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College Essays


Figuring out your college essay can be one of the most difficult parts of applying to college. Even once you've read the prompt and picked a topic, you might wonder: if you write too much or too little, will you blow your chance of admission? How long should a college essay be?

Whether you're a terse writer or a loquacious one, we can advise you on college essay length. In this guide, we'll cover what the standard college essay length is, how much word limits matter, and what to do if you aren't sure how long a specific essay should be.

How Long Is a College Essay? First, Check the Word Limit

You might be used to turning in your writing assignments on a page-limit basis (for example, a 10-page paper). While some colleges provide page limits for their college essays, most use a word limit instead. This makes sure there's a standard length for all the essays that a college receives, regardless of formatting or font.

In the simplest terms, your college essay should be pretty close to, but not exceeding, the word limit in length. Think within 50 words as the lower bound, with the word limit as the upper bound. So for a 500-word limit essay, try to get somewhere between 450-500 words. If they give you a range, stay within that range.

College essay prompts usually provide the word limit right in the prompt or in the instructions.

For example, the University of Illinois says :

"You'll answer two to three prompts as part of your application. The questions you'll answer will depend on whether you're applying to a major or to our undeclared program , and if you've selected a second choice . Each response should be approximately 150 words."

As exemplified by the University of Illinois, the shortest word limits for college essays are usually around 150 words (less than half a single-spaced page). Rarely will you see a word limit higher than around 650 words (over one single-spaced page). College essays are usually pretty short: between 150 and 650 words. Admissions officers have to read a lot of them, after all!


Weigh your words carefully, because they are limited!

How Flexible Is the Word Limit?

But how flexible is the word limit? What if your poignant anecdote is just 10 words too long—or 100 too short?

Can I Go Over the Word Limit?

If you are attaching a document and you need one or two extra words, you can probably get away with exceeding the word limit by such a small amount. Some colleges will actually tell you that exceeding the word limit by 1-2 words is fine. However, I advise against exceeding the word limit unless it's explicitly allowed for a few reasons:

First, you might not be able to. If you have to copy-paste it into a text box, your essay might get cut off and you'll have to trim down anyways.

If you exceed the word limit in a noticeable way, the admissions counselor may just stop reading your essay past that point. This is not good for you.

Following directions is actually a very important part of the college application process. You need to follow directions to get your letters of recommendation, upload your essays, send supplemental materials, get your test scores sent, and so on and so forth. So it's just a good general rule to follow whatever instructions you've been given by the institution. Better safe than sorry!

Can I Go Under the Word Limit?

If you can truly get your point across well beneath the word limit, it's probably fine. Brevity is not necessarily a bad thing in writing just so long as you are clear, cogent, and communicate what you want to.

However, most college essays have pretty tight word limits anyways. So if you're writing 300 words for an essay with a 500-word limit, ask yourself: is there anything more you could say to elaborate on or support your points? Consult with a parent, friend, or teacher on where you could elaborate with more detail or expand your points.

Also, if the college gives you a word range, you absolutely need to at least hit the bottom end of the range. So if you get a range from the institution, like 400-500 words, you need to write at least 400 words. If you write less, it will come across like you have nothing to say, which is not an impression you want to give.


Don't let this sinister hand stop you from writing everything you have to say!

What If There Is No Word Limit?

Some colleges don't give you a word limit for one or more of your essay prompts. This can be a little stressful, but the prompts generally fall into a few categories:

Writing Sample

Some colleges don't provide a hard-and-fast word limit because they want a writing sample from one of your classes. In this case, a word limit would be very limiting to you in terms of which assignments you could select from.

For an example of this kind of prompt, check out essay Option B at Amherst :

"Submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence. You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay."

While there is usually no word limit per se, colleges sometimes provide a general page guideline for writing samples. In the FAQ for Option B , Amherst clarifies, "There is no hard-and-fast rule for official page limit. Typically, we anticipate a paper of 4-5 pages will provide adequate length to demonstrate your analytical abilities. Somewhat longer papers can also be submitted, but in most cases should not exceed 8-10 pages."

So even though there's no word limit, they'd like somewhere in the 4-10 pages range. High school students are not usually writing papers that are longer than 10 pages anyways, so that isn't very limiting.

can my college essay be 800 words

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Implicit Length Guideline

Sometimes, while there's no word (or even page) limit, there's still an implicit length guideline. What do I mean by this?

See, for example, this Wellesley supplemental essay prompt :

"When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the "Wellesley 100" is a good place to start. Visit The Wellesley 100 and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why. (Not-so-secret tip: The "why" matters to us.)"

There's no page or word limit here, but it does say to respond "in two well-developed paragraphs." This gives you an idea of what's reasonable. "Well-developed" certainly means the paragraphs can be long, but even two long paragraphs shouldn't exceed 500 words or so. That's what I mean by an "implicit" word limit—there is a reasonable length you could go to within the boundaries of the prompt.


But what's the proper coffee-to-paragraph ratio?

Treasure Hunt

There is also the classic "treasure hunt" prompt. No, it's not a prompt about a treasure hunt. It's a prompt where there are no length guidelines given, but if you hunt around on the rest of the website you can find length guidelines.

For example, the University of Chicago provides six "Extended Essay" prompts . You must write an essay in response to one prompt of your choosing, but nowhere on the page is there any guidance about word count or page limit.

However, many colleges provide additional details about their expectations for application materials, including essays, on FAQ pages, which is true of the University of Chicago. On the school’s admissions Frequently Asked Questions page , they provide the following length guidelines for the supplemental essays: 

“We suggest that you note any word limits for Coalition or Common Application essays; however, there are no strict word limits on the UChicago Supplement essays. For the extended essay (where you choose one of several prompts), we suggest that you aim for around 650 words. While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we're only human and cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention indefinitely. For the “Why UChicago?” essay, we suggest about 250-500 words. The ideas in your writing matter more than the exact number of words you use!”

So there you go! You want to be (loosely) in the realm of 650 for the extended essay, and 250-500 words for the “Why UChicago?” essay.

Help! There Really Is No Guidance on Length

If you really can't find any length guidelines anywhere on the admissions website and you're at a loss, I advise calling the admissions office. They may not be able to give you an exact number (in fact, they probably won't), but they will probably at least be able to tell you how long most of the essays they see are. (And keep you from writing a panicked, 20-page dissertation about your relationship with your dog).

In general, 500 words or so is pretty safe for a college essay. It's a fairly standard word limit length, in fact. (And if you're wondering, that's about a page and a half double-spaced.) 500 words is long enough to develop a basic idea while still getting a point across quickly—important when admissions counselors have thousands of essays to read!


"See? It says 500 words right there in tiny font!"

The Final Word: How Long Should a College Essay Be?

The best college essay length is usually pretty straightforward: you want to be right under or at the provided word limit. If you go substantially past the word limit, you risk having your essay cut off by an online application form or having the admissions officer just not finish it. And if you're too far under the word limit, you may not be elaborating enough.

What if there is no word limit? Then how long should a college essay be? In general, around 500 words is a pretty safe approximate word amount for a college essay—it's one of the most common word limits, after all!

Here's guidance for special cases and hunting down word limits:

If it's a writing sample of your graded academic work, the length either doesn't matter or there should be some loose page guidelines.

There also may be implicit length guidelines. For example, if a prompt says to write three paragraphs, you'll know that writing six sentences is definitely too short, and two single-spaced pages is definitely too long.

You might not be able to find length guidelines in the prompt, but you could still hunt them up elsewhere on the website. Try checking FAQs or googling your chosen school name with "admissions essay word limit."

If there really is no word limit, you can call the school to try to get some guidance.

With this advice, you can be sure you've got the right college essay length on lockdown!


