Using College Visits for Future Essays

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Just look at all the seniors, done with the college process, wearing their college-to-be sweatshirts, walking around all happy and smiling. Makes you want to step on their phone and kick their chocolate milk. Hey, hey! Now, now, let’s play nice, everyone. You know why? Because before you know it, that will be you walking around all happy and smiling. But until that happens, one question that you should ask is How do I make my college process easier AND more successful? Well, we’re so very glad you asked, because one thing you probably heard those same seniors grumbling about in the fall was the number of essays they had to write, or to be more specific, mysterious things called “supplements.”


Supplements, as you may or may not know, are secondary mini-applications that follow your Common App off to your various college choices. Supplements have not only become increasingly common but—get ready for the good news—increasingly similar. More and more schools are asking the deceptively generic question: Why us? Why Stanford? Why University of Michigan? “Why ___________?” as we like to call it.

So, knowing full well that so many colleges are going to be asking this same question, what can we do to make our lives easier and our supplements more successful?

Be prepared. The Boy Scouts know their stuff – be prepared for this question. Chances are, 75 percent or more of the colleges on your list will ask you to regale them with the qualities you love most about THEIR school. Because you know this question is coming, take advantage of your summertime college visits. Take notes (even in your phone if you have to) as you wander around various campuses. What things stand out to you? Have an active eye and make it your mission to have a list of ten interesting things (unless you hate the campus and can barely find one interesting thing in which case you shouldn’t be applying there anyway. 🙂

Be selective. There are many aspects of a college that can draw you in, from the ivy-covered brick buildings to the awesome mac ‘n cheese in the dining hall. Yet when it comes to these essays, you don’t want to spend 250 of the 500-word minimum describing those cheesy, delicious noodles. Colleges want to know what it is academically that caught your eye. Was it the state-of-the-art astronomy tower that blew you away? Did the English Department’s extensive collection of Gutenberg Bibles excite you? Collect details far and wide, from academics to students you saw on campus to yes, even the mac and cheese.

Be organized. Although you will not be writing your essays for a few months, it wouldn’t hurt to make a file on your computer and download your experience in a more organized fashion while the memories are fresh. A list of bullet points will be your best friend come late summer/fall. Not only will all of your information be neatly organized, but it can also help you decide which bits and pieces will make it into the final draft. Ten minutes after a college visit will save you hours down the road; not to mention yielding a better essay.

Often, students choose to save these “Why ________” essays until the very end. No matter when you choose to craft yours, each one will be that much better and easier if you use the above tips and plan ahead. Remember, if need you any help along the way, Blue Train is always ready, willing, and able to answer all of your questions!

heather  – Applications Director Heather Fishel

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