How to Write the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Supplemental Essays: Examples + Guide 2020/2021
This is your classic “Why us?” essay prompt. But, since it’s capped at 250 words, it’s on the short-ish side. We recommend checking out this complete guide on how to write the “Why us?” essay. Pay close attention to the “Why Cornell” and “Why Penn” examples, which are our favorites.
Here’s the short version of how to write the “Why us?” essay:
Spend 1 hr+ researching 7+ reasons why RPI might be a great fit for you (ideally 2-3 of the reasons will be unique to RPI 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:
Six 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.
Below is a great sample essay for a “Why us?” essay prompt, written for another school (Brandeis), but you’ll see in the tips below that you can learn a lot for your own “Why us” essay:
Bahrain is among the top ten most polluted countries in the world. I want that to change by pursuing a major in Environmental Studies at Brandeis.
I’m particularly interested in the Geographic Information Systems course, as GISs are becoming more common in Bahrain, as well as the Sustainable Agriculture & Watersheds elective, through which I hope to better understand the design of policies that can help create more sustainable cities and communities. As housing is another priority in Bahrain, I’m interested in the Housing for Good course, as I would like to have a more hands-on experience improving people’s living conditions, bringing back what I learn to my country.
Brandeis has a wealth of clubs and student activities that leave me spoiled for choice. In particular, the Muslim Student Association will provide the opportunity to do voluntary community work and join gatherings during Ramadan and Eid. I’m also keen on joining the Students to End Alzheimer’s Disease club, since two of my grandparents suffer from Alzheimer’s and I’ve seen firsthand how difficult coping with this disease can be for families.
Last but not least, the Skydiving Club at Brandeis is a dream come true, as I have been training in indoor skydiving for two years and flying professionally for almost a year and that there is a training facility just 45 minutes from campus means I can follow my athletic dream while continuing my education.
Finally, I have family living in Boston who can help me adapt to my new environment.
— — —
Tips + Analysis
Show how you and RPI share key values. There’s that V-word again. If you search this guide for the word “value,” you’ll notice we repeat it a bunch. On purpose. Demonstrating your values—i.e., the principles you hold dear—is one of the most important insights your supplemental essays (and your personal statement) should telegraph. So keep this Values Exercise handy as you write, and pay particular attention to values you and RPI share. Reflecting those in this essay will show not just that you get what RPI is all about, but also that the two of you are a perfect match. Take a page from how this student conveys values while imagining herself at Brandeis: using the Environmental Studies major to help solve Bahrain’s pollution problem (values: responsibility, meaningful work, my country, purpose, leadership), joining clubs and student activities like the Muslim Student Association (values: culture, religion, heritage) and the Students to End Alzheimer’s Disease club (values: family, purpose, empathy, helping others), and flying high with the Skydiving Club (values: adventure, freedom, excitement).
Show a range of interests. As the values scan above shows, the wider the range of your interests, the more values you’ll have a chance to convey. You also get to show RPI that you’re serious about your studies and all the other opportunities the school offers (read: multidimensional contributor). So think beyond listing academic interests to exploring clubs, Greek life, leadership development opportunities, athletics—whatever gets you jazzed about life at RPI.
Be specific. Admission officials at most any school, RPI included, will tell you that they like to see “Why us?” essays peppered with specifics about their school—from courses and the professors who lead them to clubs, activities, and research and internship opportunities. That tells them you’ve taken a particular interest in their school—and that you can envision yourself there. One quick/easy way to check if you have enough specifics is to look for capital letters, like the names of courses and programs and clubs, and bold them. This student has 7 examples in his essay, a solid return for a 250-word prompt.
Remember, this is also a “why me” essay. This is key to showing the “you” side of why you and RPI are the perfect match. Note how this student weaves in his excitement about Brandeis with relevant experiences and details from his life, like this: “As housing is another priority in Bahrain, I’m interested in the Housing for Good course, as I would like to have a more hands-on experience improving people’s living conditions, bringing back what I learn to my country.” And this: “I’m also keen on joining the Students to End Alzheimer’s Disease club, since two of my grandparents suffer from Alzheimer’s and I’ve seen firsthand how difficult coping with this disease can be for families.” And this: “Last but not least, the Skydiving Club at Brandeis is a dream come true, as I have been training in indoor skydiving for two years and flying professionally for almost a year and that there is a training facility just 45 minutes from campus means I can follow my athletic dream while continuing my education.”
Special thanks to Nicole for contributing to this post.