My college application process was incredibly rewarding. And incredibly exhausting.
I was very excited for college in general; I love learning and craved the independence to build my own life and schedule at a university. I was also stressed about my essays and credentials. This stress manifested in intense perfectionism. I probably rewrote and revised my essays more than 50 times. The essay about why I wanted to attend USC was perhaps the most stressful one for me.
I am going to condense some of the most useful advice I received and lessons I learned as I was writing the “Why USC” essay. I am by no means an expert or know everything there is to know about these essays, but these are the pieces of advice I think would have made my essay writing process less stressful.
1. The Why is more important than the What
If you are anything like me, you like A LOT of things about college. USC and Viterbi had so many things that I was interested in that I found myself rambling on and on about the opportunities in my essay. The admissions team knows what opportunities USC has to offer. It is important to mention the things you are interested in (ex specific programs or clubs) as context, but they ultimately want to hear why you want to experience them and how they relate to your interests and background.
2. Be specific!
It can be easy to fall into the trap of speaking about “so many interesting engineering programs” or wanting to get involved in “research”. However, it will be easier to avoid rambling and digressing if you are specific. What specific engineering program interests you — and why? What specific research would you like to do? Is there a certain project you saw or read about that piqued your interest? Not only will researching specifics help you understand the school more, it will show the school that you are interested in them!
3. Remember who you are
Colleges want to get to know you through your application. Not the version of you that you think they want to read about. Trust me, your essays will be much more authentic (and enjoyable to write!) if you write about things that you are genuinely interested in. If you are applying as an engineering major at USC and want to explore cinema minors — include that in your essay! The cinema program at USC is world renowned, so that is a unique thing you would get to experience at Viterbi as opposed to another university. There is no formula to being accepted. Viterbi wants to admit engineering students with diverse interests. Your uniqueness is valued, so you should write about it.
Apart from the specific advice for writing the essay, I have some broader suggestions. If you are reading this blog and in the process of applying (or thinking about future applications) this advice is for you. Take a deep breath and relax! You are incredibly capable. Just let your authentic self shine through your essay. As a college student on the other side of the application process: I am rooting for you!