The short essays for your college application are tricky. With only 35-250 words, you have so little room to reveal important aspects of yourself to a complete stranger.
In this blog, we’re listing our four best tips for rocking the short essay section on a college application. Then, we’re going to use those tips to dive into some example short essays from elite universities.
CORRECTION/DISCLAIMER: Always double check essay prompts and lengths in your application itself as they are subject to change. Please note the first MIT essay in video is 250 words max NOT 100 words.
Tip I: Write Long then Cut in Half
The biggest issue students have when starting their short essays for a college application is that they don’t know how to keep their essays under the word limit. What most students end up doing is trying to write the essay with the word limit in mind and that causes students to not say everything they want to say.
Instead, we recommend you write the essay at first not paying attention to the word limit. Once everything you want to say is on the page, you can begin to revise and edit the essay down. Your end result will be more coherent and higher quality than if you tried to write it under word count from the beginning.
Tip II: Every Essay Should Have a Central Theme
There should be a clear takeaway out of every college application essay. If you have too many ideas going on in such a short essay, your reader will leave feeling confused and not fully understanding who you are as a person.
When someone reads your application, they are giving you maybe eight minutes of their life. They don’t have time to be confused. In these short essays, you must give them a clear snippet of your life that has a clear message about who you are.
Tip III: Have an Agenda
The purpose of the short essays is to say something about yourself you haven’t already said. Don’t rewrite things you’ve discussed in other sections. Take the opportunity to share a new facet of yourself.
Tip IV: Find Your “Zing”
“Zing” is that extra flavor or punch that gives your essay a boost and makes the reader ponder it even after they’ve finished reading it. Everyones “zing” is different. It will come when you are being your most genuine and interesting self.
Now that we’ve discussed the four essential tips to follow in a short essay, we can dive into some practice examples from a few top universities.
Stanford Short Essays
- In 50 words, what is the most significant challenge that society faces today?
Don’t just simply write ‘global warming’ and call it a day. Yes, global warming is a significant challenge, but this doesn’t reveal anything about who you are as a person and as a student. Don’t just identify the question and solve it. Instead, put your own point of view into the conversation. Why do you believe global warming is the most significant challenge? How was global warming affected your life and the lives around you? How have you dedicated your time to fighting global warming?
2. In 50 words, what historical moment do you wish you could have witnessed?
Similar to the first question, don’t just write ‘MLK’s I Have A Dream Speech’ and leave it at that.
Keeping in mind Tip #4, add a “zing” into this question. Maybe talk about a historical moment many people don’t know about. Take the opportunity to teach your reader something new.
3. In 50 words, briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family.
Remembering Tip #3, don’t list activities you’ve already mentioned before. Write something new that shows a new side of yourself. And remember to have the main idea you are trying to convey. Perhaps you are trying to show teamwork through your participation on your cross country team. Write a short story about your time on the team that shows your dedication to teamwork.
4. Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford.
The reader can tell if you copy and paste from the school’s website. Don’t prove you’ve read the course catalog and memorized a few professor names. Show your reader you truly want to go to Stanford, not that you can type their name into Google.
Yale Short Essays
- In 35 words, you are teaching a Yale course. What is it called?
This is a really fun question that allows you to be creative and clever. First, research how typical class names at Yale are structured to understand the vernacular. Once you have that down, reiterate their name structure and think of a class you’d really love to teach!
MIT Short Essays
- We know you live a busy life full of activities many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. 200-250 words
This essay is a perfect opportunity to reveal a characteristic of yourself that hasn’t had the opportunity to shine yet. If you want to show MIT you are a kind, caring person for example but you haven’t been able to do so yet, this is the time!
2. Although you may not yet know what you want to major in, which department or program at MIT appeals to you and why? 100 words or fewer.
MIT wants to see you have a deep passion or interest that can be cultivated at the university. Don’t just share an internship you did one summer. Show your fascination and curiosity by explaining WHY you find this passion so fascinating.
Think of these college application short essays as tiny short stories to write that show off your personality! All the university is looking for in these essays is who you are as a person and who you will be on campus. If you show your authentic, true self, you can’t lose.
Curious about what makes a great long essay, or personal statement? Check out our blog, “How to write a WOW college essay or personal statement.”