After the Personal Essay, the next big hurdle in the writing process for college applications are the supplements. As you've probably realized by now, there is one question that colleges tend to ask far more frequently than any other. 

There are many variations of this particular question, depending on the angle colleges want students to take in their response. Here are a few:

  • "How do you imagine yourself living and learning at Bard?"
  • "Why are you interested in Kenyon?"
  • "How did your interest in Oberlin develop and what aspects of our college community most excite you?"
  • "Which aspects of Tufts' curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short: 'Why Tufts?'"

As you can see in the last example, no matter how the prompt is worded, it all comes down to one central question:

Why us?

However, it's not all about the college. There are two sides to the equation, and so when I approach "why us?" supplements with students, I encourage them to think about it in three parts:

  • What is it that I am bringing to the table?
  • What does this college offer that will uniquely satisfy my goals and needs?
  • Why am I a perfect match for this particular community?

If you look at the question from each of these angles, you can see that they're asking you to make a clear, sharply reasoned case for why the fit is right. Your job is to show that the colleges was worth the time you invested researching its unique offerings and to sell them on why admitting you would lead to a win-win arrangement.

Here are the three key steps for writing these responses effectively:

  1. Lead with your big goals: what do you want to have accomplished for yourself by the time you graduate? I think about these in three main areas: academically/professionally, socially, and personally. 
  2. Match the college's specific features to the pursuit of your goals. What majors, minors, courses, facilities, study abroad programs, research opportunities, etc. would fulfill your needs throughout your four years?
  3. Provide concrete reasons for being drawn to the college's offerings. It's not enough to use as justification, "This would be an excellent field for me to enter," or, "This class is a very practical choice for future success." Go in depth: "I'm drawn to the Philosophy, Politics and Economics program because I wish to analyze economics while incorporating the moral and humanitarian views of philosophy and politics, while learning how economics affects the world. I feel this program would teach me to find solutions for economic tension without neglecting justice and human welfare."