This is your classic “Why us?” essay, though topping off at 250 words, it’s on the short-ish side. We recommend checking out this complete guide on how to write the “Why us?” essay and paying close attention to the “Why Cornell” and “Why Penn” examples, which are our favorites.

Here’s the short version of how to write the “Why us?” essay:

  • Spend 1 hr+ researching 7+ reasons why Barnard might be a great fit for you (ideally 2-3 of the reasons will be unique to Barnard and connect back to you).

  • Make a copy of this chart to map out your college research.

  • Create an outline for your essays based on either Approach 1, 2 (recommended), or 3 in the full guide above.

  • Write a first draft!

As you write, try to avoid these common mistakes: 

Seven Common Mistakes Students Make on “Why Us?” Essays

Mistake #1: Writing about the school’s size, location, reputation, weather, or ranking.

Mistake #2: Simply using emotional language to demonstrate fit.

Mistake #3: Screwing up the mascot, stadium, team colors, or names of any important people or places on campus.

Mistake #4: Parroting the brochures or website language.

Mistake #5: Describing traditions the school is well-known for.

Mistake #6: Thinking of this as only a “Why them” essay.

Mistake #7: Writing a “Why Columbia?” essay instead of a “Why Barnard?” essay, because of the two schools’ close connection. 

Here’s a great sample essay for this prompt: 

Barnard College Essay Example 1: 

I grew up near the birthplace of the riotgrrrl movement, inspired by zines and women who refuse to minimize themselves. When I read about Barnard’s zine library, I was ecstatic. Barnard’s pedagogy embodies zines’ same spirit of fighting injustice, giving women the skills and close-knit community to fulfill their potential.

With Barnard’s flexible curriculum and dedicated professors, I can pursue all my interests without sacrificing in-depth analysis for interdisciplinary freedom. I’d explore mathematical cognition during early development with Koleen McCrink while discussing circular economy models with Sandra Goldmark. Within the sociology department, I’d examine my family’s roots by taking Politics and Society in Central Eastern Europe and investigate the theories fueling activism in Social Movements. With opportunities like externships and BCRW’s Interrupting Criminalization initiative, I’d navigate the world holistically.

Barnard empowers women to learn boundlessly. In the collaborative spaces of the Milstein Center, I’d develop my screen-print projects and my fluency in web development. Upholding Barnard’s commitment to environmentalism, I’d love to join the SGA Sustainable Initiatives Consulting Board. From workshops on salary negotiation to seminars on women in leadership, Barnard offers me the necessary tools to thrive in my multidimensional life.

In the middle of explaining first-year curriculum, my Barnard tour guide stopped to point out the newly installed “I Am Queen Mary,” going off-script to highlight how crucial continued decolonization is. In that vignette, I found the riotgrrrl attitude alive at Barnard–a community of unafraid women, passionately speaking their minds and eager to change the world.

— — —

Tips + Analysis

  1. Show how you and Barnard share key values. Keep this Values Exercise handy as you write, and identify a few you believe Barnard shares. The essay above is packed with shared connections: In her excitement over Barnard’s zine library, for example, the writer shows creativity, self-expression, community pride, and a thirst for knowledge. Likewise, in defining her own understanding of Barnard’s pedagogy, she reflects key values—meaningful work, justice, community, helping others—while her description of Barnard’s flexible curriculum shows her appreciation for freedom, personal growth, and self-expression. This passage is particularly effective in helping the reader visualize how those shared values would benefit this student’s experiences on campus: “Barnard empowers women to learn boundlessly. In the collaborative spaces of the Milstein Center, I’d develop my screen-print projects and my fluency in web development. Upholding Barnard’s commitment to environmentalism, I’d love to join the SGA Sustainable Initiatives Consulting Board.” 

  2. Show a range of interests. The broad scope of this prompt (“why do you think the College would be a good match for you”) is intentional. It’s not just asking about your chosen major or your academic interests; it’s probing for details about the breadth of your interests. So after talking about, say, courses and professors and programs that interest you, talk about campus life—clubs, activities, sports, and other extracurriculars. This is a great way to show you’re more than just a serious student (although, hey, that’s important too), that you’re interested in other things too. For this student, it wasn’t just the curriculum that drew her to Barnard; it was also the school’s “commitment to environmentalism,” its workshops, seminars, and externships, and especially its “community of unafraid women, passionately speaking their minds and eager to change the world.”

  3. Be specific. Notice too how this student doesn’t stop at generalities like “flexible curriculum and dedicated professors” or how “Barnard empowers women to learn boundlessly.” She backs them up with specifics unique to Barnard—from professors (Koleen McCrink and Sandra Goldmark) to courses (Politics and Society in Central Eastern Europe) and other academic opportunities (BCRW’s Interrupting Criminalization initiative) to avenues for personal growth (“collaborative spaces of the Milstein Center”) and community involvement (SGA Sustainable Initiatives Consulting Board). These details are critical to showing Barnard not only that you’ve done your homework in researching what the school is all about, but that you’ve given serious thought to why it’s a good fit for you—and you for it.

  4. Imagine yourself on campus. By describing the aspects of Barnard that appeal to her and how she’d use the opportunities to learn, grow and contribute, this student helps the admission team envision her on its leafy campus in a dynamic way. Like this: “I’d explore mathematical cognition during early development with Koleen McCrink while discussing circular economy models with Sandra Goldmark. Within the sociology department, I’d examine my family’s roots by taking Politics and Society in Central Eastern Europe and investigate the theories fueling activism in Social Movements. With opportunities like externships and BCRW’s Interrupting Criminalization initiative, I’d navigate the world holistically.” And this: “In the collaborative spaces of the Milstein Center, I’d develop my screen-print projects and my fluency in web development.” Do that, as much as you can.