This is a standard “Why us?” prompt, but as the following guide explains, you’ll want to be sure to think of this as a “Why us?”—as in you + the school, and why you’d be a great fit together, and not simply “why them.” One way we sometimes joke about this is to think about the essay as though you’re helping the school understand why your online dating profile and its online dating profile are perfect for each other, and how you’d probably make great partners.

For a complete guide to “Why us?” essays, click here. Here’s a condensed version:

Five Common Mistakes Students Make on “Why us?” Essays

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 (as mentioned above)

So, if those are things you shouldn’t write about, what should you write about? Here are some steps to figure that out.

Step #1: Do your research.

Step #2: Use this chart to map out your research. 

Step #3: Decide on your approach.

Approach #1: The Basic, Solid “Why us?” Essay That Includes a Bunch of Reasons

Here’s an outline for a basic, solid “Why us?” essay:

  1. Clear thesis that names the academic area(s) you want to pursue and maybe charts the path of the essay

  2. Main reason #1 and 3-4 specific details

  3. Main reason #2 and 3-4 specific details

  4. Main reason #3 and 3-4 specific details

  5. An ending that maybe discusses what you’ll give back

Approach #2: The “3-5 Unique Offerings” Strategy

Find 3-5 opportunities that are particular to the school (i.e., available at no other school or no other school you’re applying to) and connect each one back to you.

Approach #3: The “One Value” Strategy

How it works: Identify one core value that links you to the school and tell a story. Like so:

  1. Find a way in which you and the school are deeply aligned.

  2. Take your time crafting the essay.

  3. Find a way to be vulnerable.

Could I create a hybrid approach by focusing on a central theme, but still listing a few reasons?

Yup. 

We’re big fans of using examples to illustrate advice, so let’s see what it looks like when we put the above together.

Example 1:

Ever since my elementary school principal said only boring people get bored, I feel anxious when I find myself becoming uninterested. Because of this, I’ve never been one to follow a direct path; I’ve never been the one to keep white shoes clean.

Thankfully, I had the chance to break in my new Converse on my campus tour. With every step on the campus, my shoes accumulated character-adding scuffs while I envisioned the many paths I have access to explore at NYU. The Gallatin School of Individual study creates an environment of unconventionality where I can further explore what I’m unapologetically passionate about: neuroeconomics. 

I’m attracted to interdisciplinary studies because I am intrigued with how seemingly separate topics can intersect in unexpected ways. Gallatin’s unique program will allow me to expand upon the intersection of neuroscience, psychology, and economics into one area of study and explore my enthusiasm for the innovative research taking place in these fields. By taking Nancy Rubion’s Consumer Culture and the Birth of the Department Store seminar, I will gain an understanding of how socio-cultural influences affect people’s decisions, which will act as a more solid foundation for my ideal neuroeconomics concentration. In order to form an individual, thematic curriculum, I’d take Experimental Economics, Social Psychology, Minds Bodies: A History of Neuroscience and Finance for Social Theorists. I would complement this academic work with independent research with Ernst Fehrin on researching strategic interactions and the neurobiological foundations of social and economic behavior. 

In addition to making an academic impact by collaborating with multiple fields of study, I’d hope to further my social impact. I leapt at the opportunity to spearhead a new Chadwick Global Opportunity trip to Cambodia entitled Changing the Way the World Views Girls. I was not expecting this trip to alter my own perspective on women’s equality as much it did; I was shocked to realize the extent to which women are discriminated against in this part of the world. 

It reminded me that I can be part of the solution to this problem; through the Speak Up For the Poor organization, I created a branch to Cambodia advocating for the education of girls in impoverished communities there. I’d bring the lessons from this work to NYU’s community by connecting with The Gender and Power Society student club to provoke discussion on uplifting women through education.

— — —

Tips + Analysis

1. Use clear, direct structural elements. Notice the intro, which uses a clear thesis to directly set up why NYU and the student fit perfectly together. It’s possible, perhaps likely, that your reader will be reading quickly to the point of skimming. If so, a clear thesis, clear topic sentences, and a clear (but concise) conclusion help ensure the reader doesn’t miss anything important.

