We know it may be tempting to simply write “I heard about Santa Clara from my counselor/friend/sibling,” and leave it at that … but go ahead and use the space here. Go a little further and let the reader know what you’ve learned about Santa Clara through your research. (And if you haven’t researched yet, now is a great time to start.)

In fact, think of this as a short “Why us?” essay. 

And because it’s so short, try to find 5-7 reasons that set Santa Clara apart from all the other schools you’re applying to.

Here’s the “Why us?” essay guide. The Cornell example is a great one (since the reasons are so particular to the school), but the Tufts one also shows how to pack a variety of reasons into a short “Why us?” essay.
Here’s the short version of how to write a “Why us?” essay:

  • Spend 1 hr+ researching 10+ reasons why Santa Clara might be a great fit for you (ideally 3-5 of the reasons will be unique to Santa Clara and connect back to you).

  • Make a copy of this chart to map out your college research.

  • Create an outline for your essays based on either Approach 1, 2 (recommended), or 3 in the full guide above.

  • Write a first draft!

As you write, try to avoid these common mistakes: 

Mistake #1: Writing about the school’s size, location, reputation, weather, or ranking.

Mistake #2: Simply using emotional language to demonstrate fit.

Mistake #3: Screwing up the mascot, stadium, team colors or names of any important people or places on campus.

Mistake #4: Parroting the brochures or website language.

Mistake #5: Describing traditions the school is well-known for.

Mistake #6: Thinking of this as only a “Why them” essay.

Two more quick tips: 

  1. Don’t forget to mention if you’ve visited the campus. The prompt explicitly asks you to talk about your impressions of Santa Clara if you’ve had the chance to explore it—and keep in mind this could be in person or online. Here’s the virtual tour link, in fact. 

  2. Consider describing other ways you’ve engaged with the Santa Clara community. Maybe you spoke to an admission rep at a virtual college fair, for example, or you attended an information session. These are examples of what we call demonstrated interest, and we have a whole guide for that here.

With those general tips in mind, check out this great example essay for Santa Clara:

Santa Clara University Essay Example 1:

My interest was piqued last year when a friend applied only to Santa Clara. When I started researching, I was astonished by how I resonated with the school’s values, specifically your dedication to the search for truth, goodness, and beauty. Going to a school that devotes itself to the “mysteries of life” really speaks to me. As a potential Communication and Psychology major, I was excited to see the research opportunities available. I plan to focus on children, so I hope to apply to Lisa Whitfield’s Childhood Cognitive Development lab where I can advance my passion for youth counseling. I feel I also need to understand how media consumption affects children’s lives, so I look forward to the Comm class Media and Youth. I want to be at a university that develops exceptional scholars, and exceptional people who live by  truth and goodness. I hope to become one of them.

— — — 

Tips + Analysis

  1. Balance your values with specific examples. The author here mentions her curiosity about Santa Clara and the way in which she gravitated toward their guiding values of truth, goodness, and beauty. She also quotes part of the school’s mission statement about the “mysteries of life.” This is great because it gives us a sense of why Santa Clara as a whole is somewhere she could see herself attending. We see what values guide her and also that she’s done a bit of research to learn more about what the university stands for. What makes the essay a home run, however, is the second half. She specifies what she’s interested in majoring in and then connects her interests to classes, professors, and labs at the school. With this additional information, we see how her more abstract values connect to specific resources at Santa Clara. It covers all its bases very efficiently. After reading this essay, we know what her first impressions of the university were, how the institution as a whole lines up with her core values, and what particular resources she’d take advantage of should she be accepted. 

  2. Cut out anything unnecessary. This author wastes no time explaining what drew her to Santa Clara. She keeps her answer highly focused. Notice that basically everything in this essay is directly answering the prompt. There’s no fancy intro. You don’t need one either. You only have 200 words max, so you’ll want to prioritize information over poetry.

  3. Talk about yourself. Although this is a prompt about the university and what makes it special, it’s important to reference how you would make the most out of what Santa Clara offers. Don’t spend the whole essay talking about how beautiful the campus is and how much you like Silicon Valley. That doesn’t tell the reader anything about whom they would be admitting into their student body. Place yourself at the center of your answer.

  4. Highlight a variety of resources. This author is a multi-faceted applicant with more than one interest. She makes sure to highlight that by choosing a diverse array of campus activities and classes—joining a specific professor’s child cognitive development lab, for example, and her broader interest in media consumption patterns and youth counseling. You can do this too.