Hey, writing about yourself can even be fun!

What's Next?

Need to ask a teacher or friend for help with your essay? See our do's and dont's to getting college essay advice .

If you're lacking in essay inspiration, see our guide to brainstorming college essay ideas . And here's our guide to starting out your essay perfectly!

Looking for college essay examples? See 11 places to find college essay examples and 145 essay examples with analysis !

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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How Long Should a College Essay Be?

by Story2 Staff , on Jul 22, 2021 11:39:34 AM

When you’re starting to write a college essay, you might find yourself wondering about the word count. How long or short should it be? Are word count limits suggested, or required? What happens if you go over the limit? Read on for answers to all of these questions, and more! 

College essay word count limits 

Most colleges do provide a word count limit or range. If there’s a limit, you should generally aim to get close to the limit, and if there’s a range, you should aim to fall within the range. Avoid going over the limit, as your essay may be cut off, or under the range. You don’t want to give readers the impression that you can’t follow instructions — that’s a surefire way to start things off on a bad foot, before they’ve read a single word of your essay! 

But what if there’s no limit or range provided? In those cases, we recommend sticking to the standard 400-600 words. That will give you enough room to make your case! 

Personal statements

The primary essay for your college application, often called a personal statement, is typically around 400-600 words. The Common App personal statement — which is used as the primary application essay by more than 800 colleges —  must be 250-650 words. Some schools don’t use the Common App, but their primary essays usually fall within the same range. The University of California system, for example, requires 4 essays with a maximum of 350 words. 

No matter where you’re applying, we recommend aiming for the higher end of the given limit or range, in order to properly showcase who you are as a person and student. 

Supplements & scholarship essays

Most schools require supplemental essays in addition to the personal statement. Supplemental and scholarship essays vary in length depending on the requirements of the school, but they are often shorter than the personal statement or primary essay, especially if multiple supplemental essays are required. 

Some schools require quite a few supplemental essays, each with very different word count limits. For example, Georgetown requires 4 supplemental essays, ranging from 250 to 700 words, and Stanford requires a whopping 11 , ranging anywhere from 10 to 250 words. The lower the word count limit, the more closely you should stick to it, unless you’re absolutely sure you can answer the prompt completely and successfully in fewer words. 

Overall, it’s best to stay within the word count limit or range — it’s provided for a reason! Writing too much will likely result in your essay being cut off, and writing too little may cause readers to think that you aren’t truly interested in their school. If no range is given, remember to stick to 400-600 words. This will give you enough space to demonstrate your interest and help readers learn about you! 

Want to see some real examples of essays written by students just like you? Check out our guide to personal statements and scholarship essays !

Go to College Admission Essays Made Easy.

For more info about college admission and scholarship essays and interviews, sign up for self-paced courses and our award-winning StoryBuilder writing platform FREE . Want to stay up to date on the latest tips and resources? Follow us @story2 on Instagram!

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can my college essay be 800 words

How Long Should Your College Essay Be? What is the Ideal Length?

←College Essay Checklist

10 Guidelines for Highly Readable College Essays→

Students often spend hours agonizing over the best topics for their college essays. While it’s natural to wonder whether your personal statement is original or compelling enough, there’s one aspect of the process that shouldn’t cause you undue stress: how many words should a college essay be? Fortunately, with a little research, you can uncover the ideal college essay length for all your applications. 

Unlike high school assignments, which typically have a strict page requirement, most colleges provide a word limit or word range for their application essays. This practice helps ensure that essays are the same length regardless of font or formatting. As a rule of thumb, students should strive to get as close as possible to the upper limit of the word range without exceeding it. Keep reading to learn more about college essay length best practices. 

Main College Application Essay Length vs. Supplemental Essay Length

So, how many words should a college essay be? Main application essays are generally 500-650 words. For example, the Common Application , which can be used to apply to more than 800 colleges, requires an essay ranging from 250-650 words. Similarly, the Coalition Application , which has 150 member schools, features an essay with a recommended length of 500-550 words.

While 500 words is the most common college essay length, schools may ask students to write more or less. ApplyTexas , a platform used to apply to Texas public universities and other select colleges, requests essays with requirements varying by school. For example, students applying to UT Austin will need to submit an essay of 500-700 words, along with three short-answer questions of 250-300 words. 

On the other hand, the University of California (UC) schools application includes a Personal Insight section with eight prompts. Students are asked to respond to any four of the questions, with their answers topping out at 350 words. 

Additionally, some schools request a few supplemental essays, which are typically shorter than a personal statement. These questions are designed to gain more information about a student’s interests and abilities, and may include topics like why you want to attend their school, your desired major, or favorite activity. 

Most schools require 1-3 supplemental essays, though some may require more or none at all (see our list of top colleges without supplements ). These supplemental essays tend to be around 250 words, though some may be just as long as your main essay. For example, UPenn requires lengthy special program supplements. Students applying to the Computer and Cognitive Science: Artificial Intelligence Program for the 2019-2020 academic year were asked to write 400-650 words explaining their interest in the major. 

Can You Go Over/Under the College Essay Word Count?

It’s important to adhere to the word limits dictated by the college. If you write too little, it might appear that you’re careless or unconcerned with the school’s requirements. On the other hand, overwriting can suggest that you can’t follow instructions, or can’t write concisely. 

For best results, keep your essays within the word range provided. While you don’t have to hit the count exactly, you should aim to stay within a 10% difference of the upper limit, without including “fluff” or “filler content.” For example, if the school requests 500 words, try to ensure your essay is between 450 and 500 words. For the Common App, also try to stay within 550-650 words, even though the given range is 250-650. Any shorter than 500 words will simply look like you didn’t care enough, and it won’t be long enough to truly share who you are and what matters to you.

It’s best not to go over the word count, as most application portals will cut off your writing when it exceeds the top of the range. 

can my college essay be 800 words

What If a College Essay Word Count Isn’t Given?

Although most schools provide applicants with a specific word count, some offer more general guidelines. For example, a college may ask for a particular number of pages or paragraphs. 

If you aren’t given a word count, try to adhere to writing best practices and conventions. Avoid writing especially short or overly long paragraphs—250 words per paragraph is generally a safe upper limit. If you’re asked to write a certain number of pages, single- or double-spaced,  stick to a standard font and font size (like Times New Roman 12). 

In the event that the college doesn’t offer guidelines, shoot for an essay length of 500 words. 

What If You Need to Submit a Graded Paper?

While essays are the most commonly requested writing sample, some colleges ask for additional pieces of content. For example, Amherst College has an essay option that asks students to submit a graded paper for evaluation. 

If the school doesn’t offer length requirements, choose a paper ranging from 3-5 pages for best results. The goal is to select a paper long enough to showcase your writing skills and unique voice, but short enough that the admissions officer doesn’t get bored. 

Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

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can my college essay be 800 words

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How many Paragraphs should a College Essay be?

can my college essay be 800 words

by Talha Omer, MBA, M.Eng., Harvard & Cornell Grad

In college students.

Though any professional  essay writer  will insist that writing an essay about yourself, your own goals, and experiences is much easier than writing any other type of essay, many students find it very difficult to share personal information. Even more so, if they need to do it in a college essay.

A college essay , more commonly known as a personal statement, is a written document explaining why you are a good fit for a particular college. It is a crucial part of your college application and provides a chance for the admissions committee to see who you are.

GPA and GRE scores are only numbers and cannot speak to your experience as a person. This is why personal statements are so important, as they allow you to talk about your life experience and passion for the field and serve as a window to your character.

Students often wonder how long should a personal statement be. After all, you don’t want to bore the reader with irrelevant text. On the flip side, you don’t want your personal statement to be bereft of any real substance either.

