How to Tackle the "Why Us?" Essay

The “Why Us?” essay is a common supplemental topic for selective schools. So, what are admissions looking for? 

It boils down to this:

  1. You did your research. You know what classes you’d like to take, you’ve visited or done a virtual tour,  you’ve looked into the clubs you’d join, and you’ve considered how the school meets your needs as a student.

  2. You put thought into how you’ll fit in. Does this school have your favorite sport, a major and minor you’d love to take, and professors you’d love to learn from? What is it about this school that makes you think you’d like to go here?


  1. Don’t list. Don’t list all the things you like about the school. This is a WHY essay, not a WHAT essay.

“Columbia University is awesome because it’s in New York City, it’s diverse, it has a lot of club options and internship opportunities!” is something ANY applicant can write.

Instead, focus on why you think this school is a good match for you. Is diversity something you didn’t get to experience in high school? Are you excited to navigate a big city by yourself and gain your independence? Why are you intrigued by the astronomy elective?


1. Be creative. Anything you can do to make your essay more memorable...go for it if you believe you can do it well. Some of the best “Why Us?” essays are stories. Applicants have written their essays as a dream, talked about it from the future, or wrote about a day-in-their-life as a student.

2. Be specific over general. Could another applicant write exactly what you wrote? If so, it’s not specific enough to you. Tell admissions who you are through your answer.

Happy Writing!

This blog was written by Jaclyn Corley, Founder of The College Essay Captain and digital course creator of College Essay Playbook

The College Essay Captain helps teens overcome their fears and limiting beliefs around writing college application essays, so they are free to authentically share their stories with admissions teams.