At some point in any romantic relationship, this question may arise: "Why do you love me?" The moment is fraught with danger and the answer needs to come quickly and without hesitation. Otherwise, well, who knows. The worst possible answer would be, "Because you’re a person."
What you’d need to say in that moment needs to be specific and unique. It might be, "Because of the sparkle in your blue eyes, the way you laugh at my jokes, your intelligence and your willingness to watch Game of Thrones with me and discuss it afterward. Plus, you’re very, very sexy and there’s no one in the world as sexy as you." You can probably come up with some pretty good reasons of your own, but the point is your beloved needs to feel special, not interchangeable.
Colleges don’t like to admit it, but they’re similarly fragile when it comes to relationships with prospective students. That’s why so many of them ask the "Why do you love us?" question as one of the essays applicants have to write. They want to know you’re not just using them, that they’re not just another institution to you. They’re insecure and jealous, so your answer needs to show them you see them as the only one, not one of many.
Unfortunately, when it comes to that question, most applicants treat colleges more like passing fancies than potential mates. They fail to realize that a vague or obsequious answer can wreck the relationship before it even begins. They mistake generalized mooning for creating a genuine connection. Gushing about a college’s programs without naming them is a major faux pas; saying it has a great English or biology department without elaborating says nothing, since every decent college has one of those. "I love you because you’re a college," just won’t cut it.
At the other end of the spectrum is lavish but insincere praise. One applicant, writing about Tulane, tries to sweep it off its feet with "As I flew into the gorgeous city of New Orleans and then entered the lush gates of Tulane, I just felt I belonged there. With the city’s rich history and its amazing food, New Orleans called to me the first time I visited. I knew Tulane would be the place for me with its spacious lawns and elegant classrooms." Another, writing about NYU, sees it merely as a launching pad for exploring New York City: "I can’t wait to get to New York and visit all the amazing stores and cultural institutions in the city. And I know NYU has a great international studies program so I’m looking forward to spending time in Europe."
Whether it’s a person or a college asking the question, the intent is to determine the depth of your commitment and, more important, whether or not to continue the relationship. Colleges are trying to measure the likelihood of your attending if you’re chosen. So you need to be ready with a very good answer. Luckily, with colleges you have a little more time to figure that out. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Do your research. By the time you’ve reached the question you should have a very good idea of why you want to apply to that particular school. Whether it’s biology, physics, art history, or communications; whether it’s a particular team or organization; or whether it’s the college’s commitment to social justice or ecology, you need to know it. (Don’t write about a school’s great engineering program to a school that doesn’t have one, by the way. Just a hint from experience.) Make it personal. Just because you know a school has an Oscar-winning professor in its film department doesn’t mean much unless you want to work with her and can talk about why. If they have a collection of rare pre-colonial documents from the Philippines, don’t mention that unless you have a real interest in it as a possible anthropology, history, or economics major. Make it unique. Most four-year colleges have dorms, dining halls, quads, professors, some landscaping and libraries. If you’re going to mention any of those things, be sure you mention a quality they have at Edenic College they don’t have anywhere else. "As a potential architecture major, I’d be excited to live on a campus with buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen, Frank Gehry and I. M. Pei. They would be an ideal starting point to learning the history of architecture as well as to study up close how their designs were influenced by their times."
Photographer: Neal Hamberg/Bloomberg News.
The college is your goal, not the area. OK, let’s admit that New York City is a big plus for NYU and Columbia (which recently added, "in the City of New York" to its official name, so they’re onto you) and the lure of skiing in the morning and swimming in the afternoon can be a big draw for Pomona. But you wouldn’t suggest moving in with your partner just to be closer to the supermarket or Nordstrom. No one likes being used. So you need to want to be on campus for its dynamic classes, student activities, close-knit dorm life and that feeling of walking through the quad and seeing lots of people you know. Be a sincere "player." You can manage it. I know it seems to be a contradiction, but here’s where the comparison of your partner and your colleges crumbles. Presumably, your partner really is "the one" at the moment of asking. You’ve been devoted and faithful, so you’re just deepening the relationship. But with colleges, you’re really just starting the relationship. You’ll have to be as sincere for your most prized school as you will for the others on your list. If you’re feeling a little queasy about it, don’t. Every school on your list should be one that you’d like to attend. So all your answers will reflect your own unique interests that you hope each school will meet in its own unique way.
Maybe it sounds cynical to present the "Why do you love us?" essay this way, but a little perspective goes a long way. And doing what you need to do to answer it is only good practice anyway, so have fun with it. The more you can show you know what excites you about your colleges, the more you’ll have to support your application.