The structure, format, and word count of your personal statement are very important. Remember that age-old saying about first impressions? Well, that applies here too. An ill-organized and badly written personal statement will only hurt your chances of getting in. Hence, let’s go over some of the things that you need to look out for when writing your college essay.

In this Article


Supporting paragraphs, treat it like a story, don’t write about too many events, avoid clichés, make it your own, how many paragraphs should a college essay be.

To answer this question, first, we need to determine your college essay’s word count. Typically, college essays are anywhere between 500 and 800 words long. However, in some cases, you will be required to follow a specific word limit set by your college. This limit is usually around 500 to 700 words depending on the college.

However, In most cases, you won’t find a word limit, in which case anything between 500 and 800 words is appropriate.

Let’s say you decide on 800 words or thereabouts. Your college essay should then be divided into five paragraphs:

If it’s closer to 500 words, then you can minus a paragraph from the format above.

The introduction of your essay should serve as a “hook” that can draw the reader in and cause them to keep reading. You can start by introducing yourself and talk about an interesting life experience.

Each supporting paragraph should talk about a specific thing. Don’t try to cram in lots of unrelated thoughts as that would make the essay unpleasant to read. Instead, dedicate each paragraph to a particular idea. For example, the first supporting paragraph can talk about the reasons for your application. What interests you in the field you are applying to. It is always best to relate the field to your life experiences as it shows passion and commitment.

The second supporting paragraph can talk about your previous academic achievements. Talk about stuff that you have excelled in high school. These can be anything such as sports, debates, projects, and other activities. It doesn’t necessarily have to be all about your academics.

The third supporting paragraph can talk about what you wish to achieve from studying a particular program. Explain why you want to study this program and what you plan to get out of it.

Keep the closing paragraph short and sweet. Then, bring it all together and conclude why you would make a good addition to the college.

However, do keep in mind that this is a simple beginner-level format. You cannot go wrong with this, but there are no set rules for personal statements unless your college gives you specific guidelines. If you are free to write how you want, it’s good to go through some essay samples and see if you like a particular style.

Tips for College Essay

High schoolers are used to writing academic reports and analytical papers, which may influence them to write their college essays the same way. However, your college essay shouldn’t read like a report. Instead, it should read like a story. One that is expressive and engaging.

You should treat your college essay as a creative writing project, and creative writing is supposed to be fun. Dry and monotone text is not desirable to the admissions committee as they want to see your personality. You already have your transcripts and test scores to speak for your academic skills, but numbers don’t describe personality traits and life experiences. This is why a personal statement should read like a story where you are the main character. It shouldn’t be pretentious but organic yet exciting. Striking the right balance between all these can be a bit difficult, which is why it’s important to look around and read sample ones first.

Your personal statement should have a single overarching theme. Don’t try to cram in your whole life story in the essay, as that would be cumbersome to read. Instead, choose a single life event/experience and tie it to why you would make a great candidate. Don’t overcomplicate it, and don’t include too many details.

Moreover, as I said earlier, don’t spend too many words on your prior academic accomplishments. A short paragraph would suffice. Let your transcripts do the talking.

We all like a good quote by a famous person or historical person, but it starts getting mundane when overused. Don’t forget the “personal” in the personal statement. The whole point of the essay is for the admissions committee to get a sense of who you are. Originality is the key here, and while quotes from personalities like Gandhi and Thoreau have a place, try not to rely on them too much.

Moreover, language like “it was the best day of my life” is severely overdone by everyone. Try not to use such cliched sentences as they obscure your message. Instead, show them why it was the best day of your life and not simply state so.

You must own your voice not only in the essay but in life in general. Often times we think that we are not good enough and resort to copying other people. This is not a healthy way to go about life. Instead, always try to be original and loyal to your true self. Don’t rely too much on other people’s work. It is one thing to take inspiration from a sample essay, but it’s a whole different thing to copy their ideas word for word with slight adjustments. If you are unsure about your writing, ask friends or teachers to take a look at it.

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can my college essay be 800 words

How Long is a College Essay? 7 Answers

how long should a college essay be.jpg

I once asked a professor how long she wanted a homework essay to be after I noticed the guidelines didn’t specify.

Her response: “As long as it needs to be.”

That didn’t feel very helpful at the time.

But in hindsight, I get what she meant. The point of an essay isn’t to simply meet word count. In fact, as I’ll clarify later, it’s one of the last things you should worry about.

That said, for most of your college essays, word count is something you’ll have to take into account (eventually).

And it’s understandable that how long your college essays(s) should be could feel confusing at times, since different applications and supplemental essays take pretty different approaches, and sometimes word count is a hard rule, whereas at other times it’s more of a guideline.

To get some clarity, read on.

College Essay Word Count Limits (for Different Applications)

You have various ways you might be applying to college. Each of those can take a slightly different approach to word count.

If you’re using the Common Application (and since over 900 colleges use it, that seems fairly likely), your personal statement has a hard limit of 650 words. Do you have to use all of that word count? No. But it can be useful to be pretty close—remember that this is one of the primary means a school has to get a sense of who you are and what values, qualities, and skills you’d bring to campus (and if it’s a school without supplemental essays, maybe the only way). Most students that I’ve worked with write more than 650 on their early drafts, then cut down toward the end of the writing process (more on that later).

Coalition App

The Coalition Application currently has a recommended range of 500-650 words. Over 150 schools take the Coalition App, and the Coalition itself is centered around offering good financial aid to students. There are also some great schools (like UT Austin, U of Washington, and Rutgers) that take the Coalition App but not the Common App—be sure you take some time to understand which schools you’re applying to accept what applications. 

University of California (UCs)

Some public college systems accept the Common App or Coalition (for example, many schools in the SUNY or CUNY systems take one or both; UT Austin takes the Coalition App, UT Dallas takes the Common App), but the University of California (UC) system has its own application process.

To apply to the UCs, you’ll have to complete 4 (of 8 possible) prompts, each with a 350 word limit. Because these are fairly short, I’d recommend using most of not all of those 350 words. For more on the UCs, check out our guide here.

Individual School Apps

Some individual schools ( Georgetown and MIT , for example) have their own applications. For any school that has its own application, be sure to read the prompts and word counts carefully, as some are rules, and some are guidelines. Georgetown has guidelines like “approximately 1 page,” while MIT has strict limits (some 150, most 250) for its various prompts.

TIME SAVER : If you’re applying to a school with its own application, and also a bunch of other schools (especially if they have supplements, for example, on the Common App), I’d recommend checking our guide on building what we call a “super” essay (one that works for a bunch of different prompts).

Word Counts for Supplemental Essays

A lot of schools require supplemental essays on topics like “ Why us ” or “ Community ” or “ Why Your Major .” Most of the time, these will be shorter than your personal statement (with some exceptions— Cornell and UPenn , for example, require “Why us” essays that are roughly the same length as your main essay).

The word counts will vary a bunch from school to school. Most of the time, these will be hard limits. In those cases, you’ll probably want to be pretty close to word count limit, without going over (as a general guideline, the lower the word count, the more likely you’ll have to max it out). 

If a school doesn’t give you a limit, I’d generally aim for somewhere in the 400-600 range. For example, the University of Chicago doesn’t give a limit for its “Why us” or what we jokingly call its “show us your rad brain” prompts. For the “Why us,” you’re probably good at around 550 (though that’s not a hard limit). For the extended essay, you can aim around 650. You can go longer for both, but you have to earn it.

For free guides to the supplemental essays to a bunch of schools, check this out .

Word Counts for Scholarship Essays

A lot of what I just mentioned regarding supplemental essays applies here, so rather than repeat myself, I’ll simply nudge you to double check your word count limits, and keep in mind if they are hard caps or rough guidelines.

