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College Applications in a Twitter Age

The college essay is a longtime staple of the admissions process. But increasingly schools are asking students to provide shorter responses on their applications. Learn about this trend and get perspective on responding to the briefer - and sometimes quirkier - prompts now found in college applications.

By Douglas Fehlen

how to write short answer college application questions

Quirky Questions Find Way to College Admissions

The college admissions game is a serious one with high stakes. Admissions committees are making (literally) life-altering decisions when they say 'yea' or 'nay' to applicants. Given what's on the line, one might expect colleges to rely exclusively on application criteria of a serious nature.

Increasingly, however, college applications feature quirky short answer questions that have little to do with a student's qualifications or academic interests. Schools are posing such questions as 'How do you feel about Wednesday?' and 'If any of these three inanimate objects could talk, how would your room, computer or car describe you?' These prompts are not from the application of some clown college. The first question was asked by the University of Chicago and the second by the Haas School of Business at the University of California - Berkeley.

Please Respond in the Form of a Tweet

If students are likely to be confused by these prompts, another breed of short answer question may have them positively flummoxed. The University of Maryland asks applicants to write 'My favorite thing about last Tuesday' in only 25 words. And Columbia University wants to know student opinions on 'The best movie of all time,' also in no more than 25 words. Other colleges have similar short (short!) answer questions that ask for answers that will fit in a single Tweet.

Quirky college admissions questions have inspired strong feelings among students. Some appreciate the levity of the prompts and the brevity expected in responses. They see less serious questions as a way to showcase their personality and differentiate themselves from other applicants who may have similar grades and test scores. Not all students, however, are as appreciative. Many express intense feelings of stress over not knowing how to answer questions in the 'best way.'

Applicants Being Asked to Adapt

Students are not being asked to keep things brief only on the short-answer portion of college applications. The Common Application, accepted by more than 400 higher ed institutions, this year implemented a 250- to 500-word limit for the college admissions essay. Previously there was no cap on the essay, and students could respond in as much depth as they wished.

Some students have expressed frustration that they're being asked to edit down their college essays. Changes to short-answer questions have also left many students feeling unsettled, with quirkier prompts causing particular consternation. Admissions officials have responded that there is no 'right way' to answer these application questions. They suggest prospective students have fun with the prompts, avoiding sentiments obviously meant to impress for more casual responses that open up a window into who they are ... like a Tweet.

Social media sites like Twitter are not only influencing college applications. Learn how social media are being adapted for the college classroom.

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