How Long Should a College Admission Essay Be?

Last Updated: 21 May 2024

Each year, millions of students look forward to joining the college of their dreams. While college essays are a unique chance for candidates to tell their stories and win the hearts of admissions officers, the issue of how long a college essay should be lingers in the minds of many.

Our professional admission essay writers, who double as consultants for the same, have repeatedly advised and written tens of thousands of college application essays. In this article, we share insights, on what an ideal or perfect essay length is for a college essay. We go further in to address the tips to help you reach a balance while telling your stories and meeting the guidelines.

What’s With the Word Limit for College Applications?

Writing a college essay is an important part of the application process, and knowing the appropriate length is crucial to make a strong impression.

Imagine having to read hundreds of thousands of application essays, giving each an equal attention span. That is the big duty that every college admissions officer has each day when assessing college admission essays.

Having a word limit ensures that the officers can assess every essay equally, giving each candidate equal time. Therefore, when you go under or over the limit, you deny yourself the chance to be on a level playing ground like the rest of the candidates.

The strict word count limits for college essays are also a means to axe those who exceed the word count. They risk the chance of being disqualified or being assessed to the wordcount and discarding the excess. Now, what would happens where the forte of your essay lies in the excess words? You deliberately lose the chance for equality.

The word limit is there to test if you can adhere to instructions. It is expected that you will follow the instructions and write an essay that contains information that is not in your recommendation letters, supplemental essays, resume, or test scores.

Additionally, the wordcount helps you be concise and clear. Instead of overwhelming the reviewers with information, you must filter the finest information.

Common Length Requirements of Application Essays

Students write different types of admission essays to gain entry into the colleges of their dreams. Let us examine the ideal length or the common length requirements.

  1. Common Application. Would-be college students use common application or common APP essays to apply to multiple colleges, over 800 colleges. Common App platforms typically require personal essays to be between 250 and 650 words. This range provides enough space to tell your story while staying concise and focused.
  2. Coalition Essay. A coalition essay is similarly used to apply to multiple colleges—150 colleges, to be precise. The Coalition Application platforms recommend a word length of 500-600.
  3. Personal Statement. The word limit for college personal statements is 500-650 words. Some schools might ask for more or less. For instance, some universities such as UT Austin require an essay that is 500-700 words long alongside three short-answer questions that you are required to write 200-300 essay-exam-like answers. The University of California has a prompt with eight questions, four of which are mandatory, each expecting a comprehensive and clear 350-word essay answer.
  4. Supplemental Essays. Some colleges often require one to three additional essays, with lengths varying widely. These can range from 150 to 300 words, an average of 250 words, depending on the prompt and the institution's requirements. Always check the specific instructions for each school. The longest we have seen is Cornell College’s, which is capped at 650 words max.
  5. Custom college applications. Some colleges and universities have their applications with unique requirements. These can range from short answers of 100-200 words to longer essays similar to the Common App.

Before you write an application essay, read the instructions and identify the word limit. It is always indicated.

Should I Go Under or Over the Word Limit?

Lengthy discussions with admission officers have made us know that if you are attaching the essay as a document, you can exceed the word count by one or two extra words. Do this only if you have re-evaluated, edited, and paraphrased your essay to the limit. You can easily get away with this, as it is a small amount. In fact, some colleges will highlight in the instructions that exceeding the word count by 1-2 words is tolerable.

We advise you against exceeding the word count limit unless the instructions explicitly allow room for it. In many cases, exceeding the word count can limit you when you are pasting to a text box. If you do so, the essay sections above the word count are automatically trimmed, which can affect your evaluation. In addition, noticeably exceeding the word count shows the admissions officer that you never read the instructions. In most cases, they end where the word limit permits. You want to maintain the word limit to show that you can adhere to instructions.