For a free guide on things like where to find scholarships, and what colleges are looking for in essays, jump over here .

An Important Note Concerning Word Count and Drafting

Please don’t worry about word count until basically your final draft (within reason*).

Ultimately, you’ll usually have to pay attention to word count, as most prompts will have a hard limit past which your text will simply be cut off.

But worrying about word count early in the process is one of the biggest mistakes I see students make. Doing so just limits what students explore in early drafts, and many often end up having to rewrite more to eventually get to what they would have gotten to if they hadn’t worried about word count in the first place.

So save word count worries for when all your content and structure and phrasing are pretty much set. The “delete” key is pretty easy to use.

*by “within reason,” I mean that if your first few drafts of a 650 word limit essay are 800 or 900 words, no worries. You’ll have to cut, but that’s much easier than having to write more. But if your first draft is 2000 words, that’s gonna be tougher. Still doable. But tougher.

can my college essay be 800 words

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How to Stick to the Word Count on College Essays

Hand holding pen writing in journal to represent sticking to word count on college essays - image by Magoosh

You have a lot to think about when writing your college essay: brainstorming a topic , writing it well, and proofreading and editing it until it represents your best work. And of course, you can’t forget about sticking to the word count.

Keeping your essay short can be challenging. It’s supposed to showcase your best self, set you apart from other candidates, and give some extra insight into your individuality and personality. And you have to accomplish all of this in a limited amount of space?

Don’t worry—sticking to the word count while writing an excellent college essay is certainly possible. We’ll show you how!

What is the word count for college essays?

First, you might be wondering: What is the word count for college essays? The answer varies, but let’s take a look at some general guidelines.

Most college applicants will end up writing the Common App essay. Currently, the Common App asks you to write an essay ranging from 250-650 words . 650 words is just over one page of single-spaced type. When you fill out the application online, it won’t allow you to submit an essay with less than 250 or more than 650 words. So, sticking to the word count is not optional.

If you don’t write the Common App essay, or if you write additional essays, note that most college essays set word limits around 500-750 words. In the rare case that no word limit is specified, most experts recommend staying under 800 words.

Remember that the person reading your essay has read a lot of other essays, so be kind. Say what you need to say as concisely as possible. Here’s how:

Tips to Stick to the Word Count on College Essays

1. “zoom in” on your topic.

The best college essays focus on a specific topic . For instance, you might write about a single moment or event that profoundly impacted you, or a small but meaningful aspect of your life.

When you get specific, you’re able to provide details that are unique to you and your experiences, crafting an essay that no one else could write. Plus, you narrow the scope of your essay, which helps you stay within the word count.

Think about it like “zooming in” with a camera. Maybe you have a broad idea to start with, like family. But you can’t pack all of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences about family into 650 words. If you tried to, your essay would probably feel scattered and unorganized. It wouldn’t give a close, personal look at you or your life.

That means you need to zoom in some more. Let’s take a closer look. Maybe there’s a specific aspect of your family you want to highlight, like the way your family has taught you to speak your mind and stand for your beliefs. This is good, but it’s still pretty broad.

Let’s zoom in again. Get more specific. How has your family taught you to speak your mind? Is there a particular memory that stands out? Now, you decide to write about the spirited debates your family loves to have around the dinner table—and how those debates have shaped you as a person.

Now, that’s a topic you might be able to thoroughly cover in 650 words. And it’s going to be a lot more reflective, meaningful, and personal than a generic essay about “family.”

2. Outline First, Then Write

Once you’ve narrowed the scope of your essay, you’re almost ready to write. One of the most powerful strategies to help you stick to the word count is to create a plan or outline. Map out your essay before you start writing. If you have a plan, you’re less likely to ramble, go off on tangents, and ultimately waste words.

Think about the main purpose of your essay. What do you want the reader (college admissions officers) to know about you when they’re finished? What’s the point you’re trying to make?

As you plan or outline your essay, create a narrative:

Focus on including information that accomplishes your main purposes and moves your narrative along. If it’s unrelated to any of your key points, you can probably cut it. And if it’s information that’s found somewhere else in your application, you don’t need to include it in your plan.

Having a clear, concise, and focused plan for your essay will help you convey your message without exceeding the word limit.

3. Keep the Introduction Short

The most important part of your essay is the body. That means your introduction doesn’t need to be extremely long. Save your words for the “meat” of the essay, where you’ll really dig into your narrative.

An effective introduction is engaging, interesting, and brief. It provides a glimpse or a preview into what you’ll discuss, but not too much. You want to leave the admissions officer wanting to read more.

In general, an introduction only needs three key parts:

Because college essays are more creative, you don’t have to follow this pattern exactly. But it gives you an idea of why a solid introduction can be short and sweet. Many students make the mistake of including too much unnecessary background in their introduction. Try to limit your intro to 4-6 sentences, unless there’s other essential information you must include.

If your intro is longer than six sentences, go back and underline or highlight sentences that are essential to the meaning of your essay. Then, review the sentences you didn’t highlight. Can you cut them entirely, or at least shorten them? Can this piece of info wait until the body of your essay?

4. Focus on the Important Stuff

We already mentioned that you want to focus on information that advances your narrative and relates to your main point. You also want to devote most of your word count to reflection and introspection.

When an admissions officer reads your essay, they’re most interested in reading your analysis of your life experiences. Think about questions like:

If you write an essay about a challenge in your life, for example, you want to describe the challenge itself only briefly. The majority of your essay should focus on how you overcame the challenge and what you learned from the experience. It should demonstrate positive qualities that the experience revealed or helped you develop, like resilience, determination, and courage.

So, if it looks like you’re going to exceed the word count, reread. How many of these sentences are telling your story? How many are reflecting on your story? If you have to cut something, cut nonessential storytelling pieces. Include specific details that bring your story to life and tell it clearly without taking up too much space.

5. Eliminate Repetition

Have you included any repetitive words or phrases? Do any of your sentences basically mean the same thing? Reread your essay for repetition, and cut it.

Here’s an example:

It was the hardest decision I had ever made in my life. I wanted to avoid embarrassment, but I also wanted to do what was right. Making matters worse, I was torn between my two best friends. I never expected to face such a tough decision.

The first and last sentences of the paragraph above basically say, “It was a hard decision.” The writer doesn’t need both of them. If you can find sentences in your essay that don’t add any new information, then it’s safe to delete them.

6. Avoid Using Unnecessary Words

Similarly, sticking to a tight word limit requires you to write concisely. Concise writing is succinct and to the point. It avoids unnecessary words and sentences. To write concisely, think of each word as a $100 bill. You want to spend them wisely.

Of course, you don’t want to sound like a robot. Writing concisely doesn’t mean that you need to cut interesting details or doses of personality. Choose your words deliberately, and avoid words that don’t add meaning, like:

In some circumstances, some of these words might add meaning. But if you’re struggling to stay within the word limit, these words should be some of the first to go. Does the sentence make sense without it? If yes, cut it. In using the $100 bill analogy above, where can you save money? What unnecessary expenses could your essay live without?

Avoid Using Unnecessary Words: Let’s Practice!

Let’s look at my first paragraph above:

I’m not trying to stick to a 650-word limit, but what if I was? What could I cut? Here are some ideas:

Now, let’s look at my third paragraph:

If I had to cut something, what could I cut? Here are some suggestions:

Hopefully, this gives you an idea of how to cut unnecessary words from your essay! As a writer, it’s easy to get attached to the words you’ve chosen. But when it comes to word counts, you must be prepared to trim the fat and delete any words that don’t add meaning.

You should also shorten sentences and phrases whenever possible. For instance, instead of saying, “I wondered if I had made the right decision,” write, “Had I made the right decision?” With the question mark, “I wondered” is implied. Shorter sentences save you words, and they’re often clearer, stronger, and more direct.

