Why you / why us essays

^^ title.
basically i have very little info pertaining to colleges + no access to a counsellor to rlly direct me abt the uniqueness of each college. despite that, i’ve come up with a shortlist. what i’m currently struggling with rn are those why you/ why us essays.
what i’m looking for help with / resources about are:

  • hacks on writing those essays
  • easy/frank resources on what actually sets each college apart so that i can get an idea of what i could connect to myself and my interests and delineate. the college websites very often say the same thing, and many of the colleges I’m planning on applying to have similar strengths in courses and majors.
  • do virtual information sessions help? college tours?
  • unfortunately am a little short on time so ideally resources that would be time efficient for me to peruse. i’m applying to a LOT more colleges than most people mostly due to paranoia but that also means the time i can spend on each college is a little limited.

thanks a ton. fall 23 admissions btw.

Take some time to research things that genuinely interest you about a college. It might be research someone is doing or how the dorms contribute to a positive culture.

A scattershot approach does not work for colleges taking the time to ask and read this question. There are no hacks.

You are better off spending more time identifying likely admits and matches that you can afford. Only the high reaches for all are typically asking for these additional essays.


In addition to virtual visits which I think do help, Look up the individual school’s mission and vision statements. See what is published in their school newspapers. See what outside news articles say about the specific school. Then try to craft why you are a good fit for that environment.


Colleges want to know how genuinely interested you are in their school. Yield is an important statistic for them. If you are applying to more colleges than most (how many?) then writing this essay is hard because, in fact, you are not choosing colleges selectively but instead applying to many schools in order to feel more secure about admission. This is exactly why colleges have this essay.

So first, I suggest you do virtual tours and info sessions, and even in-person visits. These demonstrate interest: colleges keep track. Look at websites, look at curricula and faculty, think about size, location, academics, affordability (that actually comes first) and “vibe.”

If your essay is genuine, it will work out fine. You can mention the city it is located in, or proximity to outdoor activities. You can mention the focus on undergrads (LAC) or the resources of a research university. You can mention specific majors/courses, or faculty. You can also refer to the rigorous, serious atmosphere or the relaxed, non-competitive vibe. Etc.

I think the main thing here is to reduce your list by actually evaluating fit. Then the essay will be easy.


Why you - this is the final space for you to leave the reviewer with a sense of what makes you, you. Look back through your common app, your activities and your essay and try and pull through a common thread that tells a story and give it a final punch.

Why them - Ultimately here you need to show why it is a good match and leave the reviewer with the thought that if we make an offer they are likely to enroll.


Look at ‘why us?’ essay tips and tricks at college essay guy’s website.

Write about specific things about the school… these essays should not be interchangeable, nor generic. Include a major(s) you are considering, specific classes you would like to take (from the course listings), profs you would like to do research with and why, clubs/activities you will join.

1 Like

i’m afraid that even if i list out the specific majors etc which got me interested in that college or that elusive “vibe” which initially drew me to them it’d come off as generic. especially with the limited word count, it’d end up being a rehash of what i’d already written maybe with filler course names changed up.
and honestly what i’m more confused about is what aspects of my personality each college would specifically value. is there really any difference?

There’s really only one “why you?” essay to focus on and that’s your common app essay. Figure out how, in this one, to give a sense of who you are, and find a way to show, not tell.

Yes, do virtual tours. Go all over their websites. Look at their social media accounts. See how they’ve shown up in the news. Read student newspapers. You’ll get a better picture of who yhey are and what they aspire to be. You need to make time for this to target the right schools for you.

1 Like

There are no easy “hacks.” Do your research and find one or two things that are meaningful to you and make you feel like the college is a good fit. IMO it is better to do a good job for a smaller group of colleges than throw in a bunch of applications with minimal effort.

If you can’t visit you can still do:
-virtual tours
-online information sessions
-if an admissions officer does a presentation in your area you should attend
-go through the school’s website
-read school newspapers online
-go through some good college guide books (ex. Fiske, Princeton Review) and/or Niche to try to get a better sense of the college.

“what aspects of my personality each college would specifically value. is there really any difference?”

It depends. Your state flagship? They don’t care. If you are a resident, meet the academic qualifications, don’t have a felony conviction, you are in. Except for u Michigan, UVA, the top tier UC’s and UT Austin…u Wyoming doesn’t care about your personality.

Brandeis? Williams? Swarthmore? They care.

Your investment in research will pay off. You can take any college off your list if a little bit of research shows a mismatch between who you are and what the college offers. A very good use of your time!!!

I’m afraid that even if i list out the specific majors etc which got me interested in that college or that elusive “vibe” which initially drew me to them it’d come off as generic.

Did the same thing bring you to all of them? If so then you’re right, it’s a pretty generic vibe. But chances are good you picked them for different reasons. Maybe it was a major, the city, affordability or a really cute girl on the web site, but there was something. Try this: go through your list and write four or five words on why each school was included. Don’t consider if it’s worth an essay or not, just a rough idea how it got there. If many have the same reason (eg good FB fan culture or ROTC on campus) then you know you need to dig deeper. But if they are all different then you can start deciding if that’s enough of a basis to choose a school, and the essays will start to emerge.

And so now you understand why colleges ask for essays on “why you / why us”. Or the quirky prompt that requires a one-off essay just for them. And it may be effective. I’m not judging you, but it sounds like you won’t have the time to think much about whether the colleges where you are applying are a fit. Perhaps you plan to do this once acceptances are in hand. The colleges, on the other hand, have an incentive to prefer students who already want them rather than kicking that down the road.

1 Like