closeup of a young girl writing in a notebook

Apply Like a Pro: Examples of Short-Answer College Application Questions

If you’ve made it here, chances are you’ve reached one of the more daunting parts of college applications: the written questions.

There are three different ways you can apply to UIUC: the Coalition App, Common App, and UIUC’s own application, myIllini. Each platform has different essay prompts, which we’ll save for another day. In this blog, we’ll instead focus on something they all have in common: the short-answer questions.

As part of your application, you’ll have to respond to two to three short-answer prompts about why you picked your intended major(s), each with a word limit of 150. Sound difficult? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered!

Disclaimer: Does something seem funny about the “majors” we’ve chosen to write about? Listening to Music is a great hobby, and while you may learn about DNA Analysis in some of your classes, the majors we’ve written about are imaginary! We did this so we could show you how to best structure your responses and have a little bit of fun. Okay, okay, fun might be somewhat of a subjective term in this case. Hey, at least we’re trying.


Prompt 1: In the past 3-4 years, what experiences have you had (inside or outside the classroom) related to your selected first-choice major or academic interest?

young man listening to music covered with orange and blue light

Example 1: Music Listening Major

I played the triangle for four years in my high school band, and through that was exposed to genres of music I would’ve otherwise never heard. Playing the triangle was fulfilling, but I wanted to create a space specifically for listening to music. During my sophomore year, I formed a club for music listeners called “Hear There Everywhere” and have served as the president ever since. As president, I organized meetings, held outreach events to engage new members, and implemented a Playlist Friday program, where teachers play personalized playlists created by the club on Friday afternoons. I’ve always had a passion for listening to music and “Hear There Everywhere” has given me a platform to share the benefits with other. From my experiences in high school, I know the Music Listening major at UIUC is the perfect fit for me.

Example 2: DNA Analysis Major

My high school biology teacher taught me the importance of curiosity, creativity, and integrity in scientific endeavors. She inspired me to continue taking science classes throughout high school to learn as much as I could. By the start of senior year, I knew I wanted to work in a science field, but it was a trip to a forensics lab last summer that helped me decide I want to specialize in DNA Analysis. On the trip, the first place we visited was the DNA lab, where I was able to speak to the lab technician about different techniques for analyzing DNA samples. He showed me the equipment and explained how proper analysis is vital in crime investigations. After witnessing biology used in this manner, I am certain I want to pursue a career in forensics, starting with studying DNA Analysis at UIUC.


Prompt 2: How does your first-choice major relate to your future career goals?

Example 1: Music Listening Major

Listening to music has been a passion of mine since I was very young, and I want to share that passion with others. Through the Music Listening major, I hope to build a foundation of knowledge that will support me as I pursue a career as a professional music listener. As a professional listener, I want to become a strong voice within the field that not only pushes the boundaries of what types of music are listened to, but also advocates for the inclusion of listening as an important part of the music industry. Listening is a severely underrepresented piece of the music community, and my main career goal is to bring more recognition to musics listeners everywhere. Not many Music Listening programs exist, so by taking part in this major I hope to establish my voice in the movement of change sweeping the music industry.

scientists analyzing a DNA sequence

Example 2: DNA Analysis Major

DNA Analysis is one of the most important branches of forensics science. By choosing this major, I will learn hands-on skills that will help me find a job in a DNA lab. My ultimate career goal is to us the power of biology to help other people, and I want to do that by engaging in research and analysis to improve DNA handling in crime investigations. With this major, not only will I learn the physical techniques being used, I will also gain knowledge of the ethics behind DNA analysis and storage. Learning about the moral debate occurring in the field from professors engaging in everyday research will make me a well-rounded scientist. I want to make forensics a more equitable field, and I believe the combination of hard science and ethics taught through the DNA Analysis major will help me accomplish this goal.


See, that wasn’t so bad! We hope these short-answer college application questions seem a little bit clearer now, and you have a better idea of what to write when you sit down to craft your own responses.

Overall, the key to effective short-answer college application questions is to be clear, be concise, and to always be yourself. Happy writing!

UIUC Admissions

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2 comments

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  • Haha I can’t say I wouldn’t have at least considered ‘Music Listening’ as my major if it wasn’t an imaginary one.

    Thanks for the tips and examples. It helped write the first few words of my essay…which is always the most difficult part.

  • Us too! You’re very welcome, and we’re glad our examples helped. Hope you have a great year, Ashvin!