52 Weeks to College: Week 39

How to Tackle Really Short Answers in Your College Application
October 4, 2021

Really short answer questions? What are those?

They are the REALLY short answer questions, meaning the answer is not much than a text message or a tweet.

Usually they require you to answer in a single word or phrase. You should be able to own these — they are tailor-made for your generation!

Unfortunately, many of you get a bit paralyzed when answering these questions because you think they are a trick or a trap.

You’re afraid that there are wrong answers to question like, “Who’s your favorite author?” or “What historical moment do you wish you’d witnessed?”

You can’t really believe that they truly care that Toy Story is your favorite movie. (Nevermind that they should be asking you about your favorite video game, not your favorite movie…)

But we’re here to tell you that they DO because these are the answers that help them get a window into your genuine personality and what makes you truly one-of-a-kind.

The only way to go wrong with your answers to these questions is to try to game them or to be offensive. Other than that, you’re good. And if you want to go from good to great, keep reading and get a few more pro tips.

If you're new to the 52 Weeks series, don't panic! You can get caught up with previous weeks on our blog. You've probably already done a good chunk of that work on your own, but if you haven't, you can still start from the beginning and work your way through the to-dos. It will save you time in the long run, and improve your results!



  • Draft your answers to the really short answer questions for all of your applications. These should be easy to knock out.
  • Revise your short answers that you drafted last week and draft another 2-3.
  • Continue working on your essays. If you’ve been on the three-week writing cycle, you should be really cranking them out and should have no problem finishing them all well before the deadlines.
  • Finalize your second set of Why College X/Why Major X essays and revise your third set. If your template is working well, you should be able to get them all done in three sets. If you need to tweak your template, go back to Week 36 for tips.
  • Keep checking for virtual college events hosted by the colleges on your list and prepare for and attend those on your calendar. Review our tips and tricks in Week 31 for why we recommend that you make it a priority to attend these events.
  • Finalize your third scholarship application. Most applicants will not complete more than three scholarship applications, so we’re winding down the writing cycle as you close in on finishing three. If you have more to complete, just keep going with the three-week writing cycle!


  • 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. Look to your story for the best answer. Often you will have more than one good answer to the really short answer questions. Which one is the best of these? The one that reveals something related to your story. Go back to your story from Week 25. Pick an answer that emphasizes or reinforces something essential about you or shows 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.

3. 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.

Get more essay help right within your copy of Inline.

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 college admissions bible How to Prepare a Standout College Application. Learn more about Anna's background here.

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