Nightly News   |  January 17, 2012

College essays in 25 words or less

Some college admissions departments are now asking prospective students to provide very brief answers to playful questions, similar to a tweet. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> if to you're in the thick of it yourself, then you know first hand just how competitive the college admissions process has become. and now schools are going to new lengths to try to tease out that extra something that makes an applicant stand out in the sea of applicants. so how about essay questions like what costume would you like to wear? our report on this trend tonight from nbc's kevin tibbles.

>> reporter: this high school senior is one of millions trying to crack the college code. and he's surprised by some of the questions.

>> what's your favorite superhero and who's your favorite villain?

>> reporter: these days there's all sorts of quirkiness in college applications. emory university asks, what is your favorite ride at the amusement park . and at maryland -- my favorite thing about last tuesday was? .

>> you get a very one dimensional picture looking at high school transcripts and reviewing standardized test scores. this way we get to talk to students.

>> reporter: critics are wondering what the hallowed hall will be asking next. what's your favorite ice creams ? potatoes or stove top stuffing? do you have an innie or an outie outie?

>> frankly, it becomes across as cavalier and a little disrespectful to the applicant.

>> reporter: the van horn twins find themselves counting characters in illinois.

>> they're making the questions less specific so that the answers can be less specific and fit into what i sort of call the twitter mentality.

>> at flowers high school in maryland , counselors say students shouldn't panic over curveball questions.

>> they're looking for the next bill gates . they're looking for the person who thinks outside the box.

>> reporter: so what is the right answer?

>> the answer is just relax. let us know who you are. that's all we're trying to find out.

>> did you say to yourself, why are they asking me this?

>> yeah, i said that plenty of times. whenever i look through the essay.

>> hopefully and prayerfully i do get accepted into the colleges that i want to.

>> so hopefully you did the right thing on tuesday. and once the application anxiety subsides, students get to bite their nails, waiting for their envelope in the mail. kevin tibbles, nbc news, college park , maryland .