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How To Answer An Essay Question For College

I feel your pain.

Can you do that in like fifteen words? You can. How?

2. DO: Use all the space allotted to explain your answer.

Pro-Tip: You’re often given space for thirteen words for a short answer. So use it up!

In other words, answer "Why," even if the prompt doesn't ask you to. Why?

Because each answer is an opportunity to get to know you better and sometimes the takeaway isn’t clear or obvious from the thing itself. Example:

Question: (from USC) What's your favorite food? 
Just-okay answer: “Tacos.”

Your reader might read this and think: Um, great. You... live in California?

Better answer: "My abuela's birria tacos--recipe has been passed down for generations." 

#culture #family #goats (Because that's what birria is: goats. #themoreyouknow)

Another example of a just-okay answer:

Q: Who is your role model?
A: Louis Zamperini

Reader thinks: Great, no idea who that is. 

Don't make the reader Google your answer. She won't.

Instead, write: 

Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini, who survived concentration camps and overcame severe alcoholism. 


3. DON’T make the short reason you provide (or any of your answers) super obvious.

Example for USC question: 

Q: What’s your favorite website? 
A: Instagram (social media photo-sharing site)

Yup. That's... pretty much what Instagram is. Thanks for telling me zero about you.

Another bad example (a Stanford admission essay example):

Q: What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?
A: The Big Bang. It was the beginning of our universe and it would have been amazing to see that. 

Yup, that’s… what that was. (Also, fyi, pretty much everyone writes “The Big Bang” for this question.)

Better answer (by a student accepted in 2015): 

A: I want to watch George Washington go shopping. I have an obsession with presidential trivia, and the ivory-gummed general is far and away my favorite. Great leaders aren’t necessarily defined by their moments under pressure; sometimes tiny decisions are most telling--like knickers or pantaloons?


4. DO get specific.

Q: What inspires you?

Non-specific example: Documentaries. They are my favorite source of inspiration

(Side note: Don't sound like a robot.)

Better answer: Documentaries. "Forks Over Knives" made me go vegan; "Born into Brothels" inspired my Gold Award.


5. DON’T for your favorite quote, say something that you'd find on one of those "Success" posters or a Hallmark card. 

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