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How to Write an Excellent "Why Tufts?" Essay

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Posted by Melissa Brinks | Sep 18, 2022 11:00:00 AM

College Essays



If you're applying to Tufts University, you should already have an answer to "Why Tufts?" But answering the "Why Tufts?" essay question as part of your application requires more than acknowledgement that it's a good school.

This guide to the "Why Tufts" essay prompts will guide you through the requirements, expectations, and strategies you need to write an exemplary essay.

Feature Image: HereToHelp/Wikimedia Commons


What's the Purpose of a "Why This School?" Essay?

To craft a good "Why Tufts?" essay, you need to understand the prompt. It's not about listing a school's qualifications or discussing how beautiful the campus is—a good essay will explain not just why the school is good, but why the school is good for you.

This essay is a common one at many schools. Colleges want to know what brings you to them specifically, including what interests you and how you'll contribute to the student body. Though the question of "why" may feel simple, it's a lot more complex than it appears at first glance.

First of all, the college admissions office wants to know what sets their school apart from others. In Tufts' case, that could be their history as a research university, which puts undergrads in closer contact with graduate students and encourages more communication between people in different fields of study. It could also be their emphasis on interdisciplinary studies, or a positive experience you had while touring the campus.

Use the question of "why" as a starting point. Don't stop at, "because I like that I can study engineering and English." Develop that idea further—What does that mean to you? Why does it matter?

The "Why This College?" essay also invites students to think about how they'll fit into the academic environment. Schools want to know that you're a good fit—it's to their benefit to recruit students who are passionate and committed to getting the most out of their college education.

If it wasn't, Tufts wouldn't have an acceptance rate of around 11 percent. They want students who will contribute to the learning environment and bring creativity, innovation, and curiosity to the classroom. Read and understand Tufts' mission statement before writing your essay so you're informed about what these traits mean, and how you can contribute to realizing their vision as a student.

But it's not just about whether you'll fit in—it's also important that Tufts is a good fit for you. That doesn't mean having your major or whatever clubs you might want to join, but also that your goals align with theirs. The interdisciplinary approach isn't right for every student, and others may prefer the more classic separation of undergrads and graduate students. Having a clear idea about your goals as well as theirs will help you excel, and Tufts will appreciate the clarity.

Your "Why Tufts?" essay isn't just good for the school, it's good for you, too. When you think deeply about why you want to attend a particular school, it makes you even more excited to attend, and that passion is precisely what schools want to see.

Thinking in-depth about your college choices also makes you learn more about schools and how they support your goals, which is instrumental for choosing the right school.

As you're thinking about your Tufts essay, you might learn things about the school that may not be a good fit, and it's better to learn that now than six months after you've moved onto campus. Though one or two missed checkboxes in your dream school criteria isn't necessarily a reason to pull your application, having realistic expectations for your college experience will set you up for a more positive time at the school of your choice.


body_thinking-4This question has levels.


What Is the "Why Tufts?" Essay Really Asking?

"Why Us?" essays may look as if they're asking a simple question—why do you want to attend this school—but there's more to it than that. These essays are also often asking one of two questions: "why us?" or "why you?"

In essence, these essays want you to describe why they're the right school for you, or why you're the right student for them. Paying attention to how the question is framed will give you a better sense of what kind of answer they're looking for, which will help you shape your essay.

Tufts actually has two versions of the "Why Us?" essay, depending on which department you're applying to. Each one asks a different version of the question, with one version emphasizing your role as a student in a community ("Why You?") and what appeals to you about the school ("Why Us?").

To figure out which one you'll be responding to, use Tufts' Majors and Minors page. This tool allows you to select which programs you're interested in and displays the school department beneath.


If You're Applying to the School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering, or 5-Year Tufts/NEC Combined Degree:

This prompt has a 100 to 150 word limit. The prompt asks:

Which aspects of the Tufts undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, "Why Tufts?" (100-150 words)

This prompt is a pretty standard "Why X School?" style of essay. Notice that the prompt is asking you to discuss certain aspects of your undergraduate experience. That means the prompt expects you to talk about one or two elements of attending Tufts in detail, not write a laundry list of the things you love about the school.

