Top Colleges That Have the Shortest Applications

Padya Paramita

Top Colleges That Have the Shortest Applications

Whether you’re absolutely packed with school, activities, and applications—or you don’t feel too confident in your writing skills—you’re here because you wish to find out which schools fall in the list of top colleges that have the shortest applications. While supplemental essays can certainly help admissions officers understand you better, they can also be time-consuming, and you may be confident enough in your grades, activities, and personal statement enough to vouch for your qualifications. 

In this blog, I’ve outlined colleges which are ranked within the top 50 of US News’ list of National Universities or Liberal Arts colleges that either require no writing supplements, or only require a short writing supplement with a word limit within 250-300 words.

No Writing Supplement

First, let’s take a look at the top colleges that have the shortest applications of all. The following table includes top schools which don’t have a writing supplement but require the Common Application essay. Alongside their names, I’ve included their location and acceptance rate so that you have an idea of how competitive they are. The final column in the table lists their most popular majors.

School Location Acceptance Rate Most Popular Mjaors/Fields
Bates College Lewiston, ME 14.1% Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Psychology; English Language and Literature/Letters; and Visual and Performing Arts
Colby College Watertown, ME 10% Social Sciences; Natural Resources and Conservation; Multi/Interdisciplinary Studies; Psychology; and Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Grinnell College Grinnell, Iowa 23% Social Sciences; Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services; Foreign Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics; and Physical Sciences.
Hamilton College Clinton, NY 16% Economics; Mathematics; Political Science and Government; Literature; and Hispanic and Latin American Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics.
Middlebury College Middlebury, VT 24% Economics; Computer Science; Neuroscience; Political Science and Government; and Environmental Studies
Northeastern University Boston, MA 19% Business, Management, Marketing, and Related Support Services; Engineering; Social Sciences; Health Professions and Related Programs; and Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Wesleyan University Middletown, CT 19.8% Social Sciences; Psychology; Area, Ethnic, Cultural, Gender, and Group Studies; Visual and Performing Arts; and English Language and Literature/Letters

Top Colleges With Only One Short Supplemental Essay

Next, we come to the next category of top colleges that have the shortest applications: schools which ask for only one short supplemental essay. Many schools might ask you to write one supplemental essay, but the word limit may be as long as 500-650 words. That’s like a whole Common App essay on its own! The following top colleges ask you to write a single supplemental essay of about 250-300 words.

Boston University

What about being a student at Boston University most excites you? (250 words)

This is a typical “why school” essay prompt. Research the website thoroughly, and choose aspects of Boston University that you can’t find anywhere else. Let the school know how you plan to take advantage of these resources to achieve your goals. Make sure the school knows that you’ve done your homework and aren’t just copy/pasting from your other essays or writing generic statements.

Brandeis University

Please include a short response to one of the three prompts below: (250 words)

Why would you like to attend Brandeis?

Justice Brandeis said, “Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.” Tell us how you would implement change in society that others might think impossible.

There are approximately 171,476 words in the English dictionary. Pick your favorite word and tell us why you picked it.

Since you have a choice between serious and more creative prompts, play to your strengths. If you’re well-versed in all that Brandeis has to offer, choose the first prompt. If you have been actively involved in creating change in your community—and have further plans of doing so—choose the second prompt. The third prompt might sound tricky, but it’s really just to get to know you. Don’t choose a common or broad word such as “food.” Instead, write about a word that has a specific meaning and can allow you to showcase your personality to admissions officers.

Northwestern University

Other parts of your application give us a sense for how you might contribute to Northwestern. But we also want to consider how Northwestern will contribute to your interests and goals. In 300 words or less, help us understand what aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you, and how you'll make use of specific resources and opportunities here.

Start with academics—what is your prospective major and how does the program at Northwestern suit your career plan more than any other top school? How have your specific experiences prepared you for a Northwestern education? Which courses can help you achieve your goals? Are there any research opportunities or study abroad programs that can enhance your ten-year plan? Anecdotes that vouch for your commitment to the discipline are important for your Northwestern supplemental essay. Follow the classic “show don’t tell” advice and discuss instances which demonstrate that you are not just dedicated to the field on paper.

Make sure to leave at least 120 words for which extracurriculars appeal to you. Since there isn’t room to rehash your activities list, focus on organizations at Northwestern which align with your interests. Showcase your enthusiasm for opportunities that await you outside the classroom with fellow Wildcats. The more specific to Northwestern your essay is, the better admissions officers can understand that you’re a strong fit for the school and how you would contribute to the community. 