7. Ask for Help

If you’ve tried all of these ideas and exercises, but your essay is still too long, ask for help! Ask a friend, parent, teacher, or other trusted adult to read the essay.

Do they see any sentences, phrases, or words that you can cut?

Sometimes, getting an extra pair of eyes on your essay makes a huge difference. An outside perspective is always clearer.

Final Thoughts: How to Stick to the Word Count on College Essays

You might have a lot to say in your college essay, but you have to say it within the required word count. Use strategies like:

Believe it or not, using these strategies will also make your essay more engaging and powerful. Not only will you stick to the word count on your college essays, but you’ll also write a clear, concise, and memorable essay for the admissions officers.

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Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion , a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance. Jason is a Brazilian Jiujitsu martial artist, outdoorsman, and avid reader. You can find more content on his blog and YouTube channel.

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How Long Should a College Essay Be? | Word Count Tips

Published on September 29, 2021 by Kirsten Courault . Revised on August 17, 2022.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit. If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

You should aim to stay under the specified limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, if you write too little, it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a thoughtful and developed essay.

Table of contents

Word count guidelines for different application types, how to shorten your essay, how to expand your essay, frequently asked questions about college application essays.

Each university has a different suggested or required word count depending on which application portal it uses.

Some application portals will allow you to exceed the word count limit, but admissions officers have limited time and energy to read longer essays. Other application portals have a strict limit and will not allow you to exceed it.

For example, in the Common App , the portal will not allow you to submit more than 650 words. Some colleges using the Common App will allow you to submit less than 250 words, but this is too short for a well-developed essay.

For scholarship essays , diversity essays , and “Why this college?” essays , word count limits vary. Make sure to verify and respect each prompt’s limit.

Don’t worry too much about word count until the revision stage ; focusing on word count while writing may hinder your creativity. Once you have finished a draft, you can start shortening or expanding your essay if necessary.

On some application portals, you can exceed the word limit, but there are good reasons to stay within it:

Here are some strategies for shortening your essay.

Stay on the main point

It’s good to use vivid imagery, but only include relevant details. Cut any sentences with tangents or unnecessary information.

My father taught me how to strategically hold the marshmallow pierced by a twig at a safe distance from the flames to make sure it didn’t get burned, ensuring a golden brown exterior.

Typically, my father is glued to his computer since he’s a software engineer at Microsoft. But that night, he was the marshmallow master. We waited together as the pillowy sugary goodness caramelized into gooey delight. Good example: Sticks to the point On our camping trip to Yosemite, my family spent time together, away from technology and routine responsibility.

My favorite part was roasting s’mores around the campfire. My father taught me how to hold the marshmallow at a safe distance from the flames, ensuring a golden brown exterior.

These college essay examples also demonstrate how you can cut your essay down to size.

Eliminate wordiness

Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay. If a word doesn’t add value, cut it.

Here are some common examples of wordiness and how to fix them.

Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.

If you’re significantly under the word count, you’re wasting the opportunity to show depth and authenticity in your essay. Admissions officers may see your short essay as a sign that you’re unable to write a detailed, insightful narrative about yourself.

Here are some strategies for expanding your essay.

Show detailed examples, and don’t tell generic stories

You should include detailed examples that can’t be replicated by another student. Use vivid imagery, the five senses, and specific objects to transport the reader into your story.

Reveal your feelings and insight

If your essay lacks vulnerability or self-reflection, share your feelings and the lessons you’ve learned.

Be creative with how you express your feelings; rather than simply writing “I’m happy,” use memorable images to help the reader clearly visualize your happiness. Similarly, for insight, include the follow-up actions from your lessons learned; instead of claiming “I became a hard worker,” explain what difficult tasks you accomplished as a result of what you learned.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.

You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.

If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

If your college essay goes over the word count limit , cut any sentences with tangents or irrelevant details. Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay.

There is no set number of paragraphs in a college admissions essay . College admissions essays can diverge from the traditional five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in English class. Just make sure to stay under the specified word count .

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How to write a college admission essay that really works.

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Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 4/18/22

Read on to learn how to sturcuture, draft, write, and edit your college admisisons essays.

From drafting a personal statement to acquiring recommendation letters and seeking financial aid, applying for college can be a long, tedious task. One essential aspect of the admissions process is writing a stellar college admission essay; it allows students to add their own personal charm to their college application, one that goes beyond test scores and transcripts.

Writing a college admission essay can be a nerve-wracking challenge. To help you write a killer essay, we’ll cover how long your essay should be, expectations regarding its structure, and how to choose the ideal prompt to give you the best chance of admission. 

In this article, you will learn the standard rules and tips to help you write a good college admissions essay.

BEFORE you submit: Get a free essay review from a former Ivy League admissions officer.

Purpose of college admissions essays.

Drafting a college admissions essay that is well-written and impactful can make a world of a difference in whether or not your application is accepted. When the admissions committee chooses between you and another applicant with similar credentials, a powerful essay can tip the balance in your favor. 

Through your college admissions essay, you can showcase your personality and demonstrate that you have thought carefully about why you would be a good match for the college you’re applying to. It illustrates your commitment to learning and eagerness to contribute to your dream school’s community. Along with provings your writing skills, your essay also allows your voice to shine through your application. 

Writing a good college admissions essay makes a strong impression on the admissions officers and can boost your chances of being accepted; all it takes is a piece of paper and a few hundred words to make that happen.

How to Stand Out in Your Essays  

Your college admissions essay showcases your way of thinking and personality; your essay should be as unique as you are. Instead of writing a dull, generic essay, write one that is true to who you are, one that will captivate the reader. Here are some tips to help make your college admissions essay stand out. 

Your First Paragraph Should Grab the Reader’s Attention

Arguably, the introduction is the most important part of your college admission essay because it sets the tone for the rest of your essay. Remember, first impressions matter. A well-crafted introduction will convince the admissions committee to continue reading the rest of your essay. If you are having trouble figuring out how to begin your college essay, here are some introductions you can use to grab the reader’s attention:  

Be Authentic, Not Generic

You’ve probably read a newspaper article at some point in your life. You will notice the writer fades their voice behind the facts, leaving you without any knowledge about the author of the piece. When writing your college admissions essay, you should do the exact opposite. You do not want to be one of the other thousands of applicants who fail to make an impression. 

Instead, you want the admissions officer to say: “this is an actual person who wrote this; someone with feeling and depth.” Being vulnerable and putting your personality into your essay is a great way to achieve this; be honest, personable, and stay true to your own authentic voice.

Be Exciting – Don’t Be Boring

Trying to act like an intellectual know-it-all is not only exhausting but a huge turn-off for college admissions. You need to be unique to get noticed. Write like you are a strong-minded individual. Use beautiful yet casual language. Put emotion into your words. Make your essay come alive.

Make Your Essay Beautiful

You should make your essay beautiful in terms of style and content. Use a reasonable font, one that is easy to read and professional-looking. Instead of cramming your main ideas in the first paragraph, balance your essay points throughout. 

Use soothing margins and declare the essay prompt and your answer in the introduction. Be consistent with spacing, indentation, and excellent spelling and punctuation. Be sure to follow citation rules as per the essay requirements (MLA, Chicago style, APA, etc.)

Approach the Essay Prompt From a Different Point of View

Seeing things from a different perspective is one way to help your essay stand out. Do not be afraid to answer your essay prompt in a way that is unconventional or unexpected.

One approach, for example, can involve creating a little mystery; do not answer the prompt immediately. Instead, try to captivate the reader until the big reveal in the end. What do you wish to study at your dream college? You can reveal that in the final sentence of your essay after dropping clues that are relevant to your area of study.

