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?
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.
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.