Education Consulting

Boutique is an education consultancy that specializes in editing and enhancing the admissions application essay, as well as other education services. Founded by Juli Min, Harvard and Andover alumna.

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The "Why Us" Essay

Almost every college will ask you to answer the question "why us?" at some point or another - in written form on the application, or perhaps in person in an interview. 

This question is difficult because it's basically been asked of every applicant since the beginning of time. Which means that the admissions officers have heard all the typical, vague answers: beautiful campus, great location, great classes, great professors, my dad went there, my friend went there, my cousin's friend's wife went there.

The key is to be specific when you answer. That means you must think about who you are and how your needs are met by the college, and also how the college's needs are met by admitting you. You want the short answer to read like a mini personal essay. By that, I mean: you want it to reveal something new and very unique about yourself that isn't showcased elsewhere in your application. Remember, you don't want different parts of your application to be repetitive - you want to take every opportunity to show as many different sides of yourself as possible.

Here are some specific ways to be specific

  • School traditions: these can include annual traditions or festivals, social groups, or interest groups. Some examples might be prestigious music ensembles, an annual technology summit, etc. Make sure to elucidate how you would add to these traditions and groups.
  • School culture: If you are particularly academic, entrepreneurial, professional, or intellectual, and the school matches your personality, interests, and goals, explain how you are a good match. If you aren't the typical student for that school, explain how you might be able to mix things up a bit and bring something new to the school culture. 
  • Specific majors: Many universities have designed unique majors or courses of study, and take pride in that. If their custom-built curriculum is perfect for you, explain why. Again, explain what you'll also bring to the table in terms of new ideas, energy, and enthusiasm.
  • Curriculum: Does the idea of core classes appeal to you? Does a quarter system appeal to you over a semester system? In what style do you like to learn - fast vs. slow? professionally immersed vs. isolated academically? How does the school's system suit your learning style, and as always, how can you add value? 

Two Examples

For Middlebury College:

I remember vividly the time the Dissipated 8 from Middlebury College came to my school to give a performance. I fell in love with their a cappella rendition of the song Satellite. It was the first time I was exposed to Middlebury, as well as a cappella music, and the first time I'd heard contemporary songs arranged and sung so beautifully. I was hooked on the idea of a cappella, and the group gave me a great impression of the school.  

This is a personal anecdote about Middlebury that very few students can also have. If I were to write a Why Middlebury essay, I might start off with the performance of Satellite, perhaps describing how the song grows and expands, relating that to how I first was enamored with the college and then later came to learn more about it over the years. Then I could write about my love of language and Russian literature, and Middlebury's own Language schools and the wealth of opportunities they have to study language and culture. 

For Harvard: 

I could again mention my love of music, especially jazz and a cappella and how the Radcliffe Pitches are such a professional group with a long history and great opportunities to tour the world singing (disclosure - I sang for them in college, so I'm a little biased). Academically, I could write about the unique and also variable concentrations available at Harvard for studying literature, and why I want to study lit theory and languages through their Comparative Literature track. 

The "Why Us" essay is not easy. It requires you to know a lot about the college to which you are applying, and it also requires you to know a lot about yourself and your worth to an institution. Start off by looking deeply into both the college and also into yourself. Best of luck, and always reach out if you have questions.

I Said We’d Never Hire a College Admissions Adviser. Then We Did.

A fun article in the NYTimes about a mother who always swore she would never hire a college advisor then ended up hiring one. A lesson in never saying "never." The writer highlights the less obvious reasons why parents might want to hire help: a third party pushes and prods and questions the student, allowing the parents to play the role of support as opposed to nagging adversary. An adviser can hear the student objectively, talk to him objectively, and offer a new and better informed perspective.

See the article here.


Why I Love Working on the Essay

I've worked with students applying to boarding school, university, even business and med school. I've done everything from test prep to admissions consulting to school tour planning. But these days I am fortunate enough to specialize in the the part of the admissions process I love the most: the personal essay. 

What that means is that I help students to do three things: 

  1. Brainstorm essay topics
  2. Decide on the right narrative structure
  3. Edit language and style as needed

The real work, I always say, is in the first two steps. The third is a piece of cake once you have the first two.


It's almost every other student who comes to me with their head down, mumbling the phrase "I have nothing to write about. I'm so boring." I get excited when a student tells me this. Because I know with 100% certainty that by the time we're done, they'll have an essay that is definitely not boring.

The most enjoyable part of the process of helping a student with the college essay is getting to know them. If a student has no idea what to write about, my first job is to ask him leading questions and have him do exercises to break through the old ways he is thinking about himself to unearth the really unique and awesome things and moments in his life. Everyone is unique. I know that's a cliche, but what's cool is that it's really true. And once we know what possible topics and angles the student can use for a great personal essay, we can move on to finding the best way to lay it out. Sometimes step 1 takes a while - a few meetings even. But it is the most important part. Figuring out potential topics and stories are the foundations upon which the essay can be built!


Will the essay be told chronologically start to finish? Will it be told backwards? Will it be told as an action tale, or will it have lots of exposition? How about a graphic novel-type essay? Will there be an overarching message depicted through multiple smaller ideas or stories? Will it utilize a frame narrative? There are endless choices for how one can organize and move meaning through an essay. Depending on the topic, the story involved, and the theme, the student and I will determine what narrative structure(s) might work best. After this phase, students may write a few essays with different topics, and they may even try a few different structures for each topic before deciding which works best. That leads us to phase 3. 


Once the essay topic, theme, and structure are decided, the writing is the easy part! I don't get too involved, since the student has to write out the essay drafts. I do some editing during revisions to enhance language, tension, momentum, etc. But I am very adamant that the student's original style remain intact. That is a very important element to the essay as well, and I wouldn't bulldoze over it for the world. The editing phase is the kind of editing your English teacher may give you on your essay. Except I will spend a lot more time and detail on it. This phase is fun for me since I get to do some more traditional writing coaching, helping students understand why word choice, flow, and sentence structure are so important.


I've been doing this work for 6 years, and it never gets old. Each young person comes to me with a wealth of interesting experiences, ideas, habits, preferences, and hobbies. I get to hear about those things, and then I get to help shape them into a piece of wonderful creative non-fiction. I am a writer at heart, and this process is really fun for me.

But the best part about working on the personal essay is that it's really an uplifting, positive process. The essay asks what is special about you? and the student and I meet to discuss and work on that question, sometimes for weeks or months on end.  The admissions rat race is rigorous, tough, and riddled with challenges and expectations that often produce insecurities and doubts. The essay is really a chance for a student to take a good look at him or herself and feel pride and self-worth in who he or she has become. I get to help awesome human beings see the ways in which they are awesome, even ways they didn't fully realize. And the student walks away feeling, hey, I'm pretty cool, and I've got a pretty cool way of expressing that. If that's not something to enjoy, I don't know what is.