4 Tips for Answering the Common App Short Answer Question

take control of your application

“Take control of the remaining components of your application”

When the Common Application went live last week, were you there?  Did you create your account, and fill in your biographical information?  After easily completing the first portion of the application, the stakes are higher when it’s time to put your own original thoughts on the page.

The Common Application short answer asks you to briefly elaborate on your extracurricular activities or work experience.  Specifically, briefly means using fewer than 1000 characters, or just more than 150 words.  Your answer will be truncated if it exceeds this limit. As you approach this portion of the application, here are a few things to consider.

Choose your topic wisely.  The correct choice isn’t necessarily the community service project you think the admissions committee would like to read about.  It isn’t always the sport in which you’ve set records or the club in which you were elected president.  Write about an activity (or hobby) that really makes you happy.

Elaborate rather than explain.  There is a key distinction between the two.  Spend some time thinking about WHY you spend time on this activity.  What makes it rewarding to you?  How do you feel when you participate?  Don’t write about the nuts and bolts of the activity, take the space a bit more personally and write about your relationship with your interest.

Avoid redundancy.  Consider your application as a complete entity.  What topics are you covering in your application?  If you’ve written your primary common application essay about an activity or interest, or even a person related to one, branch out for this short answer.  If you cover the same aspect of your life time and again, you’ve missed an opportunity to share something different.

Write and rewrite.  As an admissions officer, I found the short answers to be telling.  What kind of student really wrote this?  Often, they were one-draft wonders, with clear lack of thought, editing, and sometimes (in the paper application era) even mismatched ink.  Be certain that your short answer reflects the same thought and care you give to your personal statement.  Shorter doesn’t mean simpler, or sloppier.

By the time you begin to fill out the common application much of the information upon which you will be evaluated has already been completed:  your courses chosen, grades received, tests taken, and leadership elected.  Take control of the remaining components of your application and ensure that they represent your best work.

Whitney BruceBy Whitney Bruce, who has worked in college admissions since 1996. She has served as a Senior Assistant Director of Admissions (Washington U), Application Reader (University of Michigan), Assistant Director of College Counseling (private prep school in St. Louis), and an independent college counselor. She is happy to assist you with your college admissions applications.

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