How To Answer Vague College Essay Prompts

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Teddy Selverian
Teddy Selverian

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There are many questions on a college application that may seem incredibly open-ended. Some are not straightforward, so it can feel like they are meant to trick you. But really, these questions are designed to give the you the opportunity to express your creativity and your passions. Let’s discuss how to approach and ace vague college essay prompts. With the right framework, you can knock it out of the park!

Many colleges ask you to “give us your top 10” or “a list of your favorites” and many students are left saying, “Top 10 of what? Favorite what?!?” It can be easy to stress over these questions and try to tailor your answer to what you think that specific college wants to hear. But there are better ways to go about it. 

 1. There is no wrong answer.

Just because you are applying to become a Chemistry major, doesn’t mean you have to list your top 10 favorite elements on the periodic table. You can just as easily list your favorite songs, NBA players, types of dogs, or movie characters. There is no designed direction for you to take! With this question the college is giving you an opportunity to be as creative and original as possible. With any vague college essay prompts, think about what part of your personality you can demonstrate, and go from there.

2. Respond in ways that reflect who you are.

Whatever your answer may be, you should make sure that it is reflective of your interests, skills and/or passions. It should be another aspect of your application that helps tell your story. For my application to Wake Forest I provided a list of the top 10 places that were most meaningful to me. In the interview I was actually asked about my list and to explain it in more detail. I was able to go through each location I listed and describe how it shaped me as a person. I was able to explain my three week home-stay in Salamanca, Spain and how it reflected my passion for travel as well as my interest in learning about new cultures. This gives the college insight to who you are and what you value.

3. Try to differentiate yourself.

Most questions on college applications are straightforward and the format of the student’s answers varies only slightly. When colleges add a vague question on their application, you should take advantage of the opportunity to separate yourself from other candidates. Rather than spending time thinking about what the college wants you to say, you should spend that time trying to be as original as possible! You don’t need to make something up, since you still want to make your answer relevant to your interests. But innovation shows the college that you are an outside-of-the-box thinker while still adding to your own personal story.

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