Have you ever sent a text or email asking someone two simple questions, such as “What day and time would you like to meet?” only to get a response which provides just one of the answers? It happens to me frequently. Not reading these sorts of questions carefully and failing to respond fully isn’t terribly problematic, but it is annoying. However, if students don’t carefully read and fully respond to college essay prompts, it could be the difference between being admitted or denied.

According to Kim Lifton of WOW Writing Workshops, “We talk to admissions officers all the time, and they all say the same thing. They want you to answer the question, and many students fail to do this, year after year.”

Consider this prompt from the Common App: “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

Simply discussing a challenge, setback, or failure doesn’t completely respond to the prompt. The student must explain how this incident affected them and discuss what they learned. Failing to do all three tells the reader “I don’t pay attention to detail” or “I don’t read thoroughly” or “I can’t follow directions” – all messages you don’t want to send someone who’s deciding whether to admit you to their college.

Another college consultant suggests, “Discussing a time that you failed or describing an obstacle you overcame is a good way to write an essay that is emotionally impactful and vulnerable. Be sure to highlight how you have grown from your mistakes and the lessons you have learned from the challenges you faced. Be specific and include a discussion of how you can use what you learned to make a difference on campus in the future.”

Responding fully to the prompt may be even more important when it comes to colleges’ supplemental essays. After all, these are the questions the colleges have written themselves and possibly care about most.

The University of Colorado Boulder’s supplemental essay asks, “What do you hope to study, and why, at CU Boulder?” This is a short, seemingly straightforward question. But, if all you write about is your interest in mechanical engineering or accounting and you don’t explain why you want to pursue this major at CU Boulder, you’re not thoroughly answering the question. This college and others that have a “why this major at this university” essay want to know you’ve done your homework. You would be wise to mention a particular class you’re interested in taking or a professor’s research that you find intriguing or even a campus club related to your specific major which you are excited to join.

It usually takes several drafts to write an effective essay. The final step should always be to re-read the prompt. Make certain you’ve responded to every part of it before you hit the submit button.