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Writing “Why Us?” College Essays? “Why?" counts more than "What?"

I attended a terrific University of Michigan seminar this week. It largely focused on the Ross School of Business, which might not only dissuade hopeful applicants with its 9% admit rate, but its daunting application process. The university already requires students to write two essays. The Ross portfolio, with its Business Case Study and Artifact, prevails upon applicants to think deeply, recognize problems, then offer creative solutions.

These are tough for students–and for us who help them! We asked, “What do you want to see?”

The Ross Admissions Director’s response was,”We do not want to read about finance, banking, your start-up idea, and building wealth.”

She put it simply. Most of the work students do in the business school is teamwork. Essays should focus less on business than on why you like to work on teams and lead. You do not need to start a business, have an internship, or join a business club. Never pick an activity because you think it looks good to colleges.

What you did isn't as important as why you did it.

Tell us about your part time job: your story about interacting with customers carries more weight than being passive at an internship. Stating which social issues you care about reveals more about who you are and what you do.

She shared an anecdote about a student who won an award. However, the student did not write about winning the award, but about the speech notes she used in the ceremony when she accepted it. Those focused on specific experiences she had with others–and gratitude

This advice does not apply exclusively to the Ross Business School. Though their portfolio takes more time to complete than the supplements for most other colleges, the same rules apply to all “Why Us?" essays. The always-quoted JFK line, “Ask not what your country (college) can do for you, but what you can do for your country (college),” should be your guide.


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