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How to Ace the “Why Our School?” Essay Question

January 10, 2022 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Admissions, Examples, Yale, Why Us?

Whether you have been dreaming about attending a particular university for years or just discovered a college's program offerings on Google, one of the most popular application essay questions that stumps students is:

"Why do you want to attend our school?"

There are several challenges with the "Why Us?" essay question:

  • How do you answer this question in a way that doesn’t just regurgitate facts about the school that the admissions officer already knows?
  • How do you avoid coming across as insincere or adulating while still sounding impressed and enthusiastic about the school?
  • How do I make an essay that is putatively about a school an essay about myself?

This can be a tough balance to strike, especially when you consider that an admissions officer will read through hundreds of similar essays over the span of a couple months.

However, with a bit of research and thoughtful reflection, you can be well on your way to a successful essay!

In this blog post, we will outline four key strategies to better demonstrate your unique appreciation of a particular university and to showcase the distinctive contributions that you will make to its community.

Let’s say you’re applying to a popular university, which we’ll refer to as College X.

Trophy A picture of a hypothetical College X (can you guess what school this actually is?)

If there's only one thing that you take away from the rest of this article, it's this:

Remember that you are applying to College X out of hundreds of alternative schools because there is something (or likely several things) that makes College X stand out from every other college for a student with your unique background and interests.

We will tackle this question by identifying and making a list of all the unique aspects of College X (again, emphasis on features that are unique to College X) that draw you to the school. This list will be a good starting place for your essay.

Your essay should delve into these four major areas:

  1. Path of study/major
  2. Interests outside of the classroom
  3. Giving back to the school community
  4. General campus culture

1. Path of study/major

You should have a clear idea of what aspects of College X’s academic program you will explore.

Note: Even if you are totally undecided as to what your major will be, you still need to have some idea of what you want to study. List a couple of fields that you’d like to explore in lieu of having a specific major chosen.

For example, maybe you are interested in public policy and you have heard great things College X’s School of Global Affairs .

Instead of simply stating that you are interested in this particular department of College X, you first need to do some deeper research into the courses and special programs offered by this department.

You must be aware of the current professors on the faculty if the department and the unique opportunities available for student involvement.

This can take the form of any of the following (I've done this exercise for College X's School of Global Affairs below):

  1. Summer/term-time research programs ( Example )
  2. Student clubs advised by faculty in the department ( Example )
  3. Publications or newsletters published by the department ( Example )
  4. Affiliated institutes or research centers ( Example )
  5. Majors, joint majors, minors, or certificates ( Example )
  6. Special concentrations or focus fields ( Example )
  7. Famous courses or faculty ( Example )
  8. Unique programs, initiatives, or fellowships ( Example )
  9. Post-graduate opportunities ( Example )
  10. Traditions or community culture ( Example )
  11. Study abroad, summer programs, or internship opportunities ( Example )
  12. Events hosted by the department ( Example )
  13. Community service trips
  14. Industry affiliations
  15. Capstone projects
  16. ...and more!

It is important that the specific offerings that you mention are not things that you could have pulled together by simply skimming the university home page for five minutes.

After reading through tens of thousands of applications, admissions officers can quickly distinguish between a student who has taken the time to understand their school and write a thoughtful answer and a student who simply sprinted through the question without much forethought.


2. Interests outside of the classroom

Since you will undoubtedly find yourself with some free time in college, it is important that College X knows that you will use this free time to do something other than sitting in your dorm and watching TV.

You need to show that you are a student who will not simply treat life as a 24/7 academic-a-thon, but will rather be proactive outside of class to get involved on campus and participant in student activities or groups in some way.

If you are interested in pursuing your current high school extracurriculars in college (e.g. through a debate team or a club/intramural soccer team or a cultural affinity group), then you should let the admissions committee know!

Again, this question is a great opportunity for you to do some background research and learn more about what College X offers that could keep you busy and happy outside of academics.

Most schools have a list of officially recognized student groups , so definitely do some digging to try to find this online. If you can’t find any such list on College X’s website, then reach out to a current student to get the scoop!

Another great place to find extracurriculars is to go to College X’s student newspaper .

There, you’ll likely find a ton of articles describing on-campus events and activities and general goings-on, which can be a great source of information as to what students are up to outside of class.


