How to Write the Vassar College Supplemental Essay: Examples + Guide 2021/2022

This prompt is your classic “Why us?” essay. 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 10+ reasons why Vassar might be a great fit for you (ideally 3-5 of the reasons will be unique to Vassar 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:

Six 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

Here’s a great example essay for this prompt (note that, with the change in word count, yours will need to be a bit shorter to meet the current word limit, but the structure and content are what you want to focus on here):  

Example 1:

I embody two souls: an untamed businesswoman and her introverted companion. I’m one of those people who talks to strangers for hours, but can’t explain her feelings to friends. At the same time, I’m a leader in my own little universe: daughter, sister, self-reliant real estate magnate (so I’d like to think). In Vassar, I see similar dichotomies: a resourceful campus located in old town Poughkeepsie; progressive, but grounded in the arts; a deeply American institution focused on its diverse, tight-knit community. 

I stumbled upon Vassar while visiting the Hudson River Valley and instantly fell in love with its charismatic campus. At Vassar, this confident entrepreneur who’s still looking for her voice will thrive on competition. Business is my forte, math is my happy place, and I look forward to majoring in International Studies and Mathematics. 

Vassar gives me every opportunity to explore my sundry, unconventional interests and I can’t wait to create the next Poughkeepsie Farm Project to give back to my community. My future is also firmly tied to my identity as a Muslim woman and my commitment to my faith. As I publicly become the person I am in private, I can see myself as a leader in Vassar’s Muslim Student Union, Amnesty International, or Democracy Matters. I also look forward to creating collaborative spaces with other like-minded folks in my “Economics of Food” club. 

Speaking of which, I’ve been a foodie since childhood, passionately consuming Mauritian Gato Pima, chicken feet, and the Bangladeshi delicacy Sweet Shemai. At Vassar, I can begin my journey of becoming a great restaurant maven with classes like “Food, Culture, and Globalization” and “The Culture and Chemistry of Cuisine.” As a restaurateur and polyglot who loves to travel, I also hope to add three or four languages to my arsenal, starting with “Elementary Spanish Language,” “Italian Folklore: Goddesses, Muses, Saints, and Black Madonnas” and “French and Francophone Studies.” 

And someday, in addition to running my Bengali/French/Italian fusion restaurants, I will become the next Alexandra Sicotte-Levesque, fighting for the next generation of ambitious young women, a journey I started at Vassar. [350 words]

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Share different sides of yourself. This student made her identity central to the essay: She’s an introverted entrepreneur and a Muslim woman who loves math, food, and languages. She skillfully connects each of these aspects of herself back to Vassar, demonstrating why she and the school are a good fit. Again, it’s a big mistake to think of this as a “Why them” essay—“Why us” = why you + them. Show why you belong together. Keep in mind that schools are interested in you as a person, not just as a student. Show them who you are and how you’ll contribute both in and outside the classroom.

  2. Show you’ve done your research. It’s easy to mention specific classes and clubs (and you definitely should), but this essay goes further, making it clear in the very first paragraph that the author has an understanding of Vassar’s identity and values, and how they align with her own. She even names a real Vassar graduate she admires. Doing this demonstrates that the student is truly interested in the school and has thoughtfully considered her (potential) place in its community.

  3. Add fun details. Spice it up! We love how this student doesn’t just tell us she’s a foodie, but instead shares names of specific foods she’s enjoyed that emphasize her interest in cultural diversity and make her seem adventurous. This added color not only makes this essay more memorable, it helps to make the author more relatable, which is especially important given that many college readers are poring over hundreds of applications. Use details that help make yours stand out!

Here’s another awesome “Why Vassar?” essay that takes a different approach:

Example 2:

When I joined the Durham Youth Commission, a group of students chosen to represent youth interests within local government, I met Miles. Miles told me his cousin’s body had been stuffed into the trunk of a car after he was killed by a gang. After that, my notion of normal would never be the same. 

A melting pot of ideologies, skins, socio-economic classes, faiths, and educations, the DYC is a unique collaborative enterprise. Although I was initially intimidated after hearing stories like Miles’, I soon realized that the members of the DYC never let difference become an obstacle to understanding. Even now, our experiences are like an elaborate network of roads: weaving, bumping, and diverging in unexpected ways. The Commission allowed us to bring our individual experiences into a shared space of empathy.

Miles told us about his cousin’s broken body. DYC supervisor Evelyn Scott explained that girls get ten-day school suspensions for simply stepping on another student’s sneakers. Witnessa educated us about “food deserts,” where people can’t count on their next meal. And I talked about being born in Tokyo, moving to London, and living in North Carolina, finding a way to call each place home. How my family’s blending of Jewish tradition and Chinese culture—bagels and lox on weekends and dumplings every Lunar New Year—bridges distinct worlds.

My experience in this space of engagement has made me a more thoughtful person and listener. Listening empathetically helped us envision multifaceted solutions to issues facing 21st-century youth. It is that motivation to solve real problems through cooperation and tolerance that I would bring to the Vassar community. Vassar has a devotion to increasing multiculturalism, promoting diversity, and broadening students’ worldviews. Whether it be through the Ford Scholars program, Vassar College Community Fellows, Vassar Political Review, or Queer Coalition, Vassar is the ideal place for me to continue the growth I’ve started in the DYC. Reconciling disparate lifestyles and backgrounds in the Commission has prepared me to become a compassionate leader at Vassar, a place that empowers me to both expand perspectives and take collaborative action. (345 words)

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Grab your reader’s attention. The opening anecdote in this student’s essay is shocking—and to clarify, yours doesn’t need to be this dramatic. But your goal is to quickly (because word count) draw your reader in, and you can do this in a number of ways—with creative language or a vivid description, for example. A strong opening makes your essay more memorable, and if you can engage your reader from the beginning, they’re less likely to skim.

  2. Demonstrate your values. Expressing your values—the things that matter, that motivate and inspire you—is important in any college essay. But it’s particularly important in a “Why us?” essay because it helps the school recognize how and where the two of you align on the big things (if you’re doing it right). This essay uses a story to show, rather than just tell,  how the student’s own values align with the school’s, akin to Approach #3 in our guide. The student has clearly read Vassar’s mission statement, and she’s demonstrating that she’s already an engaged citizen ready to become a campus leader committed to inclusion and equity.

  3. Show (and tell) what you have to offer. Notice above that we said “show rather than just tell,” not “show, don’t tell”—in a college essay, you’ll want to lean toward showing first through experience and illustrative detail, then also telling the reader what they should take away. After using a story to show us how she developed these values through her experiences, this student clearly states that she’ll bring her “motivation to solve real problems through cooperation and tolerance” to Vassar’s campus. She then names some specific ways she’ll get involved, connecting back to the work she’s already done with the DYC. Adding specifics like these will help Vassar envision you on campus, not only thriving but making a difference. Ultimately, colleges want to know how you’ll contribute to their community. So, tell them, and use details!

Special thanks to Marilyn for contributing to this post.

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