Supplementals: Answering the “Why Us?”
While supplementals can come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, one of the most common questions universities like to ask students is “Why Us?”… basically, why do you want to attend our university? What do you hope to get out of it? Why do you like it?
Granted the question may be worded in a much more flowery manner, the premise remains the same: why do you want to attend this particular university?
Now, the question is designed to gage just how interested – and likely- this student is to attend, if accepted. It’s also there to see just how much homework (research) the student has actually done. Meaning, just how familiar are you with the programs, activities, and resources the university has to offer?
Before I dive into just how the question should be answered, let’s talk a little bit about what you should NOT do.
DON’T YOU DARE #1: Don’t you dare write about how the campus made you feel.
Don’t ever simply write a college essay or supplemental about how during your college tour, you just fell “in love with the ambiance” or the “vibe” of the campus. That it “felt like home” or like you “belonged there”, and that “there was no way to explain it” or that you felt like you’d “found your people”.
Those are some of the most cliché statements you can make … and yet, that’s what a lot of students do. It’s easy and superficial, and every admissions officer knows it. So DO NOT make this the highlight of your entire supplemental. A quick mention at the of of your essay about your college visit & the factors you enjoyed is great! Just avoid making that 98% of your writing.
DON’T YOU DARE #2: Don’t you dare mention how much you love the city that the university is in.
Here’s what NOT to put in your supplemental essay:
“New York is so vibrant! It’s full of life and there’s always something I can do! Plus, I don’t even need a car!” [they’re bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, hence the load of exclamation marks]
“Boston is gorgeous! It’s historic and not as crowded as NYC. Plus, they have the Patriots & Fenway!” …………great, are we doing one of those walking city-tours or something? Why are you trying to sell me on the city?…
“Being just a short train-ride away from D.C is going to be so amazing! I get to live out of the city but go in whenever I want. Plus, the museums are free! And with it being the capital and all, I’m gonna have better job and internship opportunities, and there’ll always be something happening!” …..again, is this a city-tour? If so, any haunted houses? I need to know where not to go.
Honestly, if I were an admissions officer reading about just how much you loved the city, I would think “great, why do I care? If you like the city so much, there are numerous other universities you can apply to….so go there instead. You don’t care about this specific university.”
Again, you can mention in one sentence the benefits the location of the university may have for you, but that’s it. Remember, your supplemental comes with a word count.
DON’T YOU DARE #3: Don’t you dare talk 90%+ about what someone who attends the university told you about it.
To keep it short & to the point: those are that person’s opinions. You have to tell the admissions officer why you are interested.
Once again, you can mention in 1-2 sentences (depending on word count) that after speaking to a sibling, friend, cousin, etc. who attends/attended the university and hearing their thoughts, you feel you’d love it too because of XYZ (list out what you’ve heard).
DON’T YOU DARE #4: Don’t you dare tell them about their own programs.
When you tell the university about the program that you’re interested in, limit the description to 1-2 sentences, and don’t summarize their own program back to them. They already know what their programs are. Instead, explain how/what parts of the program are relevant to you.
How will that particular program/resource/opportunity help you get closer to the person you want to be and the life that you want to create?
DON’T YOU DARE #5: Don’t you dare be vague!
Your job is to convince the university why only it can help you become the person you want to be.
That it’s the specific tools [name them] that only that university can provide.
The supplemental essays end up tailored to the universities in question…so you can’t really recycle them.
Note: Gathering information to fully answer this question will take time, so factor that into your writing time.
So, now that we have some of the most common “Don’t You Dare”s out of the way, let’s talk about what you should do.
Don’t worry, I’ll leave in a bunch of “Don’t You Dare”s within. There are quite a lot of common mistakes that students make, so let’s address them head on.
I like to call this list “You’d Better!”.
YOU’D BETTER #1: You’d better research the hell out of the university!
Here’s the thing: universities want to hear about the specifics of why you’d like to attend.
So….find the specifics.
I know it’s tempting to take shortcuts and do the bare minimum, but instead think of it this way: should you end up going to that particular university, you will now have a blueprint of opportunities, resources, and info about what life there could be like. That doesn’t just include the academics, it also includes the fun stuff.