3. Giving back to the school community

Universities value students who have a sincere desire to give back to their community.

This may be a cliché, but it’s only a cliché because it’s true:

You will learn more from your peers in college than from any of your classes/professors/textbooks.

And you will be one of those peers to someone else!

But you can’t be a positive part of someone else’s college experience if you never leave your dorm.

College X wants to know that you’ll not just acquire things from it (knowledge, housing, food, a degree), but also that you’ll give back.

College X is greedy – sure, it wants to educate the youth.

But College X primarily wants to make College X better, and so you need to demonstrate how admitting you will make College X a better place.

There are countless ways to give back to the broader school community.

Involving yourself in student organizations (as detailed above) is one way.

Doing community service is another great way to contribute to campus life or to College X’s surrounding community.

Many colleges are located in urban areas or smaller suburbs that revolve around the college (these are known as "college towns"). Thus, there is usually a broader neighboring community that the college will interact with and sponsor community service projects within.

Whether it's through Habitat for Humanity or service outings or business programs that seek to involve traditionally underrepresented people, find out how you can weave your skills and knowledge into an activity or organization that is of service.


4. General campus culture

Each school has its own culture, and College X is no exception.

This essay is the one place in your application where an admissions officer can essentially directly ask you whether you understand College X’s culture and how you might fit in.

When addressing this point, it can be helpful to first read through College X’s mission statement (to get a sense of the administration’s vision for the school).

Next, skim through a few student publications (to get a condensed impression of how students view the school and each other), like undergraduate research journals , public policy reviews , scientific essays , creative magazines or international policy reviews

Finally, if you get the chance, I highly recommend that you talk to current students about their experiences (to get a true sense of how students view the school and each other).


By structuring your essay to include these four topics and doing the requisite background research for each point, you should now be ready to produce a compelling, well-rounded answer to the question "Why do you want to attend our school?"

An answer that demonstrates that you have spent a significant amount of time seriously considering how your interests match the offerings of the school, and why you are a uniquely great fit for the school given the contributions that you will make to campus life.

If you would like additional advice on your college essays or are looking for more personalized guidance in your writing process, feel free to submit your essays for review here .

Or, click here to make a free appointment with one of our qualified Ivy League essay mentors to learn how we can provide 1-on-1 mentorship for your applications!

Yale's Admissions Office Reveals the Secrets of Writing a Great College Essay

September 13, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Admissions Officers, Yale, Podcast

Yale’s Admissions Office did an eye-opening series of podcasts last month on what really goes on in the admissions committee when acceptance/rejection decisions are being made.

The most frequently covered topic in this series?

Essays, with half of all episodes dedicated to them.

Let’s analyze why that is the case, and what makes essays such a critical (and often misused) component of the application.

1. What makes essays so important?

Here’s an excerpt from the Yale Admissions Office’s 6/11/20 podcast:

"Essays are one of the first things that we see in the application. It's not the first piece, we are going to get some information on where you go to school, we'll probably see what your courses look like. We will see what activities you're involved in. And then we go straight to the essay.

We love essays because [they] introduce[] us to those folks... So, by all means, the essays as you say are the first impressions ...

It's like the opening scenes of a movie or the first page in a book, it sets the table not only for the rest of the movie, or the book, but in the case of these essays, it often sets the table for the person we meet.”

2. What makes for a great essay?

In that same podcast episode, the Yale Admissions Officers explain what the best essays all have in common across the 1,000’s of essays they’ve read:

“For most students, the greatest sort of effect that [the essay] can have is in tying the pieces together, drawing together the other parts of the application where we feel like you know what, I'm meeting the same person consistently throughout here.

So think of it as a kind of piece of glue that's going to bind together the other parts of the application.”

Being able to tell this story and capture the uniqueness of your candidacy is incredibly important for the overall strength of your application — it’s the "glue" that holds together your case for admission.

But yes, this can be a difficult task for high school students who have never had to write this sort of essay before, which is why it’s one of the key things that we have our mentors prioritize when advising students.

3. Why are essays the best place to “make or break” your application?

The essays collectively comprise the part of your application that you have the most control over as a senior in high school. As the podcast continues to explain:

“Honestly, when you get to fall of your senior year of high school, and you're starting to put together your college applications, most of the work is done.

