“Why This College?”: Tips for Handling This Common Supplemental Essay Question

How would you answer this common supplemental essay question?

The supplemental essay for college admissions can be a stumbling point for many applicants. Most students put significant time into their longer personal statement. However, they fail to give enough attention to the “bonus” section of the application. This is a mistake. The “why this college” question provides you with the perfect opportunity to show review boards that you have done your research. By answering this question, you can pinpoint why you would be a good fit. Before you tackle your supplemental essay question, check out these examples of bad and good responses.

Supplemental Essay Question – Bad Response

Duke University’s Trinity College offers applicants the opportunity to write a supplemental essay. This essay should answer the following question: If you are applying to Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, please discuss why you consider Duke a good match for you. Is there something in particular at Duke that attracts you? Please limit your response to one or two paragraphs.

This is a typical supplemental essay question. The admissions review board wants to know why its school is of particular interest to you. These questions often result in bland, unremarkable essays, such as the example below.

Bad Supplemental Essay Response Example

I believe the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke is an excellent match for me. I believe college should not be merely a gateway to the work force; it should educate the student in a variety of subjects and prepare him or her for the range of challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in life. I have always been a curious person and enjoy reading all kinds of literature and nonfiction. In high school I excelled in history, English, AP psychology, and other liberal arts subjects. I have not yet decided on a major, but when I do, it will almost certainly be in the liberal arts, such as history or political science. I know that Trinity College is very strong in these areas.

But regardless of my major, I want to receive a broad education that spans a variety of areas in the liberal arts, so that I will graduate as not only a viable job prospect, but also as a well-rounded and learned adult who can make diverse and valuable contributions to my community. I believe Duke’s Trinity College will help me grow and become that kind of person.

What Makes This Response Bad

This is a perfect example of what not to do when drafting your response. This essay never discusses the features that are unique to Duke. Most of it is a reiteration of information that was covered in the student’s personal statement or resumé. There is nothing that defines why Duke would be a good match for the student.

Supplemental Essay Question – Good Response

Now, using the same essay prompt, we’ll take a look at a better response.

Good Supplemental Essay Response Example

When I visited the Duke campus last fall, I immediately felt at home. The Gothic architecture and tree-shaded walks created an atmosphere of peaceful but serious reflection. The place is at once Southern—which, as an Alabamian, is important to me—and universal, as it reflects the traditions of Europe and the classical world.

The Trinity College liberal arts curriculum also reflects this unique pairing of the modern South and the global past. For example, I am considering a major in history, and am very interested in the combination of geographic and thematic areas of study offered by Duke’s history program; there are endless areas of specialization. One interesting possibility is a focus in the geographic area of the U.S. and Canada, combined with a thematic study of Women and Gender or African Diaspora. By juxtaposing and intertwining these two foci, my understanding of the American South—and much more—would be greatly enriched. This innovative and flexible approach to both traditional and non-traditional subject matter is appealing to me.

I know by reputation, and from a friend currently enrolled in Trinity College, that the liberal arts curriculum is very challenging, but also rewarding. I am more than prepared for these challenges, and that I will thrive in this climate. Duke University’s campus already feels like home. I believe that its academic opportunities will also provide a stimulating environment in which I feel I belong.

What Makes This Response Good

Remember the essay prompt? The admissions officers want to know if there is something “in particular at Duke” that makes you want to enroll at their university. This sample essay answers that question, as well as why the university is a good match. Although the essay is not long, the author outlines three specific features of Duke that have piqued her interest:

  • The attractive campus with its Gothic and Southern appeal
  • The flexible nature of the history curriculum
  • The fact that she has a friend at Duke

This last point doesn’t matter much in the admissions process. The writer was correct to mention it only indirectly.

The first point has moderate importance. Many colleges have impressive Gothic architecture, so the feature isn’t unique to Duke. The writer connects the campus, however, to her own Southern background. It also demonstrates that she has visited the campus. Many applicants who haphazardly apply to a long list of prestigious schools do not take the time to do this.

The second point about the history curriculum is key to this essay’s success. This applicant knows what lies beneath the university’s surface. She has researched the curriculum. She is not applying to Duke because of its beauty or its reputation. Instead, she is applying to Duke because she likes how the university approaches learning.

Admissions officers will notice that this applicant has done some research. They will appreciate her thoughtful reasons for wanting to attend Duke.

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of “Why”

You may think that the supplemental essay question holds little importance when it comes to college admissions. That’s not true. Yes, grades and test score will help propel your application to the top of the list. But what happens if you’re on the cusp of the admitted list and your academic record is in a dead heat with several others? The supplemental essay can be the make-it-or-break-it factor that helps you stand out. It gives you a chance to tell the admissions review board something they don’t already know about you. You can even provide specific examples of how you will contribute to the campus.

Some students do not take the time to address the prompt or even skip the prompt entirely. These students are telling colleges that they aren’t interested in the school or only willing to put forth a mediocre effort. Neither of those things will hold any favor with the admissions staff. Never assume your GPA and test scores are enough to gain admittance. Always put your best foot forward. Crafting a well-thought-out response to your supplemental essay question will help the review board make their decision. In the end, it could be the difference between receiving a rejection or an acceptance email.

Need help with your supplemental essay writing? We offer essay writing workshops and personalized essay review.

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