Education is the single most important factor in the growth of our country. Specifically, higher education paves a future and provides opportunity for students that attend college and gives them a shot at a career. 50 years ago, college was strictly for the elite, high class Americans. Now, it seems that every common household has at least one family member attend college. But with the increasing drop out rate today, students seem less interested in learning at college and their priorities change from their original goal of graduating. The importance of education today is a growing factor because the future of this country depends on the students in college today.
College is misunderstood by many incoming freshman. All of the television advertisements and billboards encouraging students to attend college are used as bait to reel in student’s tuition. Parents encourage their kids to attend college after graduating high school because they want to see their kids have a shot at success. However, college is not cut out for everyone. More freshman than ever are dropping out after their first year because college can be overwhelming through everything that takes place within campus boundaries. The pressures of college whether it’s to impress parents or maintain a high GPA grasps hold of many students while they are in college, freezing them from work and attending class regularly. Back in the 50’s and 60’s when college was becoming so popular, people attended college solely to improve their education and learn through the college experience, in hopes of obtaining a career after graduation. Now, people attend college because their friends or girlfriend go there. Many people attend college just to party as much as possible. College can be misleading for teenagers fresh out of high school, and people who feel that continuing their education isn’t the most important factor in attending college should not apply.
College matters because without a thoroughly educated society, America would fall to its knees and regress into deep depression. Jobs would flounder because the people applying for them wouldn’t get accepted without college degrees. Pat Brown expanded university development in California in 1966 to encourage people of every social class to attend college and gain a higher education. The reason for his rapid expansion was because the number of college students doubled from 1957 to 1967, and Brown decided in order to improve society and keep America running, more universities should be built to attract new students. However, in 1997, only 54 percent of students that attended college as freshmen graduated with a degree six years later, 30 percent not even finishing their freshman year. Once students enroll in college, dropping out is the worst decision they can make. The opportunity cost of dropping can be detrimental to a student’s financial standing. Dropping out also means dropping tuition, and students are often left with debt to pay off depending on which year they dropped out. Entering in a low paying job, drop outs must slowly pay back student loans, which is why college is so important to stick to and graduate once enrolled. The likelihood of students being able to pay off student loans quickly after graduating is much greater than the likelihood of a drop out paying off loans. Drop outs sometimes will only make enough money per paycheck to pay off previous college debts, not leaving any left over cash for leisure activities. Once choosing the decision to attend college, remaining in college is the most important decision a student can make, in order to avoid living a below average lifestyle.
College matters for other students because they may be on a sports scholarship in hopes of playing professionally one day. Many athletes attend college for free, with the scholarship as a motivator for them to learn. The college or university benefits from the athlete through publicity and the media. When athletes go on to become famous, endorsements and gifts are returned to the college in future years. Grants and scholarships are one of the best ways for a college to keep students interested and motivated during their years in school. By giving money to students with high educational capabilities, more students have a better focus on graduating and desire to fulfill a career. Respectively, the lower the cost a college offers, the more applications it will receive in a year. However, since college costs increase every year, it becomes harder and harder for colleges to distribute academic scholarship money, creating an increase on the amount of money paid per tuition. The more money a student pays for in tuition, the more pressure is exerted on the student to receive higher grades. This is especially true for students on academic scholarship. Pressures arise when a 3.8 GPA must be met. As a result of any lower GPA, an academic probation gets put into effect, creating even more pressure on a student to meet the grade requirements in the next semester. Grants and scholarships are important at every college because they keep students interested in their goal to graduate.
The future of America depends on the students in college today. Without successful graduation rates, there wouldn’t be opportunity for growth in this country. College matters because the future of our country depends on the scholars all colleges produce. Although drop out rates increase each year in America, application rates are also increasing because graduating high school students feel the need the attend college. Although some people may chose to attend college because their friends are or their parents did, college can turnout to be a complete success for some, or a complete disaster for others. College matters to the growth and development of any society. People that attend college are the individuals that want to make education a significant importance in their life, obtain a successful career, and live a wealthy life.
Anyone who’s applying to a selective college in the U.S. will likely be asked a seemingly simple question: Why do you want to attend this school?
It may be phrased succinctly — “Why Brown?” to name one highly selective school — or as part of a more complicated question: “Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application?” or: “How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying.”
Whether concise or wordy, these prompts are really asking the same thing.
Students are often surprised that they are asked to defend their choice of college; shouldn’t the effort they’ve put into (researching, applying, and paying a fee) be enough?