You might want to talk about growing up in your native society; talk about your experiences, positive or negative, the bonds you made, the support you received, and how it helped you grow. You can talk about how you were interested in societies and end it off by writing how you wish to study social sciences. 

How to Structure a College Admissions Essay

A college admissions essay does not necessarily have to follow the standard English essay format: five paragraphs, including an introduction and conclusion. However, any specific requirements might differ between each college. Below we’ll outline how a college admissions essay should typically be structured.

College admissions essays usually do not require a title. Some students, however, choose to include a title because it’s the first thing the admissions committee will read, and it’s another chance to capture interest, demonstrate personality, and reframe their essay as a whole. A title is purely optional. If you do choose to incorporate a title, however, here are some tips:

Make sure your title is evocative, something that could be humorous, a play on words, or retell a moment of your life. Ensuring your title is interesting can be an effective way to draw your reader’s attention and make them excited to read the rest of your essay. Avoid using vague language in your title to keep the reader engaged. If you can’t think of a gripping title, consider submitting your essay without one; you don’t want your title to take away from what you have written.

Number of Paragraphs

Unless otherwise noted from the college application requirements, the number of paragraphs is up to you. Some essays can be four paragraphs, while others use eight. However, your essay, just as every other essay you have written (and will write in college), will require an introduction and a conclusion. It must adhere to the word limit, which will be discussed below.

Essay Templates

Unfortunately, there are no one-size-fits-all templates that you can follow when writing your college admission essay. You are allowed, however, to use basic structures when writing your essay that can work for any prompt. It is a good thing because it teaches you how to style the prompt the way you want while telling your story the way you want.

How Long Should a College Admissions Essay Be? 

Instead of page limits, colleges provide candidates with a specific word count for their admission essays. Colleges do this to ensure there’s a standard length for all the admissions essays they receive, regardless of format or font type. If your prospective school does not specify how long your essay should be, you can always email the admissions committee to confirm before you start writing. 

While your essay can be close, it should not exceed the word limit. If possible, a standard practice to make sure you don’t exceed the word count is to aim to spare about 50 words from the total word limit. If an essay calls for a 600-word count, aim to cap it around 550-580 words. When given a range, you must always respect and stay in said range.

If you need to exceed the limit by maybe one to three extra words, you can definitely get away with that. Colleges will allow that, but you must be absolutely sure it is appropriate to do so. There’s a chance that if you have to copy-paste your essay into your application rather than upload it, the formatting can become skewed, and a few words at the end could be cut off.  

Keep in mind that if you exceed the limit in a glaringly obvious way, the admissions office will stop reading your essay past a certain point, which is not good for you. The word limit is like a small test for applicants – it is very important to follow the school’s rules, and they want to see who can make the best impression while following their specific rules and guidelines. 

Sometimes, colleges do not have a word limit for their admission essays. It can be difficult figuring out an appropriate length for your prompt, but they may offer additional components, such as including a writing sample from one of your classes. Colleges can provide a general guideline for writing samples, usually four to five pages demonstrating your writing and analytical abilities. It is not advised to provide a sample that exceeds ten pages.

How to Pick Your Essay Topic 

Colleges usually have one prompt for you to address in your personal statement or will give you the option to choose from a list. Having a variety of questions to choose from can come with its own difficulties; you may not know which question is best or how to approach it. Here is a short list of the most common essay prompts, as well as how to answer them.

Prompt #1: Share Your Story 

You can answer this prompt by reflecting on a hobby, a part of your personality, or a genuine experience that was meaningful to you. Your essay should make the reader feel connected to you, and your essay can do that by offering an honest, personal insight into who you are. Unless they are close to your heart, avoid talking about high school achievements in your prompt. Instead, talk about things that truly matter to you, like your love of nature, superheroes, special talents, or anything else that ties into who you are and what you believe. 

Prompt #2: Learning From Obstacles 

Showing your best self can include learning from past mistakes or obstacles you had to overcome. Talking about overcoming challenges can display your courage, perseverance, determination, and self-control. The conclusion is what really ties this prompt together; it allows you to explain how this obstacle changed your perspective on life and made you a stronger person.

Prompt #3: Challenging a Belief

This prompt requires you to answer by talking about a time you stood against the status quo or an experience that changed your view on a certain topic.

Only choose this prompt if you have a relevant, specific,experience you can recount. Discussing the lessons that you have learnt from this experience is a great way to conclude this essay.  Keep in mind that writing a vague essay about a hot button issue doesn’t tell the admissions committee anything useful about you. 

Prompt #4: Solving a Problem

This prompt is designed to allow readers to delve into the heart of how you think and what makes you tick. Present a situation, explain it in detail, and show steps toward the solution. Admissions officers want to learn more about  your thought process and the issues you deal with. Explain how you first became aware of the issue and how you tackled it while reiterating why the problem is important to you. Don’t forget to explain why the problem is important to you! 

Prompt #5: Describe a Person You Admire

Avoid the urge to write about a beloved figure like Princess Diana or Martin Luther King Jr. The admissions committee doesn't need to be convinced they are famous and influential people. Focus on yourself: Choose someone who has altered your behavior or your worldview, and write about how this person influenced you. This person could be a teacher, family member, or even a classmate that had an important impact on you.

Prompt #6: Discuss a Professional Experience or Extracurricular Activity That Has Been Meaningful to You

Take this opportunity to examine an experience that taught you something you didn't previously know about yourself, got you out of your comfort zone, or forced you to grow. Sometimes it's better to write about something hard because of the lessons learned rather than choosing to write about something easy. As with all essay questions, the most important thing is to tell a great story: how you discovered this activity, what drew you to it, and what it's shown you about yourself. 

Tips for Writing a College Admissions Essay

Even when you have the topic chosen and how you wish to address the topic set, it is still hard to know how to make an impactful essay. Here are some final tips to help get your creative juices flowing when preparing an outline for your college admission essay.


Read the Instructions Carefully

While this may seem redundant, keep in mind that you have to read the instructions carefully. If you do not follow the guidelines, it tells the admissions officer you are likely to disregard instructions in your classes once admitted. Always read the instructions carefully and make notes, so you are prepared to create your first draft.

Start With a Compelling Introduction

Writing is hard, but great writing is achievable if you follow the right path. Any journalist will tell you that the best way to get the readers’ attention is to have a great introduction. Admissions take a short time to review your essay, so make sure you start off with a vivid introduction to engage them.

Use Your Inner Voice 

Authenticity is greatly valued in post-secondary institutions, as it shows your quality of thinking. Avoid shaping your essay around popular phrases or ideas that have been used many times before; try to base it on your genuine beliefs. Connect it to your skills, ambitions, existing knowledge on the matter, and how it will help you in your future endeavors. 

Avoid Clichés

While you research your application essay, you will most likely get inspired by a few examples of great essays. While it can be a great way to help you write your own essays,  many students allow their responses to be influenced too much by examples, resulting in them using clichésas a way to appeal to the admission officers.

Remember that there are thousands of students applying to your desired university;  you need to make yourself stand out. Reread your essay, delete all the sentences that sound too common, and try to find a more original angle. 

Give Good Examples to Support Your Ideas

A college application essay is basically a glimpse into how your mind works and your view of the world. If you want your essay to be credible, you need to make sure everything you write supports that viewpoint. Spend some time figuring out how the essay question relates to your personal qualities, and then write from that approach.

That means that every time you want to express an idea,  don’t just simply state a fact; include specific details and examples to develop your ideas. You can do that by offering examples from your personal experiences and writing about what truly motivates you and how you developed a certain belief. 

Select a Prompt That Works in Your Favor

The Common Application, and a few schools, will give you a list of prompts to help you tell your own story. 

