Why This College Sample Essay


Letter to Northwestern


Northwestern is a place where I could see myself exploring science and music in unison. Growing up, I had the privilege of playing cello under Mr. Leo Eylar, conductor of the California Youth Symphony. He was not only an effective leader, but also a phenomenal violinist, as well as an astronomy major at Northwestern back in the 70s. Each summer at orchestra camp, he would takes us out on night hikes in the California redwoods. There, we would find our way towards an open clearing in the forests, where we would sit, gazing upwards as he pointed out star systems and constellations. It was inspiring to see one person so passionate about such different things. Later on, when two of my friends, one a pianist and the other a singer, sent back word of their memorable first-year experiences at Northwestern, I started to look into the school seriously. As someone who values the pursuit of extracurricular interests as much as academics, I knew I could not find as fitting an environment.

I have to admit one thing though – I have never actually visited Chicago. The first time I even heard the name used outside of geography and history class was in a television commercial. Mcgruff, the detective dog, was offering a free magazine on safety awareness. I still remember the “Chicago, Illinois 60652” catch-phrase he used, the postcard I sent to him (using my best six year-old handwriting), and the colorful booklet I received six weeks later. My first year in high school, Chicago came back to me again as the band I loved. Listening to “If You Leave Me Now” and “Will You Still Love Me” after being struck with an adolescent crush drew me to the emotional nature of music. I don’t have any firsthand experience with life at Northwestern University, but I promise to bring a bundle of excitement with me if I get there.

Girl Pointing Up



General tips for short-answer questions can be found here. In this particular essay, the student has assembled a list of reasons as to why he considers the school a good fit. The first – that Northwestern will enable his musical and scholastic development – is the most substantial. The rest are casual anecdotes. Put together though, they create an intimate story that feels genuine and unique. You can tell that the student isn’t trying to argue his way into the school. Nor is he trying to pander to any pre-conceived notions of what the reader wants to hear. Instead, this short response serves as an extension of the personal statement, one carefully crafted for his school of choice. It’s touching, and gives a close glimpse at what motivates the writer.

The breadth of content used in this essay is risky. A good response could have been composed using just one of the four anecdotes. Doing so would have resulted in a richer, deeper story. However, this particular assortment of recollections works in favor of the student. It proves that he has multiple, memorable reasons for considering the school. To any private university with a small, exclusive student body, such reasons can turn nondescript applications around.

Remember that your academic ability is just one component to your candidacy. Loyalty, enthusiasm, personality, and fit can be just as important. Convince your reader that you really want to attend, and they’ll be looking more closely for reasons to admit you.