Keep Your Top College Choices On The Hook With These 6 Application Tips
Thousands of eager students are putting the finishing touches on their college applications this weekend (or so their parents and counselors fervently hope). All the pesky scores and grades have been swatted down like gnats into their little squares. The recommendations have been written or at least requested, and the “personal” essay has been all but polished to a glittering sheen. All that remains is the final and most annoying pest, the “Why do you love us?” essay.
You may not think so, but colleges need some lovin’ just like you and I do. They want to know you’re serious about them, that all your application effort isn’t just to get them to go out with you and then dump them. They’re afraid you’re a player. They don’t want to fall in love with you and have you leave them for some worthless college down the street that doesn’t deserve you.
When the deadline for commitment arrives, you’ll even hear admission officers wail, “She dumped us!” or “We’ve been jilted!” or “He was my favorite! Why did he turn us down?” The language of spurned lovers permeates the air.
But the fact is, you are a player in the college admission process. You plan on dating several colleges and would rather not let them know about each other. (That’s why I’ve always advocated against making students reveal their choices–it’s none of their business.) You want to play the field and keep your options open. You like this one for its studly reputation on the field; you like the other one for its sensuous landscape; you like a third because it has an alluring social scene and a fourth because its faculty beckons you with one-on-one advising. No need for them to know all that.
And yet the time comes when they get suspicious. You wrote “And that’s why I want to go to Williams” when you meant “ Amherst” or referred to Michigan State instead of the University of Michigan. It’s like your significant other finding a mysterious concert ticket stub in your pocket. Who were you out with? What did you do after? What do you mean he was “just a friend”?
So you have to get creative. As in any good multi-mate movie like like Holiday, My Favorite Wife, or A Letter to Three Wives, college applicants have to figure out ways to keep the objects of their affections from meeting each other while maintaining the façade that each one is the only one in their hearts.
When real life players finally get backed into a corner and have to answer the question, “Why do you love me?” the answer can’t be “Because you’re a boy/girl” or “Because you’re convenient.” These are not encouraging answers. They have to be something like, “Because of your beautiful smile, the deep blue of your eyes, and that way you laugh when you read the comics” or “Because you’re such a great conversationalist and we see eye to eye on so many things.” You’d better be ready with the specifics, chum.
Unfortunately, most applicants treat the colleges’ “Why do you love us” questions as throwaways, answering with “Because you’re a college” or “Because you have a magnificent and awesome program” or “Because attending Elysian College will give me a chance to live in Elysium and explore all it has to offer” or “Because I’ve always wanted to attend your prestigious institution.” Just like a potential partner, colleges are hurt by these responses: they show you don’t really know them at all. (Cue Taylor Swift lyric.)
So you need a better strategy that will keep all your potential partners on the hook until they really take the bait. The most important tip: Let them know you’ve been paying attention to them. Here are a few tips to help you make each college swoon for you, you aspiring Casanova/Casanovette:
Be sure to mention specific, unique elements the institution offers that you might want to take advantage of: A collection of nineteenth century Russian literary manuscripts? A scanning electron microscope? A 3-2 engineering program offering a double degree? A direct connection to NASA? Senior professors who actually teach freshmen? Yes, please.
Refer to a department or professor(s) offering courses that really get your intellectual juices flowing. You can amp this one up by having contacted the professor personally or at least read one of her books/articles.
Let them know you’ve visited and found the library/dorms/classes/athletic facilities to be amazing in their state-of-the-artness, efficiency, social and community-building orientation, and so on.
Don’t rely on “It just felt right for me when I walked on campus.” That’s a dodge even if it’s true. “When I saw the care you take to be multi-cultural through the all-campus celebration, I realized we spoke the same language,” is much more convincing.
If you overpraise, the college, like your potential partner, will know it. “You have everything I’ve ever wanted!” says nothing; “I was in heaven as I walked through your campus!” is just embarrassing. Be specific: “Seeing football players acting in the Shakespeare class I visited convinced me that students here get a truly broad education.”
Be sure you’re praising the idea of attending the college, not using it as a base to be somewhere else. More than one NYU applicant I’ve worked with has written more about the pleasures of New York City than about attending NYU. That’s like dating people so you can meet their cuter siblings.
These recommendations may sound cynical but I’m not encouraging you to be disingenuous. Presumably you really have done your research on the colleges you’ve applied to and have good reasons for each. If so, you should be able to honestly answer why you love each school, and each answer will be equally true. If you find yourself reaching for a good answer, perhaps you’re not as ready for commitment as you thought.
At some point in the dating process, the moment comes when each participant has to decide if this other person is “the one.” The “Why do you love us?” question is that moment. The strength of your answer may influence the colleges’ view of you not so much as an applicant but as a likely “one” who will accept an offer of admission. A casual or indifferent answer, or a slip of the tongue (Denison for Davidson) may ruin the relationship, and a box of brownies and a dozen roses probably won’t be enough to repair it.
Last Updated July 24, 2018