Colleges are interested in students who are interested in them. They want kids who will matriculate if selected. Thus, they are careful to vet student’s essays to distinguish between those who know and care about the school and those who are just applying to lots of colleges.
This gives us the next set of essays, the “Why you are interested in this school or in this particular major.” The wise writer will do their homework carefully and show that they understand the school and know what is available. They should have a very distinctive answer for these questions, not a generic essay used for all applications. Let’s look at a few of the ways schools ask this question:
1. What in particular about Yale has influenced your decision to apply? (Please answer in 100 words or less.)
2. What motivated you to apply to Rice University? (200 word limit)
3. Johns Hopkins University was founded in 1876 on a spirit of exploration and discovery. As a result, students can pursue a multi-dimensional undergraduate experience both in and outside of the classroom. Given the opportunities at Hopkins, please discuss your current interests—academic or extracurricular pursuits, personal passions, summer experiences, etc.— and how you will build upon them here. (300-500 Word limit).
4. Describe your academic interests and how you plan to pursue them at USC.
5. With the understanding that the choice of academic school you indicated is not binding, explain why you are applying to that particular school of study. (150 word limit)
Each college and university is unique with special values, traditions, and expectations. They are looking for kids that fit the culture at their particular university. Thus we get essay questions that explore the world the student comes from or what they will contribute to the life of the campus. Here are a few examples of these essay prompts:
1. U Michigan Essay #1 (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words) Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
2. Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
3. Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better. Max word count: 250
Essays can feel daunting, but I have found that the creative act of thinking, writing, and editing makes the student a better writer and one who learns about himself in the process.
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