You've got three years of high school grades behind you, you've put in hours to your extracurricular pursuits, you've made positive relationships with teachers...

The essays are your big task right now when it comes to actually putting together that college application. So appreciate the fact that this is something that's in your control.”

If you want Ivy League students who've successfully gone through this daunting process themselves to help you strengthen your own essays, click here to see some of the services that we offer for 1-on-1 mentorship.

What Do Colleges Look for in Applicants?

Learn How to Best Focus Your Application for Your Dream School

July 03, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Inside Info, Stanford, MIT, UC Berkeley, Yale, Ivy League, UCs

What is a competitive college GPA?

What is the GPA needed for Stanford? What is the GPA needed for Yale, or the GPA needed for MIT?

What are the best ECs for college?

What are Stanford's requirements for admission? What are the UC admissions requirements for each school?

What do colleges look for in students? What do Ivy League schools look for? What are the college admissions requirements for my dream school?

How do colleges decide who gets in?!?!

These are all great questions!

And answering them may seem overwhelming at first.

A lot of people on the Internet claim to miraculously have all the answers. Somehow, they've synthesized the collective knowledge, opinions, and beliefs of thousands of admissions officers across the US.

I, however, am unfortunately not a mind-reader -- I will openly admit that I know the answer to very few of these questions. Yes, I can tell you generally what ECs are preferred, how to write a great essay, what you should be focusing on in high school, and specifics for my alma mater (Harvard).

But to immediately know how an MIT admissions officer I've never met will weigh your specific community service experience against working a part-time job? Impossible (unless of course you're one of these mind-reading college consultants found around the Internet).

Does that mean there's no way to know the answers to these questions?


In fact, there's an even better solution.

What if you could directly ask your dream college how it decides who'll be admitted?

Amazingly, you can.

You just need to know where to look.

That's because the federal government mandates that accredited colleges report this information every year to the National Center for Education Statistics.

This data is conveniently collected by College Data into a neat admissions database. Thus, I’ve pulled a few interesting examples for you below (Stanford, Yale, MIT, and UC Berkeley).

These are the factors that Stanford uses to grade applicants, as well as their relative importance:

Personal Traits

Collectively, this table (as well as the ones below) show that a much wider variety of factors beyond just GPA (essays, extracurriculars, rec letters, etc.) go into your admissions decision, and how each will be weighted differently by different colleges.

These are MIT’s preferences:

Personal Traits

And here is the corresponding chart for UC Berkeley :

Personal Traits

As you can see, there are a ton of factors that influence your admissions decision.

Additionally, each school has its own unique culture which will be reflected in how it preferentially evaluates different candidates.

Finally, here is the relevant chart for Yale :

Personal Traits

It's important to make sure that in each of your applications to these schools, you highlight the elements of your application that correspond to those most prioritized by that school.

An amusing anecdote from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates perfectly illustrates this point:

As a senior, he [Bill Gates] applied only to three colleges — Harvard, Yale, and Princeton — and he took different approaches to each.

"I was born to apply for college," he said, fully aware of his ability to ace meritocratic processes.

For Yale he cast himself as an aspiring political type and emphasized the month he had spent in Washington as a congressional page. For Princeton, he focused only on his desire to be a computer engineer. And for Harvard, he said his passion was math. He had also considered MIT, but at the last moment blew off the interview to play pinball.

He was accepted to all three, and chose Harvard. "There are going to be some guys at Harvard who are smarter than you,"" Allen warned him. Gates replied, "No way! No way!"

The College Data website also lays out the requirements and benchmarks for admission to each school.

Here are the admission statistics of students admitted to Stanford :

Personal Traits

If you fit the profile of the typical student admitted to the school you want to go to, that's amazing news -- Congrats! You now just need to polish up the rest of your application.

If perfecting your essays is something still on your bucket list, you've come to the right place.

If you want direct 1-on-1 mentorship from top Ivy League students, or a review of your materials before you press submit, consider signing up for a free 20-minute consultation or learn more about how we can help you here .

Acceptance Rates of the 22 Best Colleges in the World

June 02, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Acceptance Rates, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Ivy League, NYU, MIT, Duke, Notre Dame, NYU, Oxford, Cambridge, USC, UVA, Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, UCs, UC Berkeley, UCLA, University of Chicago

The 2019-2020 admissions cycle for the Class of 2024 was one of the most competitive ever , with more and more students from around the world applying to top universities and elite colleges with a limited number of spots.

