Short answer questions are those that ask for an answer of 250 words or less.
Some colleges have only short answer questions (the University of California and MIT among them), and others use them as supplemental questions in addition to one or two essays. For those colleges, besides the Why College X or Why Major X questions (already covered in Week 10), the most common short answer question is this one:
Please briefly tell us more about one of your extracurricular activities or a volunteer or work experience. (150 words)
Believe it or not, it is often these short answer questions that separate the true standout applicants from the LMOs ("Like Many Others"), so you need to give these short answers just as much effort as you do the full-length essay.
1. Answer the question. Colleges spend a lot of time deciding which questions to ask. Read the question carefully and make sure you answer the question that is asked. If they ask you to elaborate on two activities, don't write about one or three; write about two. If they ask you to describe a notable quirk you have, that’s what you should address. It is as simple as that.
2. Make one well-developed point only. There are really two tips here. First, make only one point (you don't have room for more than one). Second, develop the one point you make well. For any question that relates to extracurricular activities or work experience, your well-developed point is all about demonstrating the "Core Four"—passion, talent, initiative, and impact. The Core Four should form the foundation of your activities list and resume. You can read more about the Core Four in Week 2.
3. Be specific. Details distinguish you from everyone else, and they make your answer come alive. As you are composing your short answer, look for details that don't show up elsewhere on your application. It is much better to add an enriching detail than to try and sneak in another more generalized idea. And definitely do not waste your precious word count in the short answer restating what you've already said.
4. Observe the rules for formal writing. Short answers are not text messages or Snapchat messages. They are not outlines or lists. They are full-fledged sentences and paragraphs and should observe the formal rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
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.