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 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”. [barf]
Those are some of the most cliché, vomit-inducing, cheesiest 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 essay. If, at the end, you simply want to mention that you’d done the college tour and loved what you saw (be specific about what you liked), then that’s acceptable, but 97% of your essay should not be about that.
DON’T YOU DARE #2: Don’t you dare mention how much you love the city that the university is in.
I’ve had plenty of students who apply to NYU, BU, American University – so we’re talking New York City, Boston, and the Greater Washington D.C area- and they start telling me just how much they love the city.
“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 how the fact that the university, if located in a certain city, can open you up to internship/job possibilities, but that’s not the highlight of the essay.
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, but again, you’re not telling the admissions officer why you are interested.
Once again, you can mention in 1-2 sentences (depending on word count) the fact that you’ve spoken to a sibling, friend, cousin, etc. who attends/attended the university and because of just how much they love it, that 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 we get down to the to-do’s section, I’ll start giving you a list of specific features/programs that you should look into for every university.
When you tell the university about the program that you’re interested in, limit the description to 1-2 sentences, and don’t just describe their own program back to them. They already know what their programs are – or can look them up – so explain how/what parts of the program are relevant to you.
Meaning: how will that particular program/resource/opportunity help you get closer to the person you want to be or the life that you want to create?
DON’T YOU DARE #5: Don’t you dare be vague!
If you find that you can copy and paste the same series of sentences into multiple different supplementals, you’ve probably been too vague.
Sure, there will be overlaps with a sentence or three, but you shouldn’t be able to take entire chunks and move them around.
Here’s your aim: your job is to convince the university why that university and no one except for that particular university 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 supplementals end up tailored to the universities in question…so you can’t really recycle them.
Note: gathering information to fully answer this question can take time, so don’t think you can just BS it.
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.
Now, before we get started, 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 know a specific field you’d like to go into or have an idea of a couple of fields that you’d like to explore, then 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? Anyone in there who has done cool work, or had a career in the same direction that you might want yours to go into?
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 essay, 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 when you’re doing 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 (have you reach out to individuals who work in your areas of interest & ask them questions about their jobs) 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 temporary life event – yeah, I know, that sucks- but that means you want to prepare for the after.
Sooo, how is the university going to help your put your best foot forward? 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 know what type of program you want to apply to, then look up study abroad programs that are specific to that program.
Here’s a downside to study abroad programs: the courses you take during your time abroad may not always count towards your major.
Before I dive into just the study abroad aspect, let’s spend some time understanding the credits system:
See, each university has a certain number of credits, anywhere from 120-144 (can vary by program by university), that students have to complete to receive their degree in that field.
Each course you take can be anywhere from 1-5 credits, with most courses being roughly 3-4.
The number of credits indicates just how many hours of lecture time you’ll have. So, a 3-credit course can mean that you have the class for 1-hr 3x/wk, or it could mean you have 2 1.5-hr sessions.
The average student/program requirement is about 15 credits per semester, with a minimum requirement of 12 credits to count as a full-time student, and 18 the max. If you want to take more than 18 credits (roughly 6 classes), then you have to go through academic advisors for approvals, because with the amount of work that you’re expected to put in outside of class, you could really be overloading yourself.
So, bringing it back to study abroad: you may be taking courses that give you credits but they may not be the credits you need for your major. They’re basically just extra classes that you end up taking, more for the experience.
When planning/looking at study abroad options, particularly if you know that you’re interested in a certain program(s), then look at what that specific department offers.
Ideally, it’d be nice to take classes that could count towards your major, otherwise, you still have to make up the work.
No, I’m NOT trying to put you off of study abroad in any way, I’m simply saying that you should do the research.
Should you find a program you like, maybe mention it 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 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.