What influenced your application to this university?

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Within the college application packet, the essay about reasons for applying to a specific university is unlike the other portions. While most aspects of the application that the student prepares ask for information about the student, in this essay, the student must discuss their understanding of what the particular college or university offers.

The importance of specificity and precision cannot be overestimated. The student will need to prepare a different answer for each institution, not just a range of them for different types of institution. At the same time, it is also advisable not to appear over-invested in a particular school, major, or career unless there is already strong evidence that the student is exceptionally well prepared to pursue that path. Be sure always to connect with the specifics rather than praise a school for its reputation.

Most students have several ideas about majors and future career paths, and as of 2018 will typically apply to about 10 schools. Each school selected will have a different mix of appealing factors. For example, if a student wants to pursue a career in journalism, a degree in English, communications, or film could also be appropriate preparation. School A, however, has an award-winning public radio station at which the student would be excited to work. School B, in contrast, has a formal internship program with one of the country’s top newspapers, and that paper’s writers teach classes at the school. The application essay would emphasize the importance of each of those components, and give specific reasons why they appeal to the student.

Stress factors unique to each school rather than treat one school as interchangeable with others of its type. For example, if applying to both Dartmouth and Yale, identify particular programs and characteristics of each one instead of stating general interest in attending an Ivy League school. Similarly, if the student prefers to attend a state university, take care to stress individual features of that particular branch; it is generally advisable not to emphasize such features as its proximity to one’s home, unless there is a substantial reason that makes travel difficult, or the financial advantages of in-state tuition.

Family precedent may be a strong factor, and the admissions process will take that aspect (known as “legacy”) into consideration. It is not, however, a sufficient reason on its own, so avoid overemphasizing statements such as “I have always dreamed of going to the same college as my mother.” If that is the case, be sure to phrase the family connection or enthusiasm in relation something concrete about the school: “Along with my academic interest in oceanography, I am an avid diver and would be honored to join the diving team, of which my mother was captain during her years at State.”

A student has sometimes begun their pursuit of a particular career path years earlier, which is especially likely for medicine, music, and art, among others. Each school that specializes in such a field is still unique, so take time to identify those distinguishing factors. A sentence such as “I know that I want to become a cardiologist so I want to attend your school because it has the best pre-med program in the country” is not very convincing. Although that may be true, it is advisable to stress one's understanding of particular components of the pre-med program that will prepare one for future study of medicine in general as well as cardiology. If a student has an established connection with a program, they can mention that as one factor. “Through participating in Music College of America’s youth orchestra for three seasons, I have gained experience in performing flute and learned how thoroughly MCA integrates classroom study of music theory with performance in practice.”

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I assume that you are asking how you should respond to a question like this on an application for admission to a particular university.  If so, your best bet is to answer honestly, but also to try your best to find at least some academic or cultural aspects of the university that could plausibly have led you to apply.

For many people, the decision to apply to a given university is as much about convenience and social factors as anything.  They apply to a given college because it is near to their home.  They apply to it because people they have known from previous high school classes have gone there.  The problem with this is that it does not make for a very impressive application.  It does not make the admissions officers think that you really want to go to their school for any positive reason.

Therefore, it is important to try to talk about the academics or the culture of the university.  For example, if you are from a rural area and want to go to an urban college, you can talk about wanting to broaden your horizons and make yourself into a more well-rounded person.  Or, if you are from a rural area and want to go to your local state school, you can talk about the importance of small-town life and values and how you want to go somewhere where you can have those things.  Ideally, you would also be able to say something about the quality of the school’s program in whatever it is you want to study.  However, this will be harder to say for most people because most people study things that are available at essentially any college.

Overall, then, I would say that you want to do anything you can to avoid simply saying that you applied some place because all your friends did.  Try to identify reasons that make it sound like you have given some thought to the process of deciding where you want to go to college.

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