These prompts are useful starting off points and invite students to think about challenges they’ve overcome or experiences that have made them grateful. It’s an opportunity to display your growth, strength, and what makes a candidate who they are.

Tell Your Story

Remember that your college admissions essay should be all about you. Before you begin  writing your essay, admissions experts advise that you do a reflection exercise with yourself. Ask yourself questions like, “How do I tell my story?” 

Don’t Be Repetitive 

Your essay shouldn’t just repeat the points of your resume. Instead, it should highlight what makes you a fantastic candidate beyond grades, extracurricular activities, and test scores.

Edit. Then Edit Again

Once you’ve written your essay’s first draft, take a couple of days Before you reread it with fresh eyes to see if it flows and uses clear, specific language. Avoid writing in an overly formal academic tone; you should always aim to write in your own, authentic voice. Consult a trusted teacher, tutor, or counselor to review and edit your second draft. A second pair of eyes from someone who knows you well can ensure that your essay is written in your own style and is free of spelling and grammatical errors.

Take Advantage of Resources

Though developing a strong college essay can be a long, tedious process, you don’t have to go through it by yourself. . There is a wide range of online admission resources that you can access through various universities and nonprofit organizations. These help you make the best version of your prompt and enhance your chances of getting accepted.

Confirm Your Requirements and Deadlines

Treat the application process as a test run for college courses — you’ll have plenty of deadlines to meet for assignments and tests in your first semesters during college. Admissions officers recommend keeping a spreadsheet or document detailing the universities you’re applying to, along with a checklist of what you have completed keeping track of your progress.

College Admission Essay FAQs

Still have questions? Here are some FAQs that can help you give an appropriate insight into college essay writing:

1. Can I use the same essay for different schools?

Yes. You must first research each schools’ essay questions or prompts. Most schools use a common list of prompts, but others have their own application requirements. It would not hurt to tweak your essay for colleges based on the topics provided.

2. How can my essay stand out from everyone else’s?

Your essay provides an opportunity to help the admissions committee learn about you as a person, your interests, character traits, and factors that cannot be seen on the more formal parts of your applications. The topic you pick must shine a light on your strengths. Be personal, open a window for the admissions to delve into your mind, your world.

3. How personal should the Personal Essay be?

A good way to approach this would be to imagine you’re on a date with someone you have just met, and you want to instigate conversation. Which story would be the most appropriate for them? Would it succeed in growing the conversation and the bond between you two? While you should be honest, genuine, and vulnerable in your essays, avoid discussing anything that’s too personal just for the sake of appearing raw or gritty. 

4. Why shouldn't I write about my awards or accomplishments?

Your academic achievements and credentials will already show up in different parts of your applications, so relying on them in your essay would be redundant. Remember your essay must add insight to your application and reveal your thoughts, motivations, and who you are as a person. 

5. How important is it that my essay be polished?

Do not try to over-polish your essay; be authentic. It is much easier to write in your own voice than talk too formally and include overbearing language in an effort to impress the admissions committee.  With that said, it is important that your essay is free of grammatical errors, so it doesn’t hurt to proofread and check for any syntax errors so your best work is displayed.

6. When should I start planning my college essay? When should I write my college essay?

It is advised students should use the summer before their senior year to reflect on their experiences and determine what they would like to share with the admission committee. Ideally, you should complete the first draft of your essay by the start of school in September, which will allow you to focus on your senior year.

7. When is my college essay due?

The essay is due when the application and supporting documents are submitted. If you apply using the CommonApp or the Coalition Application, the essay will be submitted with the application.


Writing a college admissions essay may be exhaustive, but if you plan ahead and keep making draft after draft, it will be a breeze by the time you submit your final copy. Colleges want to know the person applying for their school, and the essay is the best way to humanize you!

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College Essay Length: How Long Should It Be or Word Limit

Colleges require students to submit a written essay as part of their application or learning process. Basically, college essays are short papers that require learners to respond to question in a clear manner. In this case, writers must meet the correct word length to receive good grades. Then, going beyond or below the required college essay word limit creates a negative impression about authors. In particular, credible papers should have a short introduction and conclusion. Also, each of these sections should take-up 10% of the overall word limit. However, the body section should take-up approximately 80% of the stated length. In turn, a minimum paragraph length should be 50-100 words and follow a sandwich rule, which requires one to use at least four sentences. Besides, writers must ensure that a college body paragraph contains a topic sentence, relevant evidence, accurate explanations, and a concluding and transitioning statement. Hence, students must understand the basic college essay length of how long should it be with its word limit.

General Guidelines on College Essay Length

College students communicate their thoughts through essays. Basically, the length of a college essay plays a crucial role in enhancing the learner’s ability to express opinions or support a topic effectively. In this case, writers should ensure that each sentence contributes to a central idea or thesis statement . Moreover, 1-page college essays should contain approximately 250 words. In turn, this word limit can allow one to organize ideas in five paragraphs. Because students communicate their thoughts or arguments through writing, the length limit contributes toward enhanced communication. However, by answering the question of how long should a college essay be, the length limit of such a paper varies from 250 to 1000 words, depending on assignment instructions.

College essay length: How long should it be or word count limit

Usual Range of a Word Count for College Essays

1. word limit of traditional college essays.

The length of college papers varies in size, depending on prompt instructions. For example, the average length of a common college essay is 500 words, which is approximately two double-spaced pages. Also, a short version of a college essay is 250 words. However, professors may require learners to write college essays for 750 or 1000 words to make papers for about 3 pages in length on extended essay topics . In this case, college students may submit papers that meet such criteria. Besides, answers to essay questions or body paragraphs should contain between 200 and 800 words. As for long college papers, such papers should be between 1000 and 2000 words. In turn, these lengths and word limits help students to organize their papers with compelling answers to prompt questions.

A. Other Features of Traditional College Essays

The length limit of ordinary college essays ranges within 250-1000 words to avoid vagueness when communicating an intended message. For instance, college lecturers, professors, and tutors give assignment prompts that require students to respond accurately and straightforwardly by following a typical essay structure with a traditional essay outline . In this case, learners should use short word limits to organize the most compelling evidence to support the arguments presented. Moreover, a brief scope prevents one from including vague and weak ideas in a paper. As a rule, students should make sure to fully explain and analyze each example included in a paper as evidence. In turn, this approach helps to address a single idea in each paragraph. Hence, college essays should have a short length that allows students to communicate effectively.

2. How Long Should a College Application Essay Be

College application essays vary in size when compared to ordinary assignments. Basically, the length of a college application essay should be between 200 and 650 words. For instance, a college committee requires students to submit short personal papers that express their interests and inspirations. Moreover, this word range provides adequate space for students to convey their personality, passions, and writing abilities to the admission or selection panel. Since a college application essay has a strict word length, one must ensure that titles and other explanatory notes fall within a required word limit.  

A. Why College Application Essays Should Be From 250 to 650 Words

Colleges require students to submit application essays that range between 250 and 650 words because such papers allow committees to learn more about students. In particular, the shorter length of application essays gives aspiring students adequate space to express their interests and unique personality traits. Besides, admission committees use such application paper length to determine if students can follow instructions effectively by meeting a word limit and providing strict and clear messages. In turn, going beyond or below a word limit may lead to possible rejection by admission committees from a practical perspective. Hence, short college application essays intend to allow admission committees to learn more about applicants beyond test scores and grades.

