The “Why College X” Supplement

college admissions Common Application supplements

Perhaps the most straightforward type of supplement question, many schools simply want to know “Why Us?” The word count for this type of response will vary significantly based on the school – from 50 to 500 words.

Example “Why College X?” Questions:

  • Columbia: Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia.
  • UVM: Why UVM?
  • Tufts: Which aspects of the Tufts undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, "Why Tufts?"
  • BU: What excites you about attending Boston University?


Particularly if the word count is limited, every word is essential here. Avoid the filler and the fluff and jump right in. In other words, if you have 50 words, don’t waste 15 with, “The things about Tufts University that generated so much of my enthusiasm to apply are..." You don't have the space to waste!

Connect the school to your interests and your story as much as possible:

  • Is it a school that emphasizes hands-on learning? Talk about hands-on projects you have done that have pushed and inspired you and why you want to continue to do that in college.
  • Does the school have students who are involved in multiple facets of life (athletics, clubs, academics, residential life, etc)? Talk about how your involvement in multiple areas of your high school has enriched your experience and how you can’t wait to replicate that in college.
  • You get the idea!

Find a unique angle: Did you notice something small, specific, and/or quirky when you visited (in person or virtually)? Can you weave that into your interest in attending somehow?

Have you read anything written by a school leader/President that resonates for you? Can you quote it or talk about it in an impactful way and make a link to your own why? (There is a school whose President talks often about “The Love of Learning” – a powerful Why Us essay for that school might take that theme and make multiple connections to your own story and your love of learning.)


Please don’t mention the beauty of the campus or use vague platitudes to talk about the welcoming environment. They know their buildings and landscaping are pretty. They hope their campus feels welcoming. Dig deeper than this!

Do not write an essay about generally why you want to go to college. You must be more specific than this!

Do not write an essay where you could easily find and replace one college name and sub in another college name. Your essay needs to be tailored (and individualized) for each school that requires this step. Your “Why Duke?” should not share any language with your “Why Emory?” (even though both are mid-sized, research-focused, undergraduate-emphasizing, universities located in southern cities).

Do not accidentally leave in the name of the wrong college. Your Yale application does not want a missed incidence of the word “Harvard” in it!

Don’t just read the course catalog, find three classes that appeal to you (or professors who teach them) and write a sentence about how you can’t wait to take X, Y, and Z and study with Professor Q. What are you really trying to say? How could you say it more gracefully and be more specific about what you actually are hoping to get from your education?


Read up! Does the school have a set of values that are resonant with your beliefs about learning and education? Name a few and be specific as to how they connect to your story.

Did your virtual (or in person) tour guide make a statement that encouraged you to apply? Quote them (or paraphrase them) and talk about what it was that made the difference for you.

What is the mission statement of the college? What is its history? Do either of these pieces of information make you more excited to attend the school? Why? Be specific!

Elise holds a BA in Political Philosophy from Williams College and an MEd in Administration & Social Policy from Harvard. She has spent the past twenty years working in top-tier independent schools.


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