How to help your students ace the Why College X essay

We’ve given you a lot of resources tips about writing personal statements over the years. Before the school year ends, we’d like to leave you with some sound advice to help you guide your students on the one supplement that poses challenges for all sorts of students.

I am talking about the Why College X, or Why Us, essay.

Several years ago, I moderated a panel discussion about the college essay for high school counselors at the New York State Association for College Admission Counseling annual meeting.  
We had counselors from New York and reps from Columbia and Barnard, and we spoke at length about supplements, mainly the Why College X essay.  

During the Q and A, Christina Lopez, at the time Barnard College’s Director of Admissions (she is now the Dean), called the Why College X essay the dating essay.  

The term stuck. It made so much sense. Still does. Because this essay is the one that can really help colleges determine if your student is a match.  

Lopez offered a lot of great insight that day:  

The supplements separate a good applicant from a great applicant.  

The more you can espouse why you are a match in the short answer question genuinely (without regurgitating our website to us because we wrote it!), the more you will stand out to us.

It is a great place to let a college know if we are the first choice, and why you love us.

No matter how the Why College X prompt is written, colleges want to know why applicants want to be there, and what they plan to do on campus.

The best way to help your students answer this question is to help them understand what the prompt is asking before brainstorming ideas with them.  

Then we assign pre-work, with these types of questions (in writing):

  • What is the prompt really asking?
  • What attracts me to this college or program?
  • What do I want readers to know about me?
  • How does what I know about the program mesh with what I want readers to know about me? How can I illustrate this intersection?

If you want to see how we do it, here’s a sample of our pre-work guide for preparing to write the Why College X essay.

Kim Lifton is President and Co-founder of Wow Writing Workshop, which teaches students and educational professionals a simple, step-by-step process for writing effective college essays, so students can stand out and tell their stories. Kim leads a team of writers and teachers who understand the writing process inside and out. Since 2009, Wow has been leading the college admissions industry with our unique approach to communicating messages effectively through application essays, including personal statements, activity and short answer essays and supplements.  We teach students – and we train professionals.

Coming Up 

We cover a new topic in our Pro Chats each month – Wednesdays at 1:00 Eastern! Click here to register!

May 12: Should my students write about depression, politics or Covid-19?

June 16: Brainstorming with students who think they have nothing to write

Let your students know we have a free class for them, too!

If you wants to help students with the basics, encourage them to sign up for our monthly free student class, or listen to the recording. Next up: Wednesday, May 12, at 7 p.m. ET! You are welcome to sign up, too.