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How do you write specific things about a school?

screenname720screenname720 4 replies28 threads Junior Member
All schools seem really similar.

How can you write specific things about a top-level school? All schools will claim to have ALL of the educational and athletic and extracurricular activities (albeit with slightly different names.) All of the schools have courses go in depth and have lots of breadth. All of the schools claim to be situated in a unique city with many opportunities. All of the schools claim to have good students and professors. There are maybe a couple of specific things: undergraduate business school like UPenn Wharton and Cornell Dyson, Columbia's Core Curriculum, Brown's open curriculum, a couple of unique majors, etc. But everyone is going to write about these things.

How do you write specific things about a school (especially for a "Why School essay")?
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Replies to: How do you write specific things about a school?

  • suzy100suzy100 5695 replies58 threads Senior Member
    My daughters read the schools’ mission statements, followed some on FB to see what they were putting out on social media, read their websites (including the departmental websites that interested them), etc. Then they used what they learned for that “why us” essay. For example, younger daughter saw something a school was doing that she thought was very cool and wrote about how she wanted to be part of a community where that was valued. It was very specific.
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  • tgl2023tgl2023 266 replies6 threads Junior Member
    Start with one of your outstanding attributes and describe how that school can nurture its growth. Say, you had tutored other students on financial literacy, then you could describe a specific event, or observation in your tutoring work, and how it had opened your eyes to the connections between the worlds of finance and history, and how the open curriculum at Brown, for example, can help you learn both. Start with what you know best, yourself and relate it to the school.
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  • TheSATTeacherTheSATTeacher 236 replies0 threads Junior Member

    If you can visit schools, I would recommend talking to students there. Ask them why they think their school is preferable to its peers. The schools you mention are similar in many respects, but there are significant institutional and cultural differences at these schools.

    Also, it's fine to talk about something that other applicants talk about. For instance, if you are applying to Columbia, it is perfectly acceptable to talk about the core in you why-Columbia essay. It is a huge part of going to Columbia both in terms of the classes you will take and the intellectual environment.

    The goal of the why-X essay is not to be original, but to show that you are genuinely interested in a given school--that you have done your research, thought about what it would be like to go there, and would likely go if accepted. Schools like to have high yield rates. For this reason, they are more likely to accept students who they think will go there if accepted. The why-X essay helps a school improve its yield rate.

    Also, you still want to make sure you sound thoughtful and intelligent in your why-X essay. Those are important traits to demonstrate throughout the application. Colleges want to accept thoughtful and intelligent people who will fit in well on campus and who will take advantage of the opportunities going to that college affords.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 10390 replies122 threads Senior Member
    Visit if you can. The schools you mentioned have very, very different vibes. We found that schools were much more unique than they seem on the surface.

    Take notes when you visit. Sit in on classes, visit the department for your major, talk to students. Be specific in your note taking about what stood out for you. Work off those notes when you do the essays.
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  • jazzingjazzing 82 replies5 threads Junior Member
    edited July 2019
    Because of unforeseen circumstances, my son (2019) wrote his Columbia RD short-answer essays at the last minute, and I thought that he wouldn't get in because the writing was far from polished, especially in comparison to the Common App essay. My son wrote specifically about a couple of professors with whom he would like to study, why the professors' work interested him, and why he liked the unusual way that Columbia framed his field of interest. He didn't visit Columbia before he applied, but he spent a great deal of time on the website, which he read in depth. He was admitted (though he ultimately chose his SCEA school).

    My son's college counselor said that many students answer the "Why Columbia" essay with paeans to the Core and New York City, and my son's unique and specific answer was much better than a polished essay that was similar to (and perhaps interchangeable with) many others. Moreover, the answer comported with my son's academic and extracurricular interests, which he emphasized in the rest of the application, and his overall story was coherent. Based on the counselor's experience as an admissions officer (not at Columbia), the quality of writing of the short responses might not be as important as for the Common App essay. But the answer should be specific, genuine, and unique to the student, and it should give the school a reason to want you as a student.
    edited July 2019
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  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 7998 replies85 threads Senior Member
    You have to dig past the superficial similarities. A deep dive into the things that really matter to you (that align with your academic or personal interests) will turn up lots of good material. Learning more about them will also help you shortlist more effectively as well, as it helps you see more than just the prestige of the label.
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  • lookingforwardlookingforward 35411 replies399 threads Senior Member
    If you think they're all the same, have no idea what they want you to write/want to learn about you, then it's time to step back and learn the missing info. Seriously.

    Don't ask posters what to write about when you target the most competitive colleges. It's not the thinking level, drive, or follow through those colleges want.

    Plus I don't see your basic qualifications for those schools. You choose the targets, but *they* choose the admits. That's not random. Be savvy.
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  • mathmommathmom 33226 replies163 threads Senior Member
    You've gotten good suggestions. My son started most of his Why ___ college with some of the reasons he thought the college wasn't a good fit and then dug into how his preconceptions were wrong. It was a fun way for him to approach an essay that can feel like the colleges are all the same. (So Chicago, might not really be where fun goes to die, or Vassar might not really be in the middle of nowhere.) For other schools he'd pick up on something quirky he noticed - like what the chalked advertisements for events or the bathroom graffiti might say about a college.

    Others make a good point though - why is this college on your list. It's more than just their ranking on some silly list. Or at least I hope it is.
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