There’s a scene in Miss Congeniality, a well-known movie about a beauty pageant, in which contestants are probed for what they would request, if given just one wish. Each supplies the same answer: world peace. Of course it’s the right answer (if the right answer is one that showcases as many virtuous qualities as possible), but trust me when I tell you that admissions committee members have heard the “world peace” response to short answer and essay questions a thousand times. Not only is the “right answer” unoriginal—in most cases, it’s not true. More effective than stock answers are personal, authentic ones.
For the “Why this path?” and “Why this school?” questions, some applicants gravitate toward grandiose goals and noble intentions. “Why are you interested in medical school?” may yield many answers like “I want to find a cure for cancer,” while similar law school questions might yield answers like “I want to be a Supreme Court justice.”
There is nothing wrong with these goals (in fact, they show qualities like ambition and good citizenship—ones that I have readily admitted that schools like to see) and some percentage of medical and law school applicants may sincerely hold these aspirations. Still, there is a problem with answers like these: for some large percentage of applicants who express such thoughts, they simply aren’t true, and all answers along those lines may be viewed with skepticism.
So, even if you do truly want to cure cancer, sit on the Supreme Court, or create world peace, the expression of your true intention may still be read as pandering. Therefore, it behooves you to choose an answer that won’t make you sound like you are politicking. If you absolutely must use a “right answer,” be sure to check your tone and include enough personal detail to ensure that it does not sound empty. Ask trusted friends who will be candid with you to read it and give feedback as to whether it sounds too good to be true.