How Do I Write the “Why Us” Essay?

So you’re completing your college application and arrive at the dreaded “Why Us?” essay. What to do? Here’s what Ethan Sawyer, the College Essay Guy, recommends!

Here are three quick tips to get you on the right track:

1. Don’t write about the school’s size, location, reputation or the weather.

Why? Because that’s what half of America is writing about. Take a hint from Emory University, whose “Why us” essay used to read:

Many students decide to apply to Emory University based on our size, location, reputation, and yes, the weather. Besides these valid reasons as a possible college choice, why is Emory University a particularly good match for you?

Why do they say don’t write about those things? Because they’re tired of reading about them. In fact, after you’ve written your first draft, go back through your essay and underline anything that sounds like it could have appeared in another student’s essay and then delete it.

2. Don’t simply use emotional language to make your case.

“I really, really want to go to Northwestern because I just have this feeling that it’s the place for me” does not a good case make. It doesn’t show how you are a.) qualified or b.) a good match for the school. You’re making a case–an argument–and the argument is that you are perfect for one another. Use facts to prove it.

3. Don’t think of this as a “Why Them” essay.

In other words, don’t just talk about what’s awesome about the school–the “us” in “Why us” refers not simply to the school, but to you and the school. So here’s a tip: make two columns on a blank sheet of paper and label one column “me” and one column “them.” Then make a list of 10-15 reasons why you’re a perfect match.

For more Do’s and Don’ts for the “Why us” essay, check out this handy resource. And for more personal statement help, visit us at

Ethan Sawyer, the College Essay Guy, has been helping students tell their stories for more than ten years. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, received an MFA from UC Irvine, and received two counseling certifications, one from UC Irvine and another from the Interchange Counseling Institute. He’s also a certified Myers-Briggs® specialist and his type (ENFJ) will tell you that he will show up on time, he’ll be excited to meet you, and, more than anything, he’s committed to–and an expert in–helping you realize your potential.


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