Step 1: Find the College's Buzzwords
Interdisciplinary. Teamwork. Intellectual Curiosity. Every college uses buzzwords to describe why it's special. You have to find these buzzwords. They're your clues into what a college values. Look at the undergraduate admission website. Look at the school's mission statement. Make a list of the words that seem to pop up over and over. When you speak someone's native language, you are showing that person respect. Colleges are no different. They want to know you care enough to speak their language.
Step 2: Match Your Experiences to Buzzwords
List some of your major experiences, including any academic interests. Look back at your list of buzzwords. Ask yourself which experiences match with which buzzwords. If the buzzword is "interdisciplinary," then list that research project you did about the intersection of art and biology. If you write about buzzwords without connecting them to your experiences, then it just seems like you're making stuff up. Bad move.
Step 3: Research the College's Opportunities
Any college considering your application wants to know it's not wasting a space on you. That's why you need to explain how you will take advantage of the college's opportunities. What classes or seminars interest you? What research opportunities get you excited? What internships sound cool? Show the college that you understand where you might find your niche.
Bring It All Together
Don't settle for platitudes in the "Why College X?" essay. This is not the place to talk about the school's great reputation or beautiful campus. Those kinds of remarks are doubly generic; any applicant could make them, and they could apply to any school.
A good "Why College X?" essay, like most application essays, connects your past to your future. You want to write a bridge between your experiences - your past - and the college's opportunities - your future. And you want to adorn this bridge with a couple buzzwords to show that you've done your homework. At the end of your essay, your reader should feel confident that attending College X is the natural next step for you.
Good luck writing!
Jon Perkins holds a B.A. in English from Stanford University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He helps students with their college, law school, and medical school applications.