What are the frequently asked questions in an essay?
Updated on Aug 1, 2016 - 6:43 p.m. IST by Manashjyoti
Applications Open Now
Study Abroad Opportunities with IELTS

Frequently asked questions in an essay - A unique thing about the screening systems adopted by top universities in countries like the US is that they don’t just focus on candidates with the most-brilliant technical and academic minds; but also weigh them on their ability to align with the motto of the university and be positive change agents in the world. So, in addition to the traditional way of evaluating candidates based on previous academic coursework (including GPA) and scores of standardized tests (including GRE and SAT), universities also want prospective students to submit application essays. These essays essentially help admissions counselors to identify the person sitting behind those statistics.


If you are keen on learning the art of writing application essays for universities, a good way to begin is to first check what are the frequently asked application essay questions. It is because going through the commonly asked application questions and calibrating their frequency, you would be able to understand what the counselors are trying to get out of you and also how they expect you to respond?


Frequently asked questions in an essay: What you need to know


One trend that emerges when comparing essay questions from different universities is that almost each university has its own individual style and pattern. For example, MIT, one of the top universities in the US, asks applicants to write up to as many as five essays (100-250 word). This means you don’t have to write one long essay, something you would do when applying to Harvard, US. Interestingly, Harvard not only requires you to write a single essay, but there is no word limit. This can be dicey for many students, who may get confused as to how much to write and what to write. For the benefit of these students and others, we have listed a few common application essay questions asked in the essay section at Harvard and MIT, and also provide them with insight on these questions.


Application essay questions asked at Harvard:

  1. Essay question for the 2015 MBA batch at Harvard:

As we review your application, what more would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program?

  1. Essay Question 2014-15 Harvard Business School:

You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy?


It shouldn’t take you long to see that the two questions are in fact identical, with the university trying to fish information about you, the real you, without the PR mask that we all tend to wear. So, when writing these essays, try to shine the flashlight on your personality and show your humane side. Show that you are much more than mere statistics and are the owner of a wholesome personality.


Also, when confronted with application essays like that of Harvard, where there is no word limit mentioned, try to be somewhere around the 700-word range. This way there will be less chances of you filling the essay with irrelevant stuff, which in turn would make the essay nice and compact.


Generally, when writing an application essay for universities, creativity is always welcome, but you don’t have to strive hard for it. It is because the admissions counselors aren’t there to judge your writing or creative skills, as much as they are concerned in knowing what is your take on life, what are your passions, what inspires you, and such other things that have a personal undertone.


Here are a few application essay questions asked at MIT:


  • We know you lead 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. (100 words or fewer)
  • 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)
  • What attributes of your personality are you most proud of, and how has it impacted your life so far? This could be your creativity, effective leadership, sense of humor, integrity, or anything else you’d like to tell us about.(200-250 words)
  • Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (200-250 words)
  • Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words)

Analysis of the frequently asked questions in an essay:


The above five are essay questions that you may expect when applying at MIT. Of course, you may not find the exact sequencing of the questions ever year, or the wordings may be different, but the underlying theme remains the same. Like, if you pick the first question on this list, it enquires whether you do anything for the fun of doing it. The questionaire here is interested to find out the inner dynamics that is at play inside your mind –that is why you do certain things and in a certain way. And based on your response, they will decide whether you can be a part of their larger family.


The second question, here, is another trap, because it puts the onus on the student to prove that he is clear about his career goals, or at least knows what he wants to do with his career. Also, the question without saying it directly, prods you to extol the virtues of the university while also cautioning you not to be an opportunist. So, when writing an application essay bear these points in mind.


The remaining three questions also focus on specific areas of your personality in different ways and are also a little longer (250 words); the first two require you to answer crisply. While writing application essays for US universities, ensure that you don’t give a general description, but be particular. The mantra should be: don’t tell, but show!


Application essays for universities: Harvard vs. MIT


When comparing the frequently asked questions in an essay between Harvard and MIT, one major difference observed is in the number of questions asked. However, even though Harvard asks only one question, it includes many components of the questions that are asked by MIT. For example, even though the Harvard question doesn’t even hint at enquiring about your leadership skills or your ability to perform despite adversities, if you are applying for an MBA program at the university, you are expected to write something along those lines to prove your eligibility. Likewise, if you are applying to an engineering program, you will have to convince by logical arguments why you want to study at Harvard, may be by alluding to its stupendous research capabilities.


Application essays for universities: Which format is easy or difficult?

Difficulty in this case is in the eye of the beholder. If you take the case of MIT and consider the common application essay questions, you are given five questions and you have to answer each one of them individually. This can be both difficult and easy. It is easy because you don’t have to spend time managing a large chunk of text and grappling about its coherency and flow. Besides, you also have the luxury of knowing what aspects of your personality you need to write: leadership, integrity and resourcefulness. On the downside, you may run out of ideas and anecdotes to fill all the five blocks, or may not have enough to discuss your more renowned virtues at length!


Meanwhile, if you have to attend just one essay question, you can focus on a few qualities that you think that best represents you. On the flip side, if the points you have included aren’t relevant or good enough, you would miss an opportunity to create an impact.


Stay tuned to www.studyabroad.careers360.com for more news and updates on Application Essays

Statement of Purpose

Applications Open Now

Study Abroad Opportunities with IELTS
Study Abroad Opportunities wi...
Arden University, Berlin
Arden University, Berlin
PTE- Pearson Test of English
PTE- Pearson Test of English
View All Application Forms
Never miss exam and college updates Login
The question have been saved in answer later, you can access it from your profile anytime. Access now

Download the Careers360 App on your Android phone

Regular exam updates, QnA, Predictors, College Applications & E-books now on your Mobile

Careers360 App
150M+ Students
24,000+ Colleges
500+ Exams
1500+ E-books