26 Weeks to College: Week 10

This week you're tackling the really-short-answer questions. They look easy, but looks can deceive.
October 11, 2019

This week we're sharing tips and tricks specifically around the questions on the Common Application (or any other college application) that require really short answers. We're defining that as an answer not much longer than a text message or a tweet. You should be able to own these — they are tailor-made for your generation!

But approaching these questions can feel tricky for many applicants. Are admissions officers trying to trap you when they ask about your favorite author, what historical moment you wish you'd witnessed, or your nutty idea for a gadget? Do they really care that Toy Story is your favorite movie? YES, because that gives them a window into your genuine personality. If you're answering these questions correctly, you are not too focused on what you think an admissions officer wants to hear (which rarely ends well), but rather you're focused on having an authentic answer, because that's the answer they're really looking for here. That's how you "think like an admissions officer."



  • Finalize your 3rd application.
  • Revise your 4th application.
  • Draft your 5th application.
  • Continue working on supplementary materials, and exercise judgment about whether to include them at all. (See Week 3.)
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to a place near you. Sign up, and add those meetings to your calendar.
  • Draft your 3rd scholarship application.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. (See Week 5.)


  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.


  1. Link to your story. So how do you "be yourself" in the context of really short answers? As always, go back to your story from Week 2. Use your really short answers to emphasize or reinforce a particular theme about yourself in your application, or to bring out a side of yourself that hasn't yet made it into your application but that needs to be there.
  2. Personalize the clichés. Do you think you're the only applicant naming blue as your favorite color? Not a chance. But that's perfectly OK, as long as you personalize your answer. Examples: "My favorite color is the blue of my mother's eyes." "My favorite color is royal blue." "My favorite color is blue because I am red-green color blind, and blue is the only color that I see as others see it." There are infinite ways to personalize your answers. You can check out some other techniques in the free version of Inline.
  3. Revisit your essay. Now that you've finalized three applications, consider whether you want to revisit your essay in order to realign it. All the pieces of each application should fit together to tell your story. Is there anything you could be tweaking in your essay to make the parts of the application fit together better?
  4. Watch your tone. Tone can be problematic with really short answers. What might strike you as sophistication or dry wit might strike an admissions officer as arrogance or negativity. You don't want the admissions officer to draw the wrong inferences about you just because of tone. The best way to check your tone is to ask someone who knows you well to read all of your really short answers together. You've struck the right tone if that person starts smiling and responds, "That's so you!"— in a good way.

Anna Ivey is one of the founders of Inline. An experienced admissions consultant and a frequently cited media expert on the topic of college admissions, she is also co-author of the book How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

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