In the first place, colleges want to admit students who will enroll. Their yield rates (the percentages of accepted students who choose to attend) are crucial factors in a their publicity campaigns and perceived prestige; they're also used in rankings. One way that colleges look desirable to prospective students is, in short, to be desirable to accepted applicants.
Generally speaking, the more selective a school, the greater the number of factors it’ll consider to determine whom to admit.
Colleges want to know how much you want them, a factor they call demonstrated interest. Other parts of an application — grades, test scores, activities, recommendations — being roughly equal, decisions at selective colleges are often made because a student does a good job of conveying the desire to be there.
The “Why School X?” question speaks to the idea of fit. Colleges want students who will come back after their first year, and eventually graduate (preferably within six years). Schools use these rates of first-year retention and graduation (when they’re favorable) in marketing materials. Plus, college rankings often take them into account, as well.
So, the “Why?” question is important!
In my experience, however, most students answer this question last, as something of an afterthought — perhaps with the notion that the response is (or should be) self-evident. I’d bet that most applicants spend a fraction of the time answering this question that they spend on their other essays. But the answer to this question needs to be just as compelling as anything else you write.
Here are some examples of what to do and what not to do, followed up by a discussion of what made the good ones good and what would help make the not-so-good ones better.
Other Students Explain “Why?”
Here are some (totally unedited) student responses to the ever-important question: “Why?”
Student 1: Boston University
I want to study at a reputed university, with a stimulating environment as I have always lived in major cities where I can go to cafes, to hear music, to museums and sports events as part of my everyday life. Boston University has become one of the best in the US; it has top professors and is located in the middle of a historic city, and accessible to everything. It has a strong international relations program which would be perfect for me since I have attended a diverse international school. I noticed all these things when I visited. Given Boston University’s notable reputation and history, I would be excited by the opportunity to attend such a strong and knowledgeable institution . . .
Student 2: Northwestern University
The most unique trait of Northwestern University is its focus on undergraduate research. I am very interested in biology and chemistry; I just love working in laboratories. In the “Gymnasium”, the Swiss pre-university school, we were often confronted with a problem that we had to solve in groups. Such problems could be as easy as distinguishing water from ethanol, or as complex as building a hydrogen fuel cell. To find a solution we were given time in our laboratory and could ask for practically anything we needed . . .
A further very good quality of Northwestern University is its rather high rank and great reputation. I seek a good education and definitely appreciate it, if the university I attend is renowned. If I went to a second-rank college I would be better off studying in Switzerland . . .
A last point is the location: It’s just great; right next to the lake, in the nice and cosy town of Evanston. You have the advantages of a small town, such as lots of greenery and a quiet environment, and yet Chicago is very close and accessible . . .
Student 3: Northwestern University
(This is a different student, applying six years after Student 2.)
Because I intend to pursue a career in photojournalism, I see the Medill School of Journalism as the Holy Grail of education. Offering the impressive intellectual and technical resources of a prestigious research university, Northwestern would provide me the confidence of knowing that I would be getting the most forward-focused education in journalism.. . . The quarter system and Medill’s internship requirements create an ideal confluence for exactly that experience . . .
Northwestern has a gorgeous location. When I visited the campus, I was smitten with Evanston’s cozy feel. Although I initially pictured myself in the heart of a city, Evanston eclipsed this vision. The small town environment is comforting without being limiting, offering plenty of cafés, restaurants, and shops to explore . . . Meanwhile, Northwestern’s scenic lakeside location is the perfect retreat for studying or relaxing . . .
Brimming with enthusiasm, Northwestern has infectious school spirit. Because I assume leaving home after eighteen years will be difficult, I count on school pride to bring me a sense of community and belonging. From the famed painted rock to the fountain spewing purple water, the robust loyalty to the university captures my heart . . . In short, Northwestern is my dream school because it embodies everything I value: journalism, incomparable internship opportunities, dance, and an inspiring atmosphere . . .
Student 4: New York University
(You may find this essay posted on Parke Muth's blog)
I’m done being a New Yorker born and raised in sheltered suburbia — I’m ready to get slapped in the face by the unforgiving hand of NYC and to become a true Noo Yawk-ah. While not an accurate representation of what all NYU students think, the NYU Secrets Facebook page constantly posts the thoughts of NYU students resenting the bittersweet independence of such a large, non-traditional school, but at the same time falling in love with the knowledgeable and nurturing faculty and classes.
I’m done dancing around on the outskirts of the arena — I’m ready to plop myself right into the frenzied mist of action. No walls insulate NYU from the sprawling labyrinth of NYC, which is ideal for a unique and exciting college experience . . .
Breaking Them Down
Would Student 1 get into BU?
