How to Answer the “Why Here” College Application Question: Two tips to help you stand out

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After carefully crafting your application essay and reading, editing, re-reading, and proofreading it to perfection, you probably feel like breezing through your application’s short-answer questions and pressing submit.

After all, how much can short-answer questions such as “Why do you want to attend X university” really matter compared to your essay? A casual response about the how good the school is in science, how pretty the campus is, or how much you enjoy cheering for the school’s football team will do, right?

Short-answers may not appear important compared to other parts of your application, but make no mistake: admission officers consider your responses as carefully as they consider your essay. Just as you wouldn’t write a generic essay, you shouldn’t write generic short-answers responses. Furthermore, short-answer questions – in particular the “why here” question – are an underutilized opportunity for you to stand out to admission officers, so they deserve some thought.

Here are a few tips on how to write a “why here” short-answer response that admission officers will remember positively.

 

Get engaged

No, we don’t mean you should propose to your significant other before you leave for college. We mean you should consider how you’d make the most of what a school has to offer. Admission officers want students who will make their college experience their own – who will take advantage of the school’s curricular and extracurricular opportunities and contribute their minds and energy to more than just playing Xbox in their dorm after class.

You can show this in your “why here” response by describing the specific activities, programs, or resources offered by the school that you’re most excited about participating in or becoming a part of. Perhaps it’s the opportunity to conduct research as an undergrad and work with an acclaimed professor, or maybe it’s joining the school’s Korean dance group, starting your own entrepreneur club, or traveling to Kenya through the school’s robust study-abroad program.

If you’re not sure what opportunities the school holds, you need to do some research. Start by considering your current interests and search for any school programs, clubs, groups, or activities that can help you explore them more.

 

Be specific

As you may have gathered from the previous tip, be as specific as you can when writing about why you want to attend the school. Most responses to “why here” go something like this:

I really want to be a great doctor/engineer/writer, and X University has a great pre-med/engineering/English program. Therefore, X University is the perfect fit for me.

There’s nothing wrong with citing a school’s academic strength as a reason for why you chose that school. However, if you want to stand out to admission officers, you’ll have to go into more detail than the hackneyed response above.

To start, describe your own view of the program’s strengths. Is it that the engineering program weaves real-world projects into their curriculum so you can get your hands dirty, or is it that class sizes are small and professors have mandatory office hours so that you can get one-on-one attention? Look through the school’s class listings. Is there a particular class you really want to take? If so, explain why you’d love to take it and what you hope to learn.

Being specific demonstrates that you took the time to get to know more about the school than the typical applicant, and by bringing your own perspective into your answer, you help admission officers get a sense of who you are and what’s important to you, which will help you stand out.

 

For each of the tips above, you shouldn’t overdo it. You don’t need to know everything there is to know about a school nor should you try to convey that you do in your response. As with your essay, admission officers can tell if you’re being authentic; they’ve had plenty of practice reading applications over the years – so focus on a few things and be sure to explain what they mean to you.

 

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