Put another way: this essay wants you to be specific about why you want to go to Tufts and prove to the admissions committee that it's the right school for you!


If You're Applying to the BFA or 5-Year BFA+BA/BS Combined Degree at the SMFA:

This prompt, also 100 to 150 words, applies to students who are on one of the above listed fine arts tracks. This prompt reads:

Which aspects of the Tufts undergraduate experience prompt your application? Why SMFA at Tufts? (100-150 words)

This question still asks about your application, but pay attention to the focus—it's more interested in why you want to be part of the SMFA program in particular. In answering this question, stay away from blanket statements about the university as a whole, like the robust number of extracurricular programs or Tuft's other undergraduate degree offerings.

Your answer should discuss what draws you to this program, not the school in general. Look through their mission statement, the experiences of other applicants, and preferably visit the campus for a tour to help you better explain why this school draws you in over others.

Because you're applying to the SMFA, you need to know what that is and how it differs from the rest of Tufts University. Why this program specifically? What will the SMFA add to your experience that education at a different school would not?


body_beverageGet your hot beverage and motivational blocks out, because it's time to write.


How to Write your "Why Tufts?" Essay, Step by Step

With only 100 to 150 words to answer these prompts, you'll likely need to go through multiple essay drafts to get your response into prime shape. Not only do you have a low word count, but these are also complex topics. Though planning might feel like more work in the short term, it'll help you write a stronger essay from beginning to end.


Step 1: Brainstorming

Start by reading the question. Not just reading the words that are there, but really striving to understand the question beyond the prompt.

Spend some time writing down different potential angles, then sort through them to find the one that works best for you. Your essay should be clear and specific to Tufts—if you can substitute in the name of another school and have it make sense, your essay isn't specific enough.

During brainstorming, come up with as many ideas as you can. Set a timer for five to ten minutes, and think of lots of different answers to the prompt. Don't worry if they're kind of out there or undeveloped; you can always cut them or expand later!


The General Prompt

For the first prompt, consider how which aspects of going to Tufts make it the best school for you. To do this, it helps to reframe the question like this: "What can Tufts do for me that no other school can?" It's also worth thinking about how you can contribute to the school in ways that are...well, uniquely you!

Maybe you're interested in tackling issues related to climate change, and you want to be part of Tufts's research on water purification because you know clean water will become a scarce resource. Or maybe you want a career in museum curation and education, so Tufts's Museum Education combined degree is perfect for you.

The point is that you need to be specific and clear about how Tufts is the only school that can help you achieve your goals.

Along with researching programs and professors, it's also a good idea to cite specific moments from tours, if you've taken them. If you haven't taken a tour, you could refer to alumni who inspire you, courses you find on the website, or other features unique to Tufts. "Unique" is key—whatever you say, Tufts' curriculum, mission, or other specific features should support it.

For example, you could mention the school's emphasis on interdisciplinary learning. Does it matter to you that your education at Tufts will be inclusive of other disciplines rather than focused entirely on your field? Why or why not?


The SMFA Prompt

For the prompt that's SMFA focused, consider the program and what makes you want to be part of it. Why an art degree? Why an art degree at Tufts? Why an art degree at Tufts in the SMFA program, specifically?

These might seem like redundant questions, but considering every angle of "Why SMFA?" will lead to a stronger essay. Look through the course catalog and see what it has to offer—courses like "Creative Futures: Business Essentials for Artists" are unique to this program, and it's worth understanding what they offer that other programs don't. Tying that into your essay along with why you want an art degree proves that you're serious about your discipline and understand what exactly Tufts will add to your education.

Also consider how the SMFA and Tufts University intersect. SMFA is a school within a school, and it's important to understand how it differs from the School of Arts and Sciences.