Her response could have been used for nearly any large or mid-sized urban university. Do I, an admissions officer, believe that this student has chosen my unique university with care? No. Do I learn anything from this response that I don’t already know from elsewhere in the student’s application? No.
And why not?
Student 1 speaks in generalities: Boston University is prestigious, located in a historic city, provides access to concerts and museums, and has an international relations major. She lists facts that the admission staff already knows — facts that are not even unique to BU. The personal things she writes, about living in cities and attending “a diverse international school,” would be featured on her Common Application.
Boston University receives some 50,000 undergraduate applications every year. If you read hundreds like this every cycle, would you be compelled to admit any of the students who wrote them?
What about Students 2, 3, and 4?
Though they’ve been edited for length here, their essays are much more detailed and convincing than Student 1’s response. They all got into the schools they applied to, but let’s examine their responses closely to find out why.
Notice that the two Northwestern applicants, six years apart and from different countries, not only described the college’s physical setting but talked about the same things — the lake, coffee shops, and coziness.
Student 1 talked only about her own life and not what drew her to the school. In other words, she didn’t do a great job of demonstrating interest.
While it’s a good idea to mention the location and vibe of a campus, applicants should be aware that thousands of other students, year after year, have done the same thing. It’s a paradox: Colleges attempt to distinguish themselves through their locations — mountainous backdrops, subway stops, — but talking too much about this stuff can lead you astray. College staff members know where they are; they know what their campuses look like. Spending valuable space describing a school’s location leaves you with less room to talk about how good a fit you’d be.
Despite colleges’ intense self-promotion, parroting facts back at admissions officers in your essay can waste valuable application real estate — especially when you’re working with a low word limit. Students 2 and 3 both mention rank and prestige, but they’re sure to tie these to their own application and plans. Student 1, on the other hand, uses phrases so generic they’re basically meaningless.
Colleges asking the “Why us?” question know they are good schools, and they know their rankings. You don’t need to remind them of these facts.
In fact, I suspect colleges that cap applicants’ responses to 100 words are doing so in order to keep students from discussing things that don’t connect with them personally. “Why us?” essays, especially the shortest ones, need you to focus on heart, not head.
Perhaps you’ve worked as a barista — then you should say you’re happy that School X has three coffee shops on campus so you can land a part-time job easily. If you’re a painter from the desert, say how thrilled you are by the prospect of living near a lake and learning the subtleties of using blues and greens rather than browns and oranges. These are more personal, and ultimately more effective, than reciting statistics from brochures. That’s what I mean by heart.
Answering the “Why?” Question Yourself
Here are some things to avoid, followed by some things I encourage you to do.
Don’t mention a college’s reputation or rank.
In my opinion — unless you’ve got a very strategic reason for doing so — this will only occupy valuable space.
Don’t mention the college’s founder.
It may seem like a good idea to talk about the importance of Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin, but it’s probably not. Admissions officers at the University of Virginia and the University of Pennsylvania don’t need to be reminded of who started their institutions!
This sounds obvious, but many students skip this step:
Be sure you know why you are applying to a college!
If the best you can muster is its reputation or ranking, then you haven’t looked closely enough to find a good match for your needs and interests. Believe it or not, a student who is happy at one top-tier institution may be totally unhappy at another. Doing research before answering this question is crucial. Visit the school, talk to current students, go to prospective-student programs, and dig into websites.
Keep a journal as you do research.
Each entry should have two columns: head and heart. One column should lay out something factual about the school, while the other should connect this quality with your personal application.
Start with the “head.”
This includes facilities, scenery, the strength of a particular department, location, size, and course offerings. But don’t stop there.
Connect it to “heart.”
Ask yourself why these objective qualities are meaningful to you. How will you use these elements of the campus or its community to your advantage if you’re admitted? How will you contribute to each if you’re admitted?
Think in terms of high school.
Is this college like or different from your high school? Why are these similarities or differences important to you? Maybe — like Students 2, 3, and 4 — you want your college experience to be a big change. On the other hand, you can say that you're looking forward to attending a small liberal arts college because you spent your formative years in an elementary school with only six other students in your class.
A Final Word: Because
I hope these suggestions are helpful as you search for colleges and write applications. Considering why you want to attend a school isn’t just important in helping colleges determine the ultimate admissions decision, it’s also important for you — after all, you’re deciding where to spend the next four years of your life! Just don’t save the “Why us?” question for 11:30 p.m. the night before the application is due, and you’ll be fine!
Find further guidance about getting into college from Noodle Experts like Amy Garrou. You can also use Noodle to discover which colleges are best for you.