How Long Should College Essays Be?

July 29, 2022
By AdmissionSight

How Long Should College Essays Be?

How long should college essays be? One of the most challenging aspects of applying to college is likely going to be figuring out what to write in your college essay. Even after you’ve read the prompt and decided what you want to write about, you may still find yourself wondering: if I write too much or too little, will I ruin my chances of getting in? How many words should an essay for college be?

We are able to offer you guidance regarding the length of your college essay, regardless of whether you are a concise or verbose writer. In this guide, we will discuss the typical length of an essay submitted to a college, how important word counts are, and what steps you should take if you are unsure how long a particular essay should be.

Male student writing an essay in front of the laptop.

How Many Words Should an Essay for College Be? First, Check the Word Count Restriction. It’s possible that you’re used to submitting your writing assignments within a certain number of pages. Although there are some colleges that require college essays to be a certain number of pages long, the majority of colleges use a word limit instead. This ensures that there is a consistent length for all of the essays that a college receives, regardless of the format or font that they are written in.

To put it another way, the length of your college essay should come pretty close to matching, but not exactly matching the specified maximum number of words. Consider a maximum of 50 words as the lower bound, and the allotted number of words as the upper bound.

If you’re writing an essay with a word count limit of 500, aim for somewhere between 450 and 500 words. In the event that they provide you with a range, you should remain within that range.

In most cases, how long should college essays be can be mostly found either directly in the prompt itself or in the instructions.

The minimum number of words allowed on how long should college essays be and that will be submitted to colleges and universities would typically be around 150. (less than half a single-spaced page).

You will not often come across a word limit that is higher than approximately 650 words (over one single-spaced page). The typical length of an essay submitted to a college is somewhere between 150 and 650 words. After all, admissions officers are required to read a significant quantity of them!

Can I Use More Than the Allowed Number of Words?

In the event that you are attaching a document and require one or two additional words, it is possible for you to get away with exceeding the word limit by a teeny tiny bitty amount. There are some educational institutions that will tell you that going over the word limit by one or two words is acceptable. However, unless it is specifically permitted, I would advise against going over the word limit for a few different reasons, which are as follows:

First, there is a possibility that you won’t be able to. If you have to copy and paste it into a text box, there is a chance that some of your essays will be cut off, and you will need to condense it anyway

If you go over the word limit in a significant way, the admissions counselor may decide to stop reading your essay at that point and move on to the next applicant. You should probably avoid doing this.

The process of applying to college involves following directions very carefully, which is a very important part of the process. In order to submit your letters of recommendation, upload your essays, send any supplemental materials, get your test scores sent, and so on and so forth, you are going to need to follow the directions carefully.

Female student working on a table while using a laptop.

Therefore, it is a good general rule to follow whatever instructions you have been given by the institution. In this case, the instructions were given by the institution. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

If you are able to communicate your idea clearly and come in well under the allotted number of words, then it is probably okay. If you are clear and logical in your writing and are able to communicate what you want to communicate, then brevity may not necessarily be a negative thing.

However, the majority of how long should college essays be or have word limits that are already fairly stringent. In light of this, if you’re writing 300 words for an essay that requires 500, you should ask yourself: is there anything else you could say to elaborate on or support the points you’ve made? Talk to a parent, friend, or teacher about areas in which you could elaborate by providing more detail or expanding on your points.

In addition, if the college provides you with a word range, you must ensure that your essay is at least as long as the minimum required by the college.

Therefore, if the institution gives you how long should college essays be or to be specific, a word count range, such as 400-500 words, you are required to write at least 400 words. If you write less, it will appear as though you have nothing to say, which is not the impression you want to give at all, and you should avoid doing so.

Features of a College Admission Essay

What are the features of a college admission essay? It’s possible that a college application essay may only be around 150 words long, but those words could be the difference between a “maybe” and a “yes” when it comes to being accepted into the school of your choice. The essays explain to the admissions committee how and why a particular applicant stands out from the rest of the applicants. You want to be the student who is distinguished from the others.

Female student using her laptop in a sofa.

Even though there is no one right way to write an admission essay, here are some things to keep in mind if you want to leave a long-lasting impression on someone who reads anywhere from fifty to one hundred essays on a daily basis:

  • Start by writing about who you are. The admissions committee is interested in learning as much as possible about you, including your past successes and failures, your long-term goals and interests, your personality, your core beliefs, and your character. When you are given the assignment to write about an influential person, the college is interested in learning how that person has impacted your life. Make sure that you can be understood regardless of the subject that you choose to center your essay around.
  • Concentrate on one facet of who you are. The admissions committee is looking for an essay that goes into great detail. Choose one endeavor, one interest, or one activity to focus on. If you try to cover too many different subjects in your essay, you will just end up with a list. The devil, as they say, is in the details.
  • Recount an interesting tale. Don’t just tell the readers that you are compassionate; show them how you are compassionate. Do not provide the admissions committee with a list of your grievances even if you experienced difficulties. Tell them how you were able to prevail over them.
  • Don’t sugarcoat it. If you write from the heart, it will come across more naturally, and your essay will have a better flow as a result. If you choose something that you have personally experienced, you will have access to the vivid and specific details that are necessary for your essay.
  • Put your best foot forward when people see you. Always give some thought to the information that you would like colleges to know about you and consider when making admissions decisions. If you absolutely have to share something that doesn’t make you sound good and you can turn it around to show the positive, then do so. Otherwise, don’t share anything that doesn’t make you sound good.
  • Make sure to include information that can’t be found anywhere else in your application. The admissions committee wants to know something about you that they can’t learn from reading the other parts of your application, and that information must come from the essay you write.
  • Leverage your native culture, traditions, and experiences. Do not make the mistake of attempting to “Americanize” or “mainstream” your application if you are an applicant from another country, a Native American, or any other type of non-traditional student. Diversity is something that schools strive to achieve. The objective is to draw attention to oneself and to avoid giving the impression that one is similar to the other applicants.
  • Before you write anything, do some research. Do some research before responding to any questions that require you to write about why you want to attend a particular college or program. The colleges will be able to tell whether you simply skimmed the first paragraph of a webpage or whether you really looked around the page.

