When students are writing their "Why this college?" essays, they need to convince the admissions office that the college is a great fit for them. How students do that is open to interpretation.
Robert Cronk, one of my faithful readers and the author of one of my favorite college books, "Concise Advice: Jump-Starting Your College Admissions Essays," took issue with some of my advice in last week's "Why this college?" column. I suggested that students respond to colleges asking that question by demonstrating that they have done their homework - i.e., they should write part of their essay about why the college is a good academic fit for them by delineating special programs and specific classes that interest them. I still believe that's good advice, but Cronk made some valid points.
"So many times, the 'Why this school?' essay will go on about how awesome the school is, how great the faculty is and how unbelievable certain programs are. And that's so wrong," Cronk said.
He offered four great ideas:
1. Make the essay is about YOU. Schools don't need or want to hear accolades about themselves. They want to know why their school would be a good fit for YOU.
2. Cronk is not a fan of oozing adoration, where students frequently come off as being blindly in love with a college. He says to never say things like, "I've wanted to go Great State since I was 2 years old." Or, "Going to Great State would be the culmination of a lifetime dream." He even suggests being a little aloof and saying something like, "I wondered if Great State would be a fit, so I investigated."
3. It's all about the approach. "Imagine that the school is a classmate of the opposite sex you really would like to hang out with," Cronk says. "How would you approach that person? Would you walk up and say, 'You've been my dream since second grade'? Of course not. It would be a turn-off, and you would come across as a little nutty and desperate. And you know desperate does not work. What would work is: 'Hey, I love sci-fi movies and I heard that you might also.' A little cool and casual might win the day."
4. My favorite: "Don't laugh at Tip No. 3," Cronk says. "It works." Students shouldn't feel compelled to talk about the college as if it were love at first sight. An essay where a student writes about how the school grew on them after their visit or after their research will be much more convincing.
Another tip I'd like to add is to show the college how you'll make a difference on their campus. Students who can demonstrate what they'll contribute to student life are more attractive candidates.
Lee Shulman Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. Visit her website College Admissions Strategies.
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