The cynical reason is, bluntly, they want to accept students who will accept their offers of admissions. The higher the percent of students accepted that go there, the less they have to accept from the wait list, the lower their acceptance rate, and the better they look.
The other reason is less self-serving, and it’s more about the students. Schools are not just looking to accept the best, the brightest, and most interesting, but also to find the students who are the best matches. They want students who will thrive on campus, not transfer out (which will hurt their rankings!), and who will contribute to campus life.
The moral is, these essays are important, so spend some time on them. If the school that you’re writing about is actually your safety, don’t let it show in your essay! Here are some tips to help:
Don’t recycle the same essay for all the schools. I know it’s tempting—You’re busy and writing these essays is not a day on the beach. This essay, though, is all about showing how much you want to go to, and why you are a good match for, the SPECIFIC school. If you recycle, the essay will be broad and unspecific, and could end up hurting you.
Do talk about yourself. I can’t stress it enough: it’s an essay about why YOU will thrive at the college. They admissions committee already knows their school is great, what they want to know is why the school is great for you, and you for them. So, write about how you will contribute to campus life, how you can enrich the community, how you will take advantage of the college’s offerings, and how the college will help you to achieve your goals. If you visited the school, write about your personal reflections on the campus, students, and classes. Anecdotes and details are always the best approach. Show the admissions committee why you are the perfect match!
Don’t bash other schools. Negativity is never good, and won’t impress anyone. In fact, it’s best to mention other schools at all. Be positive, and focus exclusively on why this school is so perfect for you. Leave the comparisons out.
Do talk about clubs, sports, curriculum, departments, professors, student body diversity, size, campus community, internships, study abroad, research opportunities, campus culture, class size, and location. There are more than enough specifics you can mention to fill this short essay!
Don’t talk about parties, tailgates, easiness of professors, or hotness of the girls/guys on campus. Maybe those are factors in why you want to go to the school, but that will not impress anyone on the admissions committee!