While the personal essay you write for your college applications will likely be consistent from school to school (especially if they use the Common Application), for the match essay, you’ll need to write something highly specific to each college. With this essay, schools want you to answer the question: WHY US? That is, why do you want to go to this specific college rather than any other?

Your goal with a match essay is twofold: first, define which of the college’s academic resources, extracurricular activities, and mission align most strongly with your interests, values, and goals. Second, describe how you will contribute to the college with your unique talents and strengths. The ideal match essay will paint a picture of a two-way street in which the college is a great fit for you, and you are a great fit for it.

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In order to do this successfully, you’ll need to thoroughly research each college you’re applying to, then compose a compelling piece of writing articulating the specific “match” areas you’ve identified. Below, we’ll walk you through this process.

Start with Research

Academics. The most important area for you to research is each university’s academic offerings. Start on the school’s website: look at the majors, minors, and unique programs offered. Then check out specifics of the undergraduate department you’re most interested in majoring in: what is its overall mission? Make notes of courses that interest you and why, as well as faculty members you’d like to study or work with. Feel free to Google professors: when you write your match essay, you can mention your interest in working with certain faculty members without having spoken with them directly. Finally, does the school offer research opportunities, internships, and/or study abroad programs that appeal to you?

Extracurriculars. You may be a prospective student, but that shouldn’t stop you from exploring the “Current Students” tab. What activities appeal to you? These may include clubs, athletics, community service engagement, religious activities, or pre-professional organizations. Are there any that seem contiguous with your high school pursuits that you’d like to remain involved in? Are there others in new areas that you would like to explore?

Culture. Next, get a sense of the values of each college you’re considering to see how well it aligns with your own. Consider the educational philosophy of the school, such as liberal arts or pre-professional. Does the school have a religious affiliation? Does the school value a strong sense of community? Do athletics or Greek life play a significant role?

How to Learn About the Colleges

Attend a Tour and Info Session. The best way to gauge a college’s culture is to visit: take a tour, attend an information session, and speak to current students and professors. You can do this either in-person or virtually: many schools now offer pre-recorded video tours and/or self-guided virtual tours; some offer live virtual information sessions, which provide an opportunity to interact with admissions officers or student ambassadors; and others have pre-recorded information sessions that you can watch on your own time. You can also look at sites including CampusReel, College Scoops, YOUniversityTV, YouVisit, and Niche to find video content featuring current students.

Talk to students and professors. Don’t forget that one-on-one conversations are available to you—all it takes is a little extra initiative! Reach out to faculty members, current students, and recent alums to ask them to speak with you. Such conversations can help you learn more about the school’s academics and culture, and let you hint in your match essay at the effort you’ve spent learning about this school. Identify faculty in your areas of interest and email them to request a Zoom chat; when you speak, you can ask about the unique approach of their department, research they are conducting, and observations about the culture of the school. Chatting with current students or recent alums can also offer insight into academics as well as life outside of the classroom. Some schools, like Barnard, let you request such a meeting directly through the Admissions website.

Social Media. Take advantage of social media, too: follow the college’s main account, their admissions page, and clubs you might be interested in joining. You’ll learn a lot from observing these online conversations, including any new admissions events as they are scheduled and advertised.

Write the Essay

Once you’ve finished your in-depth research about a particular school, you’re ready to write your match essay! There are two types of such essays you may be asked to complete. The first focuses exclusively on academics. (For example, you may be asked to describe what about the curriculum of the college and your intended major appeals to you.) The second type of match essay prompt is more general: it asks in a more open-ended way about qualities of the university that appeal to you, and how you hope to take advantage of them.

No matter which type of prompt you’re dealing with, we advise that you focus on academics first. Colleges are, after all, educational institutions, so they’ll want to hear first and foremost what appeals to you on that level. For general prompts, you can then detail the particular extracurriculars you want to participate in as well as what appeals to you about the culture of the school. and/or any other values you’ve identified through your research and conversations).

Our Match Essay Tips

Here are our tips for writing a successful match essay:

  • Research the school thoroughly. The more time and attention you spend learning what differentiates each college from all others, the more you’ll be able to differentiate your match essay from other applicants’.
  • Start your essay with an attention-grabbing hook. A surefire bet: a personal anecdote that illustrates your interests, values, or goals. As an example, a student applying to a liberal arts college with hopes of majoring in Art History might open their match essay as follows:

The essay would then go on to discuss the specific qualities of the college and the Art History major in particular that the student would love to make use of if admitted.

  • Focus on academics before moving onto other areas. Which major, minors, programs, classes, faculty members, research opportunities, and/or study abroad offerings excite you most, and why?
  • Be specific, not generic.Show that you’ve researched this school thoroughly, and that it truly would make a difference to you to enroll here rather than anywhere else.
  • Only speak about the college you are writing about! Don’t generalize about other colleges; just focus on the unique qualities of the college you are applying to.
  • Only speak about yourself, not other students! Don’t compare yourself to other students; only discuss yourself.
  • Don’t include comments about the stature, reputation, or ranking of the college. Telling Harvard that it has a world-class faculty is only repeating information the admissions officers already know.
  • Align specifics about yourself with specifics about the college. For example, what specific faculty members do you want to work with, and how do your specific interests, academic background, and relevant experiences align with their work?
  • BUT: If you don’t find much you match with, consider removing the school from your list! The process of researching colleges to write match essays can provide you with information you can use to help you get in, yes—but if, as you look more deeply into a school, you find little you are curious or excited about, pay attention. These are important cues that this might not be the right school for you after all.

Here at Collegiate Gateway, we are always happy to answer your questions about all aspects of the college admissions process, including the Common App, personal essays, resumesrecommendationsinterviewsvideo submissions, and more. Visit our website to set up a complimentary consultation to learn about our services.