college, throw the link into the Doc. This can then become a resource in the future when you start to draft your Why Essays.

Feeling like you could use some extra support getting started? Feel free to contact our Director of Client Services, Lynn Kaplan, about how we can help with essay development and college counseling. Her email is lynn@galined.com and phone number is (608) 841-1053.


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