The “Why Us?” College Essay Response We’d Really Love to See

It’s crunch time in America.

All across our great land there are high school seniors feverishly working on their college applications. They are nervously asking for letters of recommendations. They are attempting to make their extracurricular activities seem profound and important. They are spinning their stories, wanting desperately to stand out in a unique way. And they are stressed.

Because they are being asked to prove that they are worthy; that they bring something special to the table. They feel undue pressure to provide concrete evidence that they are fully formed, well-rounded and extraordinary. That they’ve figured out life and are self-aware enough to demonstrate this to adult strangers who have never met them.

And this all needs to be wrapped up neatly and beautifully in a perfect little package at the tender age of 17.

college literature
It’s crunch time in America with college admissions deadlines looming. (Twenty20 @mylove4art)

Common App question: “Why Us?”

And besides providing all their grades, activities, letters of recommendation, test scores, and a Common App essay response, many are also subjected to supplemental essays. “Fun” questions like, “Who is your role model?” “What couldn’t you live without?” and the ever-popular “Why us?” query.

Because it isn’t enough that these selective schools obtain proof that a student can succeed in college, they want their applicants to contort themselves even further and prove that they are worthy of their exceptional and distinctive institution.

In other words kids, jump through those 79 hoops of varying sizes and heights, then come on over here and jump through one more. Because we are special, and everyone knows it.

So, here’s a response I’d really love to see. And it’s precisely what these schools need to hear.

How about a “Why Not Me?” question, instead?

“Dear University X,

I know you want to read about how I’m enamored of your school, and I adore its location, outstanding faculty and academic programs, amazing athletic teams and the awesome organic burrito bar you have in your dining facility.

But I’d rather flip this played-out script and inquire of you, “Why not me?”

I’m going to be completely honest with you here, and that just might be an unusual change in tone for you. I am not going to sugar-coat my life and lead you to believe I have it all figured out as a 17-year-old.

I’m realistic and have common sense. I’ve tried pretty darn hard to be successful in high school, but I decided not to buy into the crazy and stress myself out to get into a coveted “dream” school.

I’ve studied a lot – at times. I’ve slacked off a bit, too. I’ve made sleep a priority in my life. I guess you could call me balanced.

So, why not me?

I’ve played a sport but I haven’t tried to connive my way into being a co-captain, which is a position that doesn’t really exist here. I had fun participating in a school club but didn’t try to coerce people to elect me president.

I’ve had several part-time jobs that weren’t super glamourous or important. But I can make a mean sub sandwich and mow a lawn with respectable skills. I guess you could call me productive.

I’ve had fun. I’ve gone to dances and games. I’ve cheered on my friends and spent time laughing over YouTube videos. I’ve overslept a couple times. I’ve been late to class once or twice. I missed a few days of school for a family vacation. I guess you could call me normal.

So why not me?

I’ve loved some days of high school, and I’ve hated some days of high school. A lot of the rules and conventions are B.S., but I’ve obeyed them and dealt with them. It is what it is. I’m resourceful.

And I’m confident I’ll do fine at your school, as well. I have a family who supports me and will help me succeed if I truly need their help. I’ll try hard to pass every class because I know my parents are going to be paying a whole lot of money for me to be there. They’ll encourage me but will not be calling you.

If I am accepted, I’ll be a proud member of your community, and I’ll wear your colors and your name on my gear. But I know that your name is not my only ticket to success. I refuse to buy into the delusion that a certain name on my college diploma is the only path to a great job or a happy life. I guess you could call me sensible.

I have not sacrificed my sanity these past four years to mold myself into your perfect candidate. And I won’t apologize for that. Take me or leave me, because I’ll be fine no matter what. I guess you could call me easygoing.

So why not me?


A wonderfully “ordinary” high school Senior.

And to all the students who will be worrying if they have proven themselves worthy over the next few months, know that you are already enough.

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About Marybeth Bock

Marybeth Bock, MPH, is Mom to two young adults and one delightful hound dog. She has logged time as a military spouse, childbirth educator, college instructor and freelance writer. She lives in Arizona and thoroughly enjoys research and writing - as long as iced coffee is involved. You can find her work on numerous websites and in two books. Find her on Facebook and Instagram

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