The 2020-21 cycle is shaping up to be an even more competitive year for admissions to Ivy League schools and other top universities, especially with the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19. Read on to learn more about the admission rate of top colleges in the US and UK.

Ivy League Schools

Gates of Princeton

Harvard Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Harvard acceptance rate was 4.9% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 4.5% . A total of 40,248 students applied for 1,980 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Yale Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Yale acceptance rate was 6.5% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 5.9% . A total of 35,220 students applied for 2,304 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Princeton Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Princeton acceptance rate was 5.6% . This was slightly lower than the previous year, which was 5.8% . A total of 32,836 students applied for 1,823 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Columbia Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Columbia acceptance rate was 6.1% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 5.1% . A total of 40,084 students applied for 2,465 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Penn Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 University of Pennsylvania acceptance rate was 8.1% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 7.4% . (Source)

Brown Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Brown acceptance rate was 6.9% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 6.6% . A total of 36,794 students applied for 2,533 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Dartmouth Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Dartmouth acceptance rate was 8.8% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 7.9%% . A total of 21,394 students applied for 1,881 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Cornell Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Cornell acceptance rate has not been published, as part of a move by administrators to not release regular decision results until the following admissions cycle. However, Cornell did release its Early Decision results, which showed an ED acceptance rate of 23.8% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 22.6% . A total of 6,615 students applied for 1,576 Early Decision spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Top US Colleges (Non-Ivy, Private)

Entrance to Stanford

Stanford Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Stanford acceptance rate has not been published, as part of a move by administrators to not release acceptance rate statistics. However, Stanford did release its results for the previous year, which showed that 47,498 total students applied for 1,900 spots in the Class of 2023, for an acceptance rate of 4% . (Source)

MIT Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 MIT acceptance rate was 7.2% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 6.6% . A total of 20,075 students applied for 1,457 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

USC Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 USC acceptance rate was 16% . This was significantly higher than the previous year, which was 11% . A total of 60,000 students applied for 9,500 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Duke Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Duke acceptance rate was 7.7 %. This was the same as the previous year, which was 7.7% . A total of 39,783 students applied for 3,057 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Notre Dame Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Notre Dame acceptance rate was 16.5% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 15.4% . A total of 21,270 students applied for 3,507 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

NYU Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 NYU acceptance rate was 15% . This was lower than the previous year, which was 16% . A total of 85,000 students applied for 13,000 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Georgetown Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Georgetown acceptance rate was 15% . This was higher than the previous year, which was 14.1% . A total of 23,318 students applied for 3,309 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Johns Hopkins Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Johns Hopkins University acceptance rate was 8.8% . This was slightly lower than the previous year, which was 9.2% . A total of 27,256 students applied for 2,604 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

University of Chicago Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 University of Chicago acceptance rate was 6.2% . This was slightly higher than the previous year, which was 5.9% . A total of 34,400 students applied for 2,130 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)

Top US Colleges (Public)


UCLA Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 UCLA acceptance rate has not yet been published. The previous year, the acceptance rate was 12.4% . A total of 108,837 students applied for the Class of 2024, which was slightly lower than the previous year at 111,306. (Source 1) (Source 2)

UC Berkeley Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 UC acceptance rate has not yet been published. The previous year, the acceptance rate was 16.4% . A total of 88,026 students applied for the Class of 2024, which was slightly higher than the previous year at 87,393. (Source 1) (Source 2)

UVA Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 UVA acceptance rate was 20.5% . This was significantly lower than the previous year, which was 24.3% . A total of 40,971 students applied for 8,420 spots in the Class of 2024. (Source)



Oxford Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Oxford acceptance rate has not been published. For the previous year, there were 23,020 total applications for 3,889 spots in the Class of 2023, for an acceptance rate of 16.9% . (Source)

Cambridge Acceptance Rate

The 2019-2020 Cambridge acceptance rate has not been published. For the previous year, there were 19,359 total applications for 4,694 spots in the Class of 2023, for an acceptance rate of 18.2% . (Source)

If you want direct feedback on your essays from current Ivy League students, or want to work 1-on-1 with an experienced mentor to craft your application, learn more about us here or click here to schedule a free 20-minute consultation