With that said, here are a couple of categories you can look into:
· If you have a specific field or fields of study you’d like to explore, look up the classes you’d be taking. Do any of them look interesting? Which ones? What do you like about them?
· Read about the faculty members of the departments you’re interested in. Look up who your professors/instructors can be – what do their profiles say? Notice anyone who has done cool work, or had a career you’d like to learn from?
Basically, who in the list of faculty do you think could serve as a potential mentor? Find at least two people.
You don’t have to mention them both in your supplemental, but it’s nice to have that information handy in case you do end up going to that university.
2. How Will They Help Me Figure Out What I Want To Do?
Now, most teenagers don’t know what it is that they’d like to study, so if you’re one of them, that’s no big deal.
With that said, here’s a question you should be asking yourself during your research: if it’s so common for students to not know what they’d like to study, then what is the university going to help them out?
After all, there is a nice price-tag associated with the education, so are you going to get your money’s worth?
Note: some universities just have to do personality tests à those aren’t effective on their own.
Others combine personality tests with information interviews or take “Exploratory” courses. It varies by university, but the bottom line is, do your research!
When writing your supplemental, you can write that “As a student who isn’t quite sure of what to pursue, blah-blah-blah university’s xyz-program would …..[name 1-2 specifics about the program].
3. Career Center
College is a fun, but temporary life event which means you want to prepare for the post-grad life.
So, how is the university going to help you transition into the career-world? Most career centers help students edit their resumes & cover letters, but do they also help you with interview prep? Does the university host career fairs? Or have a job/internship search database of its own?
4. Study Abroad
I mean the name says it all, but look up the various study abroad programs. If you have a particular major in mind, then look up the study abroad programs specific to that field.
Who knows what types of neat opportunities could pop up? Maybe you could study architecture in Florence.
Should you find a program you like, maybe mention it in your supplemental in 1-2 sentences.
5. Research/Participation Opportunities
Again, the name says it all: if you know that the field you’d like to explore involves research, then what kinds of opportunities are available?
If you’re going into the arts, or any other fields, okay, then what does the university have going on in those departments?
6. Student Activities/Social
Do you see any student organizations that look interesting?
If you’re not a particularly social person, what is the university doing to help you adjust to the college environment? Normally in dorms, the resident advisor aka RA usually organizes activities to encourage everyone to meet & get to know each other. What else is there?
You can find this type of info from students who currently attend the university or via online forums like Unigo college reviews.
KEEP IN MIND THAT JUST BECAUSE YOU HAVE ALL OF THIS INFORMATION RESEARCHED, DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD SQUEEZE IT ALL INTO THE ESSAY.
It all depends on the supplemental’s word count, but make sure you choose your top points & mention them in a nice, coherent way. So, don’t just list stuff in sentence form, make sure the sentences flow. Also, if you have any personal experiences with the university i.e summer programs then briefly share what your experience was like & what you learned from it.
The extra info can even be helpful to bring up in interviews, or just to have if you’re accepted & decide to attend that university.
YOU’D BETTER #2: You’d better email the admissions department if you have any questions or need clarifications.
It’s almost inevitable that once you start researching, you’re going to come up with questions. You might see a program or event that one university offers and wonder if the others do too.
So, after having done legit research, if you have questions, email the university! It shows that you’re legitimately interested in what they have to offer, and that plays in your favor.
YOU’D BETTER #3: You’d better give yourself plenty of time to research & write your supplemental.
If you’re writing it during the school year, then give yourself two weeks to do your research & drafts.
If you’re doing these over the summer, then at least a week.
Once you complete the supplemental, put it away for a couple of days and look at it again with fresh eyes. Who knows, what you once thought sounded great might actually sound awkward.
YOU’D BETTER #4: You’d better have at least 2 people read your essay & provide genuine feedback.
Feedback is a huge necessity in this whole college writing process. You need to make sure that everything sounds just the way you meant it to.
Also, double check your grammar.
And that ladies and gentlemen is how you WIN at the “Why Us” supplemental question that a lot of universities will no doubt throw at you.
p.s We talked about supplemental essays, but if you’re curious as to what NOT to do in a college essay, check out this post.