Originally published in The Hindustan Times Education section
Many colleges abroad ask you to write an essay about why you want to attend their program. “Why Princeton” for example, is a particualry daunting one. These questions are also sometimes combined with questions about yourself, e.g. explain “why you have chosen Carnegie Mellon and your particular major(s), department(s) or program(s).” But all these types of questions require the same deep and insightful research on the part of the applicant.
The trick in this type of essay is to convince the admissions committee that you+university=winning combination that couldn’t be achieved elsewhere. This is true whether you are applying as an undergraduate, graduate or MBA cantidate. To say “I want to attend the Stanford Graduate School of Business because it I want to be a tech entrepreneur and the Stanford has tremendous resources for students like me,” is really generic – every top business school in the world has excellent programs for entrepreneurs. You must make your match much more clear – exactly which club, which course, which alumni, which published article, ongoing project, etc. matches with your interest and exactly how would you leverage such a resource?
Applicants are often lost, however, when it comes to finding specific information which they can relate to their own profile. One of the best resources for finding more relevant information are the college’s ‘press pages’ or ‘news’ links, often a source of ongoing events, accolades and recognition the university, its faculty and students are getting, as opposed to the material that can be found on static homepages. Here you can learn about college institutes, organizations, and student projects and iniatives you would like to get involved with and mention those in your essay. E.g. “I have participated in several robotics competitions and I look forward to contributing my talent to the ongoing award-winning projects at the Penn Engineering’s GRASP laboratory.” You can even add more here about what exactly you would add to a team, etc.
Another easy source of dynamic information about colleges are Twitter and Facebook. Colleges use social-media just like any other company – to communicate what is great about their organization and give followers up to date information. So ‘like’ college pages on facebook and even ‘like’ specific club or department pages if possible and follow them on Twitter as well.
Besides these easily acessible sources of information, you should also visit any college fairs that are being attended by college representatives of programs to which you are applying. Mentioning a conversation with an admissions officer is always attention grabbing. E.g. “My conversation with Dean of Admissions, insert name, during his visit to Mumbai gave me insights into the unique ways that XYZ university organizes its undergraduate requirements. This is particularly suited to my goals of ……” or “As I watched the presentation by XXX, representative from ABC college, I identified three ways that the program will help me reach my goals….”. These are simple, but specific strategies that can help you make the match between you and a college clear to the admissions committee and will help you move beyond generic assertions about why you should be admitted to a particular college.