Again, cite moments from a tour if you can, or be specific about particular artists, artworks, or other features of Tufts that inspire you to attend there. The more you can tie your response specifically to Tufts rather than any other school, the better.


body_rejectWhen revising, cut all this extra stuff out of your draft.


Step 2: Avoid Generalities

When writing, avoid being too general. Again, if you can substitute in the name of another school and have your essay still make sense, you need to make it more specific. The question is, "Why Tufts?" so be sure that you answer that as thoroughly as possible—and stay within your word count, of course.

Some students default to talking about sports or campus appearance to set the stage. Avoid that, if you can. Tufts already knows about their sports teams and how pretty the campus is, and if other people are doing it, you don't want to follow suit. Your essay should be uniquely you!

"Why Tufts?" may be the question, but avoid being too shallow. Think beyond academics and reputation; your essay should consider how Tufts will help you, and how you'll help Tufts.


Step 3: Write Efficiently

The essay is short, so you're really going to have to hone in on one particular feature or event. Be prepared to edit and revise multiple times—have people you trust look over it and give you feedback, and do your best to follow it.

Eliminate extra words; in the first sentence in the previous paragraph, I could easily change "you're really going to have to hone," into "you'll have to hone" and save myself three words. It's a small change, but three words means a lot when you only have 150!

Summarize any experience you want to draw on quickly so you have time to talk about why it matters. Be brief; you want to expand where it matters rather than spending a lot of time on scenic details ("The sun was rising as I first arrived in Medford, my hands trembling from nervousness and too much coffee on an empty stomach," is great detail, but if it's not telling the school "Why Tufts?" then it has to go!).

In short, every word should be pulling weight in your argument rather than taking up space.


body_list-3Go through this list as you're writing to keep yourself on track.


"Why Tufts?" Essay Writing Checklist

As you progress through each draft, run through this checklist to be sure you're on target.


Are You Being Specific?

Can you rewrite the essay with the name of another college? If you can, be more specific.


Have You Mentioned Real-Life Experiences?

Tying your essay to a specific, real-life experience (such as a tour of the college) or a person (a representative of Tufts that you've spoken with, someone who's graduated, or similar) gives it more specificity. Concrete detail will make your essay feel more solid.


Have You Answered What Makes the School Special?

Think beyond academics, sports, or prestige. What makes Tufts the right school for you above all others? Why not Columbia, UC Berkeley, or the University of Minnesota? You don't have to answer "why not?" in your essay, but you should know the answer when you're writing.


Have You Connected What Makes the School Special to Your Interests?

Readers should be able to draw a clear line from the answer to "Why Tufts?" to you as a student. Okay, so you met an adviser who not only got your love of botany, but who understood exactly how a love for grass-type Pokemon led you to pursue gardening and eventually botany. What does this mean to you, and how does it contribute to your desire to attend Tufts?


Have You Demonstrated an Understanding of School Culture?

Tufts is quite clear about their campus culture—intellectual curiosity, research, and interdisciplinary learning are all core parts of their mission. If you can demonstrate this in your essay, you'll be set to impress!


body_students-6Reading work from current Tufts Students gives you insight into what the college is looking for.


What Does a Great "Why Tufts?" Essay Look Like?

One of the best ways to understand what Tufts is looking for in responses to their "Why Tufts?" prompts is to see what people who have gotten in have written. Thankfully, Tufts makes this easy, putting several essays that worked online for you to read. Keep in mind that the prompts for these essays may have been phrased slightly differently, but at their heart, they're all "Why Tufts" essays...which means good essays in this category all share the same characteristics!

Here's an example of a successful "Why Tufts?" essay:

As a girl interested in computer science it's common when visiting university websites to utter "you go, girl" to the lone female faculty member smiling proudly amidst a male-dominated CS department. However, Tufts is a unique community that not only encourages minorities in STEM, but actively recruits female faculty like the spunky and inspirational activist/engineer/professor/entrepreneur Dr. Laney Strange, who I met at Girls Who Code. With my passions ranging from multimedia art to Latin American culture to CS, Tufts excites me since it's where diverse interests are celebrated and where I can have stimulating conversations with anyone I meet on campus.