Smith College 

Music means so many things to so many people. It can bring us joy, inspire us, validate us or heal us. Please tell us about a song or piece of music that is particularly meaningful to you and why. Please include the name of the song/piece and the artist. (200 words)

While this is a unique essay, it shouldn’t be something that makes you anxious or causes you to spend hours doing research. As one of the top colleges that have the shortest applications, Smith wants answers that will stand out. It isn’t the song that necessarily needs to be groundbreaking—the heart of this essay should lie in your explanation of why you’ve chosen it. Through understanding why you’ve chosen the song, admissions officers should get a sense of the kind of person you are, what your interests and goals may be, and how you can meaningfully contribute to the college.

Swarthmore College

Please choose ONE of the topics below and write a response (maximum 250 words) 

Swarthmore students’ worldviews are often forged by their prior experiences and exposure to ideas and values. Our students are often mentored, supported, and developed by their immediate context—in their neighborhoods, communities of faith, families, and classrooms. Reflect on what elements of your home, school, or community have shaped you or positively impacted you. How have you grown or changed because of the influence of your community?

We are inspired by students who are flexible in their approach to learning, who are comfortable with experimentation, and who are willing to take intellectual risks that move them out of their comfort zone. Reflect on a time that you were intellectually challenged, inspired, or took an intellectual risk—inside or outside of the classroom. How has that experience shaped you, and what questions still linger?

Why are you interested in applying to and attending Swarthmore?

You only have to pick between three questions and answer one prompt for the Swarthmore supplemental essay. The school wants to know about a community that’s shaped you, a challenge that has made an impact on you, or why you’ve picked Swarthmore. You need to demonstrate that you’re an intellectually curious and engaged individual and make sure that admissions officers know you’re a strong candidate for one of their coveted 400 spots. 

Swarthmore looks for students “who genuinely enjoy learning and are uncommonly curious,” as well as “students who are flexible in their approach to learning, who are comfortable with experimentation, and who are willing to take intellectual risks that move them out of their comfort zone.” Whichever prompt you choose, make sure you’ve shown that you would bring these qualities to campus.

Vanderbilt University

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (200-400 words)

You shouldn’t spend any more than 100 words naming and describing the activity for Vanderbilt. Admissions officers want to know less about what you do daily as part of the activity, and more on how it has helped hone your leadership skills and influenced who you are. The key focus of your response should lie in explaining why it has had such a powerful impact on you. Has this experience enriched your connection to your community? Is it connected to your interests and goals? Is there a direct connection between your ideal career and the role you played while participating in this particular extracurricular? Anecdotes are important in getting your point across successfully. Think about instances that emphasize why this activity matters so much to you. Carefully consider why it stands out over your other experiences.

Vassar College

Why are you applying to Vassar? (300 words) 

Again, make sure you’ve conducted your research! Explore the detailed requirements, courses, faculty, and resources available to undergraduates and see how they align with your profile and interests. Emphasize your “demonstrated interest” in the school—drive home that you’re the right fit for this college and vice versa. You might explain how well you understand the mission or educational philosophy of Vassar or your specific choice of major. You must focus on how one or two particular aspects of the college suit you. Be as specific as possible and make sure that you show your enthusiasm.

Washington University in St. Louis

In about 250 words, tell us about something that really sparks your intellectual interest and curiosity, and compels you to explore more in the program/area of study that you indicated. It could be an idea, book, project, cultural activity, work of art, start-up, music, movie, research, innovation, question, or other pursuit.

Since a 250 word limit is quite restricted, you don’t have a lot of space to go into the nitty-gritty details of your selection itself. The Wash U essay is meant to complement your college application. So the main focus should be on you. How did you first come across the book (or music or business or question)? How does it inspire your academic interests? Do you have a particular way of viewing the material that admissions officers might not be able to anticipate? How would your view on the subject be different had you never encountered it personally? Talk about ways in which your specific curiosity about topics in your prospective major aligns with the book (or movie or idea or project or work of art). 

Now that you have a better sense of the top colleges that have the shortest applications, it’s time to get started on deciding which of them you want on your list. Don’t just choose these colleges because you want to get applications out of the way. Make sure you go through the school website, view their programs and offerings, and are certain that you can succeed there. 

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