How to Write a “Why X” Essay

There are three basic models for a “why school X” essay.

1. The Narrative Model

In a narrative “why school X” essay, you tell a story about your evolving enthusiasm for a school. You might start by saying what first piqued your interest—a comment from a friend, an interview you saw with a dean—and then explain how your interest grew as you did more research. Describe your visit to the school, if you made one, or your conversation with a student or alumnus, if you spoke to one. Conclude with the strongest possible statement of your interest.

Here’s an outline with example first sentences:

  1. I first became interested in school X when I came across a YouTube video with the dean/heard about a friend’s experience/visited campus for a rugby game.
  2. As I learned more, I imagined taking professor’s Y’s class/got excited about the specialization in Z.
  3. But it was my conversation with student Q that confirmed my belief that school X would be perfect for me/I was blown away by the helpfulness and friendliness of the students I met on my visit.
  4. I am beyond excited about the possibility of attending school X.

2. About Me, About You

In an “about me, about you” essay, you’ll begin by talking about an aspect of your background before explaining how the school will complement your experience and help you fulfill your ambition.

It might look something like this:

  1. I founded my first company in college. (Describe your history of social entrepreneurship.)
  2. Startup@BerkeleyLaw will help me bridge my experience with my new ambition for the future. (Describe how Berkeley Law will prepare you to advise startups or some such.)
  3. But Berkeley Law’s incomparable program in law, technology, and business is not the only reason I want to attend. (Describe what else draws you to Berkeley Law.)
  4. Given my background in technology and entrepreneurship, I’m convinced that Berkeley Law is the perfect school for me.

You can also put the “about me” me part after the “about you” part.

Note that you’re not writing a second personal statement. You’re just explaining why the school is a good fit for you, and why you’d be a good fit for the school.

3. The Straightforward Essay

The straightforward essay isn’t as sexy as the first two, but it gets the job done. It might look something like this:

  1. Paragraph about your interest in Texas Law’s Capital Punishment Clinic
  2. Paragraph about your interest in Texas Law’s Entrepreneurship Clinic.
  3. Paragraph about your interest in Texas Law’s mentoring program.

Strong Openers

Here are a few examples of openers that work:

When I began to consider studying law, I wrote a list of the qualities that I was seeking in a program.

In this narrative of evolving interest, the author explained how she became more and more convinced that school X had the qualities she most valued.

Four years ago, I found a dog tied to a street sign by a railroad.

In this “about me, about you” essay, the author went on to explain how she developed an interest in animal rights before describing her interest in school X’s animal law program.

In 1995, X Law invited the former president of Taiwan, Lee Teng-Hui, to deliver a public speech.

In this straightforward essay, the author went on to describe how X Law’s decision to invite Lee despite pressure from mainland China demonstrated its commitment to free speech.

Strong Closers

Telling a school you’ll enroll if they accept you is the single strongest move you can make:

X Law is my first choice, and if I’m admitted, I will withdraw my other applications immediately so I can attend.

If you can’t promise to marry them, you can still flirt:

I hope I’m given the opportunity to attend X Law.

Many strong essays close with a very short “about me” line:

In everything from my work with Amnesty to my current position at Xenon, I’ve done my best to support my peers. I hope I get a chance to do the same thing at X Law.

You can also reiterate the reasons you want to go:

I want to go to X Law so I can lie on the law quad and laugh with students like Elle and Vivian. I want to go to X Law so I can work with fellow advocates for asylum seekers. I want to go to X Law so I can learn from Professor Callahan and fight for the next Brooke Windham. Finally, I want to go to X Law so I can become a proud student ambassador, introducing the school to prospective students at home.

As you might have gathered from that last example, enthusiasm really shines through. The best “why school X” essays—the ones that might actually move the needle—feel organic and earnest.

Formatting and Length

If a school doesn’t specify, aim for about one double-spaced page, or roughly 250–350 words.

Format your “why school X” the same way you format your personal statement, but write “Interest in School X” in the header, unless the application refers to the essay differently (e.g. “Supplemental Essay One”).

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