Whether you are applying to college, business school or medical school you need to be able to articulate why you are interested in your target schools. Writing persuasive school specific essays takes research, organization and clarity about your overall application strategy. Here is specific guidance about how to convincingly explain why you want to attend a given school:
1. Be honest with yourself. Why ARE you applying to this school? What are the real reasons – do you think that you can get in or get a scholarship, is your best friend going, do you want to be in NYC and the exact school is less important than your location? Did you just apply to all of the top 10 schools and this is one of them? I am not suggesting that you share these reasons with the admissions committee, but understanding your own motivations can help lead you to more appropriate talking points. For instance, prestigious schools often have great post-graduation employment rates, so instead of talking about school x’s ranking, you can talk about the school’s ability to help you find a job in your chosen field, while citing the school’s 99% employment rate.
2. Do research about what the school sees as institutional strengths. Visit each school’s website (if not the school itself) and pay careful attention to how the school talks about campus culture, the curriculum, extracurricular opportunities and points of differentiation. Although you definitely do not want to regurgitate these points verbatim, you do want to demonstrate awareness. For instance, you might mention the fact that you see that there are 22 opportunities to study abroad, and that you would be excited to spend a term in Florence or Zurich.
3. Talk to students and alums, and attend admissions events. It is also a good idea to leverage your network and talk to current students and alumni. If you do not have any personal contacts you may be able to reach out to students who have published their contact information as club representatives. Some colleges and graduate schools even offer to connect you with students and alums who have common interests and backgrounds, which is a great way to learn more about the school while gathering details for your essays. Admissions events can also offer insight into the school’s culture and unique opportunities, all of which you can mention in your essay. For instance, it is appropriate to say that you have spoken with 5 students and alums, visited campus and attended an admissions event in your city, and everyone shared similar stories about the close community, which is very important to you.
4. Be specific. It is not enough to say that you want to study economics and that you are glad to see that school y has classes in economics. You need to talk about how you learn best in smaller class environments, and that you look forward to taking seminars like “The History of Economic Development in Asia” because it dovetails perfectly with your preferred learning style and your field of interest.
5. Talk about how you will contribute to the community. Again, be specific. Don’t just mention the fact that you want to participate in community service, talk about your sustained commitment to the environment (as demonstrated by your past activities) and your desire to assume a leadership role in the campus chapter of Net Impact or Habitat for Humanity, which you see sent a group of students to build houses in Appalachia over Spring Break. You want the school to envision you on campus, actively participating. Given a choice between a student who will attend class and keep to herself and a student who will contribute to the community, schools will opt for the more involved candidate.
6. Be sure to address social, academic and professional reasons. The best school specific supplements are holistic, demonstrating that you have truly thought through why you want to attend this school. Your goal should be to paint a vivid, detailed picture of yourself thriving and contributing to the community. I suggest creating a template that you customize for each school, so that can confidently address the specific reasons why you are right for each school, and how the program is a strong fit. As with your entire application it is important to be genuine and positive, and to demonstrate that you will enhance the community.