You can get your points across without reaching the ceiling word limit. Although the minimum word limit might not be set, it is always a good idea to stick to the word limit. If you must go under the word count, ensure that you are only short for a few words. Maintain the word range but skew more towards the ceiling. If you are given a limit of 400-500 words range, strive to reach 450 to 480 words. Instead of writing less and missing the points, include more points and leave only a few words short to the maximum limit.

If no word limit is given, check around the website or scour the web and social media for the official word limit. You can also reach out and ask. Sometimes, they give a range using pages instead of word count, so stay keen.

Tips for Creating a Perfect-Length Application Essay

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the ideal length of a college essay. The lengths vary depending on the institutional requirements, which are very volatile.

Check the Word Limit

Although occasionally you might encounter prompts that do not specify a word count, the general rule of thumb is to aim for at least 500 words or 2 pages if you are to upload it as a document. Such a length is enough to share your story, ambitions, and goals while maintaining consistency and conciseness. Ensure that you format your essay in double-spacing and use 12-point font, which translates to 250 -275 words per page. Otherwise, keep writing in the textbox until it cannot take any more words.

Draft Freely and Edit Thoroughly

Start your essay writing process by writing more than you need to explore all the thoughts you might have. Once you have a first draft, trim the unnecessary details to reach the desired word count.

Be Concise and Clear

Avoid bluffing in your essay. Remove all the filler words and redundant phrases. You should go directly to the point and offer specifics to the target audience – the admissions counselor. Highlight your experiences, ambitions, and goals as you reflect. If you have written your essay in Microsoft Word, you can easily see the word count. You can also countercheck the word count through Google Docs, Online word counters or count the words manually to know whether you have achieved the word limit or gone over it and by how many words.

Create an Outline

A perfect college essay should be clear, concise, coherent, connected, and cogent. A good way to achieve this is to plan adequately. Begin by scaffolding your essay and filling the meat for it to make sense. The introduction should be 10% of the word count, the body should be 80%, and the conclusion the remaining 10%. Unless otherwise, you might not need to use citations and references in your personal essay.

Seek Feedback

Before sending your application essay, have someone review it and provide newer perspectives on where you should trim out or elaborate further. When a peer or someone else reviews your essay, they can help you objectively write the essay in a way that pleases the admissions committee.

Carefully Shorten or Lengthen the Essay

If you notice that you have gone under the word limit, chances are that you ran out of ideas, which happens to many students all the time. As a remedy, ensure that you expand your ideas by elaborating on the points. You can also separate ideas, include transition words, include quotes from famous people, and rephrase your essay. This is a narrative essay, and everything has to be concise in the right way.

If you go over the word count, ensure that you remove redundancy, combine similar ideas, make your essay focused, address wordiness, shorten sentences, use shorter synonyms, and use simple language in the essay. You can use many strategies to make your essay longer, but find one that works well with an admission essay.

Hire a Professional.

Websites like Gradecrest have the best application essay writers who will read the prompt, ask you questions, and custom-write an essay that reflects your insights, beliefs, ambitions, and goals. Paying for an admission essay helps you to get a professional perspective that increases your chance of acceptance. If you have written an essay yourself, our professionals can also edit your essay so that you get to the sweet spot. We have peer-reviewed tens of thousands of essays for students who end up getting into the colleges of their dreams. GradeCrest experts are ready to help you perfect your essays. Do not hesitate to place an order, and we will pair you up with the best.

Finally, before you Exit …

Adhering to the specific length restrictions for your college essays puts you ahead of other candidates. Meeting word limits is an important skill that shows you are considerate, understanding, and keen. While meeting the ideal word count limits, ensure that you use the tips above to write an essay that will be passed from one officer to the next, like the famous Costco essay. Be sure to read the college requirements, and if you are writing a coalition or common app essay, plan adequately. Share only the main ideas that align with the prompt without beating about the bush – each word counts, and wasting it is sacrilegious to your college dreams.

If you need expert assistance to unlock your struggles with writing an essay, you can hire an admission essay writer to help you. We have hundreds of seasoned writers who know their professional duty – writing spotless essays for any prompt!