A How-To Guide for the Short Answer Questions for Highly-Selective Colleges
7. DON’T use adjectives that repeat info already clear on your application.
Examples: motivated, hardworking, determined.
Yup. You and every other student with a great GPA.
Which reminds me:
8. DO make sure your adjectives are all clearly different and interesting:
In the example above, they all basically mean the same thing. So make sure they reveal something interesting about you. Tell me whom you’d rather meet:
Someone who is “passionate, persistent, and extroverted?”
Or would you rather meet an “ardent, panglossian visionary?”
Or maybe the “gregarious horse-whispering philosopher queen?”
I have questions for that last girl.
Oh, and hey:
9. DON’T worry so much about pissing people off.
I’m doing that in this guide, using sarcasm and phrases like “pissing people off.”
Let me clarify: Students often ask me, “Is [this] okay? Is [that] okay? I don’t want them to think that I’m too [blank].”
Oh, you mean you don’t want them to think that you have a personality.
I encourage students to take (calculated) risks on these. To push boundaries. To be, I don’t know, funny? Human? Compare, for example, the following answers:
(Yale) What’s something you can’t live without?
The Tony Stark-made arc reactor in my chest.
Me: YESSS, LOVE IT.
Which reminds me:
10. Don’t check your humor at the door.
If you’re funny in life, feel free to be funny in your short answers. If you’re not funny, no need to start now.
Irony is one of the best ways to demonstrate intelligence and sensitivity to nuance.
Check out these just-okay and better examples, all for Yale 2015:
Just Okay Answers:
The two qualities I most admire in other people are… ambition and drive
(SMH. Same thing, bro.)
I am most proud of… my passion.
(There’s that word again. Also, it’s too abstract in this context. Show, don’t tell.)
I couldn’t live without… my cell phone.
(Yup, you and everyone else.)
Who or what inspires you… the sunset.
What do you wish you were better at being or doing? Answering these questions.
(Heads-up: meta answers are pretty common.)
Most Yale freshmen live in suites of four to six students. What would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite? Good times and great conversation.
(Oh look I’m asleep again.)
Better Answers: (written by a student who was accepted to Yale in 2015):
The two qualities I most admire in other people are… Spock’s logic & Kirk’s passion
I am most proud of… Only cried once during The Notebook (maybe twice)
I couldn’t live without… The Tony Stark-made arc reactor in my chest
Who or what inspires you? Shia LaBeouf yelling “Just Do It”
What do you wish you were better at being or doing? Dancing-especially like Drake, Hotline Bling style
Most Yale freshmen live in suites of four to six students. What would you contribute to the dynamic of your suite? A Magical Mystery Tour of Beatles keyboard songs
You totally want to meet this guy, right?
Make the reader totally want to meet you.
A few final tips:
11. DO: Offer a variety of things you’re interested in.
If you love science and wrote a supplemental essay about science, don’t answer with 20 journals, websites, or publications you’ve read on… science.
Show your interest not in astrophysics but also literature, philosophy, Star Trek, programming, and Godfather 1 and 2 (but not 3).
Here’s one more great set of short answers (for the Columbia supplemental essays):
List a few words or phrases that describe your ideal college community. (150 words or less):
One that allows me to fearlessly voice my opinions and act on my values with organizations such as Students for Human Rights.
A community that encourages me to explore foreign nations and religions through travel programs to foreign nations such as Israel through Columbia Hillel.
One that advances research in international medical practice through publications such as the Journal of Global Health.
A community where importance is given to the arts, with an entire buffet of dance organizations for me to choose from.
One that gives due importance to heartfelt (and cheesy in a good way) traditions such as the Tree Lighting Ceremony.
One that would take the care to distract me from an organic chemistry final with a band concert in the library.
Most importantly, one that is in extremely close proximity to New York pizza.
List the titles of the books you read for pleasure that you enjoyed most in the past year. (150 words or less)
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad; Turtles All The Way Down, John Green; Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen; To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee; Unfinished Gestures: Devadasis, Memory, and Modernity in South India, Davesh Soneji; Pachinko, Min Jin Lee; 1984, George Orwell; The Noonday Demon, Andrew Solomon; Natyasastra and National Unity, Padma Subrahmanyam
In short, use the other parts of your application to show you are hard-working and responsible. Once you’ve done that, you can have a little fun here.
Another great resource: How to Write the Stanford Roommate Essay