How long should a college essay be?

Many colleges that do not use the Common Application also have well-defined length limits for essays.

The University of California, for example, allows 350 words for each of the applicant’s responses to the four personal insight questions, for a total maximum of 1400 words. You will find additional essays with length limits of 50 words or more.

Can you go over the Essay Length Limit?

Can you go over the limit? If so, how much? What if you need 700 words to convey your ideas? What if your essay is only a few words over?

These are all good questions. After all, 650 words is not a lot of space in which to convey your personality, passion, and writing abilities to the people in the reception. And with holistic admissions, schools really want to know the person for your test scores and grades, as well as the essay, which is one of the best places to demonstrate who you are.

Nevertheless, you should never go over the limit. The new Common Application will not allow it. In previous years, applicants could attach their essays to the application and it allowed them to attach essays that were too long. With CA4, the current Common Application, you need to enter an article in a text box that counts words. You are not allowed anything more than 650 words. Note that there is also a minimum length CA4 will not accept any essays of 250 words.

Also, understand that the 650-word limit includes your essay title and any expository notes you might have included.

Why you should not go over the Essay Length limit?

If you’re applying to a college that does allow you to go over the limit, or if you have an additional essay with the recommended word count not backed up by application software, you still shouldn’t go over the limit. Here’s why:

  • Good students know how to follow directions: If a professor assigns a five-page paper, she doesn’t want a 10-page paper. If you have 50 minutes to take a college exam, you can’t have 55 minutes. If you need to use black ink, you should not use orange ink. Think about the message you are submitting to the college if you do not follow the application instructions. Will the college want to recognize a student who thinks that directions are not required?
  • Good writers know how to edit and cut: Ask any college writing professor, and he or she will probably tell you that most five-page documents can be cut into four-page work and become stronger in the process. There are almost always words, phrases, sentences, and even entire paragraphs that have not contributed to the essay in any significant way. As you revise your own essay, constantly ask yourself which ideas are really needed. Anything else can go

General applications and other college applications ask for relatively short essays because college admissions officers don’t want to waste time reading a long, chaotic, unfocused, poorly edited essay. Not all colleges, however, are fans of short length. Some colleges like longer essays because they can get to know their candidate better, and they get to see how well candidates can maintain focus in a longer piece of writing (a valuable college skill). However, for any application essay you write, follow the guidelines. If the college wants a long essay, referrals will ask for it.

If you keep your Essay Short?

While the maximum length for a General Application essay is 650 words, the minimum length is 250 words. I’ve heard advisors advise students to keep their essays on the shorter end of the spectrum because college admissions departments are very busy, and they will appreciate short essays.

While this advice may be true for some colleges, it won’t be for many others. If a college requires an essay, it’s because it has holistic admissions and wants to know its applicants, more than a list of varieties and standardized tests. The essay is usually the most powerful tool you have for conveying who you are and what you care about. If you choose the right focus for your essay-one that shows something meaningful about you-you will need more than 250 words to provide the type of detail and self-reflection that makes an essay effective.

Sure, admissions people may be happy to get through a short essay quickly, but a beautifully crafted 600-word essay is going to make a more meaningful and lasting impression than a good 300-word essay. The length limit on general application went from 500 words to 650 words for a reason: college members wanted their candidates to have more space to write about themselves.

However, if you’ve said everything you have to say in 300 words, don’t try to blow a 600-word essay with filler and redundancy. Instead, ask yourself why you hit the 300-word wall. Was your focus too narrow? Did you not dig deep enough into your topic?

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