A good way to gain a sense of how to approach this type of essay is with samples of essays that have successfully addressed this question. Here are portions of successful essays to give you a taste of some effective approaches.
USC: Describe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. (Accepted into the Roski School of Art)
“ While my art continues to emerge, I value being able to work with a wide range of media, such as photography, painting and illustration, I further want to extend myself by spending a semester in Italy, either Florence or Cortona, prior to which I plan to take at least a year of Italian to better adapt to the culture. Months in the city of Dante would be mind-expanding. If I can capture even a bit of Florence’s vitality by osmosis it will give me the thrill of the ages. On a more pragmatic level, I plan to double major in business. Adding the art of the Medicis: accounting, balance sheets and sense of the right investments will, I hope, allow me to fund my creative endeavors and bring art to those needing beauty in their worlds. Additionally, The Arts Internship Program will connect me with over 400 professional organizations where I might learn how on how to bring an art enterprise to life with a reflection of my vision contained. There is nothing about Roski or me that is cookie cutter. We prefer to bring imaginations to life and art to all.”
Northwestern: What are the unique qualities of Northwestern - and of the specific undergraduate school(s) to which you are applying - that make you want to attend the University?(Accepted into Mathematical Modeling in Social Science, a highly competitive NU program)
“Ever since its appearance in the card game anime Yu-Gi-Oh!, Hundred Eyes Dragon has been my favorite card. Not only because, well, let’s face it — how cool is a matte-black dragon coated in a freaky mix of grey nerve fibers and purple eyes — but also because of its monster effect:
You can banish 1 Effect Monster from your Graveyard; this monster’s effect becomes that banished monster's.
Hundred Eyes Dragon revives the effects of monster cards in the Graveyard — the zone holding all cards that die in battle. In short, it allows cards rendered dead and useless to become powerful again.
Similarly, Northwestern is the place where my extracurricular pursuits from high school — the cards in my own “Graveyard” — will come to bear fruit. I would build upon my short experience in developing water purifiers for the Maasai in Tanzania by joining the Northwestern chapter of Global Water Brigades. The limited knowledge I gained as editor-in-chief of our school newspaper would evolve into an understanding of research in multimedia journalism by taking an elective about search engine optimization in Medill.
That said, my primary major of interest is NU’s MMSS program. From learning to pronounce “heteroskedasticity” in MATH 386-1 to finding the correlation between the political stance of major philosophical works and relative economic growth for my senior thesis, the prospect of being able to integrate my passion for math with a well-founded understanding of society is compelling.
University of Michigan: Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests? (Accepted into the Astronomy and Astrophysics major within LSA)
“Obviously, I will need to master the pre-requisite courses for astronomy and physics. I feel fairly confident in these subjects, but I look forward to the opportunity to perfect my knowledge through application. What really attracts me is the subject itself. Much is happening in the world of astronomy, there is so much to discover: black holes, walls in the universe, planets well outside our solar system and , what the expanding universe means especially in light of dark energy and matter. That is an area of unquenchable interest. Over 2/3rds of the universe is composed of dark energy, and it’s almost a complete unknown. I think it warrants looking into deeply. So does Michigan with your MIRA institute whose recent conference addressed dark energy, dark matter, and results from the large Hadron Collider.”
“What also excites me are the personal relationships I might possibly form with some of the faculty. The student faculty ratio within the major is 1:1. That’s incredible for a school with 28,000 undergraduates. Moreover, I want to know what the faculty are researching and how I might contribute. I want to begin working on research involved in some aspect of dark energy as early as possible in my undergraduate years. I do indeed want to make observations at the Magellan telescope in Chile, of which Michigan owns 10%.”
“I also want to develop my observational, data analysis, and computer programming skills so that I can, through Astro 399, Introduction to Astronomical Research, begin discussing with faculty potential projects warranting research. It’s a course in which I can control the depth and breadth of the research, and from which findings of many projects have been published in peer reviewed astrophysical journals.”
'‘The type of opportunities and challenges I seek are many of the ones Michigan offers. That is why I’m attracted to your unique qualities.'“
There are no wrong approaches as long as the essay matches your interests with what the school is offering in a particular major. Make that connection well and you’re well on your way.