Whenever you express an interest in joining a particular organization or activity, you should first confirm that you are eligible to do so. For instance, you shouldn’t write about how much you want to participate in a program that is exclusive to graduate students; you should save that for your application to graduate school.

  • Be honest with one another. If a university discovers that you have lied on an application or essay, it is almost certain that you will be rejected from the institution. Plagiarism is a serious ethical violation, and thankfully, educational institutions are getting better at identifying instances of it.
  • Expand your word choice and range. You shouldn’t keep saying the same thing over and over again. For instance, the word “completed” is synonymous with many other words that are equally as useful, such as “concluded” and “ended.” However, avoid using words that are extremely fancy just for the sake of using them.

Neither should you use words just for the sake of using them. Writing in your own voice and in a conversational tone is highly recommended. You should avoid using slang, scientific phrases, uncommon foreign phrases, other difficult-to-understand language, and profanity in your writing.

  • Check your grammar and spelling. You are free to write in a conversational tone, but you must ensure that your grammar and spelling are correct. Also, you shouldn’t put all of your faith in the spellchecker on your computer. Sometimes, the incorrect word will be printed, even if it is spelled correctly.

After you have finished writing your essay, you should read it aloud to a third party who can provide you with objective feedback. When you are working on an essay, it is possible to get too close to it and become unable to see it clearly. If there isn’t enough being revealed, if your essay rambles, if the humor is falling flat, or if you’re not making the impression you’d like to, other people can often tell.

This is also true if your essay rambles. Keep in mind that this essay is going to be read by someone who is not familiar with you and that this person is going to base a significant decision on what they learn from it!

How Personal Should an Admission Essay Be?

How personal should an admission essay be? The majority of admissions officers are of the opinion that your essay should be a reflection of who you are. When I was reading applications, I was able to access students’ academic credentials as well as the extracurricular activities they participated in. If you use your essay to simply restate the information found on your resume or transcript, then you will be wasting neither of our time.

Using a laptop to type in a table.

Students have the opportunity to reveal a more personal or qualitative aspect of themselves through the medium of the essay. In this part, we are going to talk about the factors that determine whether or not a subject is appropriate for a personal statement and how to rework that subject into an engaging piece of writing. We will also discuss the factors that determine whether or not a subject is appropriate for a personal statement. When, then, is a topic that one is emotionally invested in too close to their heart to discuss?

As long as you can provide satisfactory responses to the following questions, you are free to discuss practically any subject:

  • What new things did I pick up?
  • How have I progressed as a person, in my professional life, or in my academic studies?
  • What is the significance of this to me?
  • What does this imply about my character?
  • What aspects of myself do I want the reader to understand better?
  • Am I conveying my core beliefs effectively as a candidate for admission?

But there are subjects about whom you absolutely must avoid writing under any circumstances. The following essay topics are what students need to be aware of when writing:

  • Romance
  • Serious Concerns Regarding Emotional Health
  • Essays with a Novel Approach, Such as Using Just One Word or Repeating the Same Word Several Times, Puns, etc.
  • A Severe or Intense Traumatic Experience in the Past (avoid triggering the reader)
  • Any Subject That Glorifies Violent Behavior
  • Extremely Controversial beliefs (that are likely offensive to most of the population)
  • Any Form of Serious Breaking of the Law (i.e. grand theft auto—not the game)
  • Violent and Sexually Explicit Material

When it comes to writing, these subjects should (almost never) be considered. In a general sense, these are subjects that are frequently considered to be warning signs because they fall radically outside of generally accepted social norms or involve tragedies or traumas that do not show any indication of personal growth or development.

What About Topics that are Political, Religious, or Otherwise Contentious?

This is a fairly common question, and the response truly is contingent upon the subject matter as well as the institution to which a student is applying. When reading essays submitted by applicants, admissions officers are thinking about how a student might fit into the culture of the institution. However, this does not imply that they have any interest in establishing a dogmatically monolithic community.

In most cases, the goal is something entirely different from what you might expect. When thinking of potential topics, students will need to keep both the school community and their peers in mind.

For instance, a college that adheres to the teachings of the Church of Christ and is located in the South is likely to have a unique perspective on the subject of atheism in comparison to a college that is politically progressive and located in the Pacific Northwest.

Typing an essay using a laptop.

Students have to have the sense that they have the authority to select a subject that has personal significance to them. However, this is not an excuse for you to write an entry in your diary, reveal embarrassing secrets, or pull your admission officer into an impromptu emotional counseling session. Something that I will regularly stress to my students is the fact that tragedy is not synonymous with high quality. To what extent is it possible to be too personal?

Even though the topics can be very close to the speaker’s heart, they must always relate to some larger goal (usually focusing on growth or self-discovery).

Some topics for essays require an extremely cautious approach, while others should probably be completely disregarded as options.

Because the culture of campuses varies from school to school, it is important for students to consider how they might fit into a community as they contemplate various topics.

At AdmissionSight, we have more than ten years of experience assisting students in navigating the difficult admissions process required to gain entry into the most prestigious educational institutions in the world.

Reaching out to AdmissionSight for more comprehensive college planning resources will allow you to gain insight into how other students were able to successfully tackle their college application essays. Feel free to set up an appointment today to book your initial consultation.


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