I recently published How to Write Your USC Short Answers, and have received great feedback and follow-up questions. And, because the University of North Carolina (Go Tar Heels!) has a similar section on their application, I thought I'd walk prospective applicants through my brainstorming process.
The UNC-Chapel Hill application asks for both a 400-500 word supplemental essay:
"In addition to the essay you provided with your Common Application, please choose one of the prompts below and respond in an essay of 400-500 words.
And your 10-word (or less) answer to the following questions:
1. Biggest little worry:
As with the USC short answers, this supposed to be a quick, fun way for them to get to know you -- but a lot of students really stress over it!
Remember: there are no right or wrong answers. The best way to approach these questions is this.
First, ask yourself, do I have an answer to this question? Does something immediately come to mind? If so, just write that! Easy!
But, if you're not sure, brainstorm. Come up with at least five possible answers for each question before picking your favorite.
If you really can't think of an answer, reframe the problem. Instead of thinking, How can I answer this question, ask yourself, What do I want them to know about me that they don't, and is there a way for me to incorporate that into this question?
That said, here is my brainstorm, with notes, for my ("my") UNC Short Answers. Note: DO NOT copy these answers, even with slight modifications, on your application. I'm tight with the UNC admissions people, and they will know if you cheat. Just use these for inspiration to help you get started.
1. Biggest little worry:
I've had a lot of students ask me, "What is a biggest little worry?" I say, it totally depends on you. But here are a few images/ideas to get you started:
Now, it's your turn! Brainstorm! Five good ideas, now! Here are mine:
Am I a good climber, or am I just tall?
Nooooooo! They left a voicemail! Why couldn't they just text?
If I only play pickup, will my fundamentals get rusty?
Surfing is warmer in summer; waves are better in winter. :(
My microbiome - research shows it affects my health and mood.
Any of these would be a good option for me. The "voicemail" option probably says the least about me (who doesn't hate voicemails?), so I'd cross that one off. I like the one about surfing, especially because most girls don't surf, which I think says something about me. However, since I'll have indicated an interest in biology on my application, with coursework to support it, "microbiome" might be the best choice for me.
2. Note to my future self:
Remember: unless you have an answer you HAVE to write, come up with at least five ideas before choosing one. Here are mine:
Please send a copy of Gray's Sports Almanac.
I hope you're still keeping up with your blog, TheHappyTalent.com!
You've finished your Rescue Diver training.You an instructor yet?
Did the time you spent farming help with your degree?
Have you earned your Olympic gold medal yet?
I think the Back to the Future reference (Sports Almanac) is cute, but it doesn't say much about me, other than that I like BTTF. The Happy Talent on is good because it's a chance to direct them to something other than work/school that I've created. The third option shows I like scuba diving, and plan to continue advancing my certifications. The farming one tells them something about my Iowa upbringing, and the Olympics tells them about my future athletic goals.
Of these, I like Happy Talent and Olympics best. At this point, I'd ask a few friends which they prefer. Two heads is better than one, right?
3. Fun fact:
This is so open-ended! You can say anything you want here. Think about the things about yourself that are the most impressive or important to you. Make it into a fun fact. So, for me, I would say:
I hope to win the gold in the 2016 Olympics.
My blog, TheHappyTalent.com, is FULL of fun facts! Check it!
I'm a Rescue Diver with a Search and Recovery Specialty.
I love theater! I can't act, so I write plays.
For me, basketball is as intellectual as it is physical.
Ask me anything about sand dune ecology! #5amFieldTrips #MarineBio
So for me. If I went with something sports-related in a previous answer, I would probably go for something intellectual or artistic here. Unless sports were totally, majorly MY thing. Same for the blog -- if I've already linked them to something I created, I don't need to do it again here.
I would probably go with the sand dune ecology one. I like that it uses hashtags -- and they totally only count as one word each!
4. Most fun I ever had:
Anything I wanted to say before, but couldn't or didn't, I could say here. Or, I could stick with the strategy of thinking about what I want them to know about me, and crafting a response around that. For example:
Sailing, scuba diving and studying all summer in the BVI!
The 2015 Exeter/Andover volleyball game. It was an epic showdown.
Raising puppies, horses, sheep and goats on my Iowa farm.
Using liftbags to raise a 70-pound toilet off a shipwreck.
Epic family road trip to Mt. Rushmore... and Wall Drug.
Any of these would be great, depending on how I want to complement my other answers or expand upon what I wrote in my Activities section. Because, honestly, none of these is the most fun I've ever had. They were all super fun and formative for me, in their own way. So you can take some liberties while remaining authentic.
5. Question I would most like answered:
Oh, so many! Where to start? Here are my ideas:
Will we ever create an accurate animal model for depression?
How can such smart people believe such stupid things?
Who sprayed shaving cream all over Grandma's bathroom, summer 1997?
Between outsourcing and automation, what is the future of work?
What is the best way to stop overfishing and poaching?
Who is the jerk who farted in my Nalgene?
The "farted in my Nalgene" one would certainly be memorable, but I'm not sure I want my application to be associated with farts. (It's still worth writing down during brainstorming, though!) I'd also eliminate "smart people/stupid things," because it's kind of vague, and I think I could do better. "Grandma's bathroom" is cute, but I think it might be fun to mention a real intellectual question I've thought about, so I'd go with "animal model" or "future of work."
So here's what my final application would look like:
1. Biggest little worry:
As I've said before, the Common App is full of opportunities to endear yourself to admissions officers. Don't let any go to waste.
Want to know more? Contact me or check out my Thoughts. And don't miss the following important articles:
Eva Glasrud completed her B.A. and M.A. at Stanford. She is now a college counselor and life coach for gifted youth.