2. Show you’ve done your research. The body discusses specific classes and programs that the school offers and how they connect to what the student wants to pursue. We get the feeling that the student isn’t applying simply because the school is on a ranking list somewhere or that she just skimmed some basic information, but rather that she has taken the time to think about how NYU specifically offers what she wants in an education.

3. Connect those details to your values. We often call this the “so what” element of the essay—don’t just tell NYU how great their school is (they know). Get into why those details connect to some of your core values by reflecting on what they will allow you to pursue or explore, and why those things matter to you. Bonus points if you can link details that excite you about the school to things you’ve already done, as the student above does by connecting the Cambodia trip with NYU’s community.

Let’s look at another example:

NYU Supplemental Essay Example 2:

Written by Bella Bodarky

Several surgeries after I was hit by a car, I was still walking with a limp and suffered from tremendous shooting pain everyday. After losing 3.5 cm of bone in my left femur, I could hardly even get dressed. I started losing hope because my bone wasn’t repairing itself. My orthopedic surgeon loosely suggested another surgery as a solution, but I knew there had to be another way. 

After extensive research, I discovered NYU Langone Orthopedic Hospital. It was my first time hearing of an all orthopedic hospital, and I was fascinated. Months later, I was in Dr. Castaneda’s waiting room, comforted back in my home state. He emphatically recommended using an electronic bone stimulator: a noninvasive therapy that implements low electrical current to the fracture site to assist speed bone growth. I jumped at the idea of it–figuratively, of course. 

After just a month, the bone stimulation was working. I was inspired by NYU’s research and innovative medical technologies and treatments, and what Dr. Castaneda represented. I knew I wanted to be able to help patients in the same way. 

NYU is perfect for me to accomplish my goals. More specifically, I’m captivated by the undergraduate Neural Science curriculum at CAS. I hope to study under Professors Wendy Suzuki and Andre Fenton to learn how to incorporate the positive emotions elicited by sound–in this case, music–and find a way to incorporate the melody into the healing process.  Neurobiology of brain disorders will teach me more about Anterograde Amnesia through Systems Neuroscience, fulfilling a goal to treat Amanda, a patient with serious amnesia I met in the hospital. 

I am also an avid singer and musician: I’ve taught myself to play the piano, guitar, trumpet, and xylophone and have competed at district level for musical theatre for 3 years. NYU will give me the opportunity to perform with the NYU A Capella Choir and cross school minor in music at Steinhardt. NYU will allow me to pursue both neural science and music, my passions, as well as the intersection between the two.

— — —

Tips + Analysis

This essay takes a different structural approach, which has some risks that we’ll clarify, but the approach also has potential to differentiate yourself.

It opens with a strong hook, then over the first three paragraphs, it continues a narrative that shows both vulnerability and how the student’s core driving value (“I knew there had to be another way.”) and sense of purpose (“I knew I wanted to be able to help patients in the same way.”) align with NYU’s. There is a slight risk here of the reader getting impatient and skimming during these first few paragraphs, wondering how this is answering the question “Why NYU?” But the narrative does a nice job of offering a clearer sense of who the student is through this story. She also sprinkles in enough of a connection to NYU that we have faith when reading that the connection to the prompt is coming.

The rest of the body does a nice job getting really specific about elements of NYU that fit well with the student and her desires regarding both academics and community.

Wondering what to do after you’ve written a draft? Consider:

Three Ways to Make Sure Your “Why us?” Essay Is Doing Its Job

1. Scan your essay for capital letters. Why? Because, chances are, capital letters mean you’ve included something specific that the school offers. In fact …

2. Highlight in bold your reasons for wanting to attend. Notice if you have just 1-3 items highlighted in bold. If so, you can probably trim in some places to make room for more reasons. 

3. Make sure that each time you mention something about the school, you connect it back to yourself. How do you know? Simply check each mention of the school and see if you’ve explained why this is important—not just in general, but to you.

Special thanks to Andy for contributing to this post.