Let's go through this essay using our checklist to understand exactly why it worked.


Are You Being Specific?

Notice how this essay uses specific faculty (and a specific experience with that faculty member) to discuss what appeals to the writer about Tufts. Substituting the name of another school in for Tufts wouldn't work, because this essay goes out of its way to be clear that this is something Tufts offers that other colleges don't.


Have You Mentioned Real-Life Experiences?

Participating in Girls Who Code not only demonstrates the writer's interest in computer science, but also gives her a connection to the school beyond its reputation. That tie to Tufts gives her some additional insight into campus culture.


Have You Answered What Makes the School Special?

This writer frames her essay around empowering women in computer sciences, but, more importantly, how Tufts excels in a way that many schools do not.


Have You Connected What Makes the School Special to Your Interests?

As a female computer sciences student, prominent female faculty in the CS department is clearly important to the writer—something that comes through because of how neatly she ties her field to her specific experience and again to Tufts.


Have You Demonstrated an Understanding of School Culture?

The writer not only cites female faculty in the CS department, but also the school's interdisciplinary education. She clearly has a familiarity with Tufts educational goals, making this essay an excellent example of not just, "Why Tufts?" but also "Why You?"

As you can see, this writer ticked all the checkboxes for a great "Why Tufts?" essay...which is the goal!

Let's take a look at an SMFA-specific essay that worked. Another writer answered the "Why SMFA?" prompt like this:

As an artist, I believe that one's work should reflect the world beyond it. Thus, I'm most attracted to Tufts SMFA's combination of rigorous artistic study with a challenging liberal arts curriculum at the School of Arts and Sciences. I want to inform my art-making with in-depth exploration of sociology, justice, and international relations, creating works that comment on global issues--a prospect uniquely possible at Tufts SMFA. With numerous opportunities for combining art and community work on campus and in Boston, the SMFA program shows art isn't only meant for the classroom; it's meant for the world.


Are You Being Specific?

This student shows familiarity with the specifics of SMFA, the kind of works the organization produces and showcases, and also how the program is also part of the larger Massachusetts community. While many schools have great art programs, the specificity here ties it uniquely to Tufts.


Have You Mentioned Real-Life Experiences?

The previous essay mentioned faculty the student had met with, which isn't always possible. This student may not have had the opportunity to tour campus or meet with representatives, but they still go out of their way to situation Tufts within a place—the wider area of Massachusetts. The more specific you can get, especially mentioning a community, as this writer did, the better.


Have You Answered What Makes the School Special?

The last line is particularly good, as it starts out quite specific and balloons out to a wider statement about art's place in the world. The mentions of SFMA's "rigorous artistic study" in conjunction with the "challenging liberal arts curriculum" show that the student has a good understanding of what this program entails, and how it will help them reach their goals.


Have You Connected What Makes the School Special to Your Interests?

This essay doesn't mention a particular field, but it does begin with a statement—"I believe that one's work should reflect the world beyond it"—and then goes on to demonstrate how that's true of Tufts. This short essay reads a bit like a condensed five-paragraph essay: thesis, supporting details, and conclusion that tie the whole theme together.


Have You Demonstrated an Understanding of School Culture?

References to SFMA and the School of Arts and Sciences curricula show that the student knows the difference between the two and how they feed into one another. They've clearly done their homework, and it shows in a polished, well thought-out essay that got them into Tufts!

Once again, this writer hit all the important parts of the "Why Tufts?" essay, which ultimately showed admissions counselors that Tufts is the perfect school for them.




What's Next?

The "Why Tufts?" essay is just one of the essays you'll be writing for your application. It pays to understand them ahead of time, so check out this handy guide to the Tufts supplement!

If you need help writing essays for other colleges, this compilation of tips and tricks will help get your writing on track.

Tufts University uses the Common Application, so you'll also be writing essays in response to those prompts as well. This guide will help walk you through the Common Application prompts as well as best practices for answering them!


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Melissa Brinks
About the Author

Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.

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