Length of Each Part of a College Essay

An ordinary college essay should have three main parts that help to communicate an intended message. Basically, these three sections include an introduction, body, and conclusion. Moreover, each of these three parts should have a different length. In turn, a college admission essay should have the same length but containing another type of content. However, the rule for observing a traditional word limit should be similar in all the instances. Hence, word limits that students should remember when they cope with writing their papers are:

I. Introduction of a College Essay: 25-100 Words

The introduction of an ordinary essay should contain approximately 10% of the overall word length. For instance, the introduction should give a clear overview of a topic and help readers to develop a picture of what to expect in the body section. In this case, students should provide a brief background of body paragraphs to avoid going beyond the 10% limit. Then, one should include a clear thesis statement in the introductory section. Basically, these details should take-up a small part of a college essay. However, if a paper contains 1000 words, students should write the introduction in 100 words.

II. Body Section in a College Essay: 200-800 Words

The body section of a college essay should contain approximately 80% of the entire word length. In this case, the body section includes several paragraphs that support a thesis statement. Moreover, each body paragraph must contain relevant evidence and explanations. Hence, students must ensure that the essay’s body covers the largest space. In turn, if a college paper has 1000 words, writers should spend 800 words for body paragraphs to explain the main ideas.

III. Conclusion of a College Essay: 25-100 Words

The concluding paragraph should take up 10% of the essay’s word length. For instance, the concluding section should contain a summary of the main points communicated in a college essay. In practice, students should restate a thesis statement and recapitulate the significant issues discussed. Hence, this information should take-up a small portion of a college essay limit. In turn, if a college paper contains 1000 words, learners should write a conclusion by using 100 words.

How to Pay Attention to Paper Requirements

Students must pay attention to essay requirements given by lecturers or admission committees. For instance, ignoring basic instructions may lead to lower grades or rejection. In turn, professors and admission officers focus on identifying the learner’s ability to observe instructions and determine word limit requirements by providing clear and strict messages. Hence, guidelines that students must keep in mind when writing a college paper are:

1. Minimum Length Requirement

The college essay’s minimum length refers to the least number of words that a student must write. Basically, instructors and admission officers give students a range of words that must be used for writing a college essay. In this case, writers cannot submit a college paper with lesser words than a minimum length. Hence, failure to meet a minimum length requirement of a college essay leads to losing points or denial from admission.

2. Maximum Length Requirement

The maximum length requirement refers to the highest number of words that a paper must contain. In most cases, lecturers and admission officers do not grade the content beyond the maximum number of terms indicated in the instructions. Moreover, students should observe this word limit to avoid unnecessary penalization or deduction of marks for failing to follow instructions. As a rule, learners should not exceed 10% of the whole word count of a college paper length. In turn, if such an essay must be 500 words, students must not exceed a whole word count of a paper more than 550 words.

Possibilities to Go Over or Under a Word Limit in Colleges Essays

Some educational institutions allow students to go over or under the given limit. As a rule, one should either surpass or fall behind a given word limit with 10%. However, one should avoid these possibilities because of the following reasons:

1. Ways of Adhering to Guidelines

Students must demonstrate their ability to adhere to rules. When professors instruct students to complete an essay in 250 words, they do not want one to submit three typed pages. Instead, they expect learners to present a powerful piece that communicates a central message in one double-spaced page. Hence, writers should overcome such an issue by adhering to a stipulated word limit.

2. Negative Impression

Lengthy essays with no sense make readers develop a negative perception of authors. For instance, submitting college papers that go beyond an established word limit makes writers appear overconfident. Basically, such cases may occur in college application essays. Moreover, long pieces may force admission officers to think that such applicants cannot organize their thought clearly. In turn, such negative impressions may lead to a possible rejection of a lengthy application essay.

3. Poor Editing Skills

Going beyond given word limits shows that a writer has poor editing skills. For example, outstanding students can edit and remove unnecessary details. In this case, learners should demonstrate these skills by reviewing their works to reduce the number of irrelevant words and enhance the clarity of the essay’s message. Also, rereading through a college paper reveals words, sentences, or paragraphs that do not contribute to a paper. In turn, one should eliminate such vague details to ensure that a written piece meets the necessary word limits.

How to Work Out With a Length Limit of a College Essay

Students should rely on a fair editing process to meet a required word count limit. For example, students should remove weaker evidence, in-text citations, or arguments to reduce the number of words if they go beyond those stated in paper instructions. In other instances, learners should define new and robust evidence to support the main points when college essays contain fewer words than needed. Moreover, students with practical editing skills should check if each paragraph appears relevant to a central argument. Then, writers should ensure that each body paragraph addresses one point related to a thesis statement. In turn, such an approach helps to control the number of words that one must use for a college essay.

1. Word Count Filler

Word count fillers refer to details that a student adds to a college essay to meet a requested length of words. In particular, learners should ensure that all word count fillers remain relevant to a topic. Unfortunately, many students make a mistake of using irrelevant words in their works to achieve a required count. As a result, this approach lowers the essay’s quality through a distortion of the main message.

2. Plagiarism

Students should avoid all forms of plagiarism because it shows a lack of originality. Basically, plagiarism exists when a student uses information from external sources without acknowledging it effectively. Besides, plagiarism leads to a punishable academic crime. In this case, students should paraphrase or quote information by using acceptable academic guidelines or writing formats, such as APA 7, MLA 8, Harvard, or Chicago//Turabian, among others. Similarly, they should include an in-text citation for the mentioned, summarized, or translated evidence to overcome all plagiarism cases.

3. Abstract

Some college essays may contain an abstract, including a summary of the main ideas presented in the body section. As a rule, a college abstract should contain between 100 and 200 words, and it is not counted for the essay’s word limit. Basically, this rule applies regardless of the paper’s length. In turn, learners should write an abstract after completing a paper and ensuring that they deal with all the necessary guidelines.

Good and Bad Strategies to Meet a Length Requirement

Students use different methods to meet a word limit required in a college essay. For example, some of the bad strategies that writers use to complete the essay’s length include using wordy sentences, including irrelevant details, and copy-pasting. Basically, these methods lead to plagiarism and vagueness in an intended message. However, one may use acceptable practices, like adding strong evidence while removing weak ones. In this case, students should identify irrelevant details during the editing process. Besides, writers should add more substantial pieces of evidence to support central claims.

1. Dealing With an Unspecified Word Limit

Students may come across strange circumstances where instructions fail to stipulate the word limit’s exact number. In such a case, learners must submit a college essay with three paragraphs to meet a minimum length. Basically, students should include the introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs. In turn, these three sections should add up to 250 words in total or one double-spaced page.

2. Coping With a 5-Paragraph Essay

While colleges require a five-paragraph essay, students should attain a minimum length of 500 words. In this case, one should follow the basic requirements of 5 parts of an essay – introduction with three body paragraphs and ending with a concluding section. Besides, three body paragraphs may have the main argument, counterargument, and rebuttal paragraph if it is a persuasive essay . In turn, students must submit a persuasive essay that proves a specific point to be more valid.

3. Determining Discussion Posts

A discussion post refers to a one- or two-paragraph essay that requires students to express their thoughts briefly. Basically, discussion post responses are popular these days because they help learners to acquire critical thinking skills. Despite their short length, discussion posts are useful in showing how students perceive a situation. Besides, they allow writers to express their thoughts toward a subject.

Defining a Length of a Paragraph in a College Essay

College essays should have body paragraphs that contain a reasonable length. As a rule, a typical body paragraph should contain four or more sentences from 50 to 100 words. In particular, a section must contain a topic sentence, supporting evidence, explanation, and concluding and transitioning statement. Moreover, students must be sure that these four sentences follow a sandwich rule, which enhances the main ideas’ communication. However, one should not use a paragraph that fills an entire page, or it must not exceed 150-200 words. In turn, such practices affect the essay’s readability.

Summing Up on College Essay’s Length Limits

College essays allow students to communicate their thoughts or arguments through writing. In this case, the length limit of college essays contributes toward enhanced communication. Basically, learners must write their papers by following basic word count limits and ensure that they meet assignment instructions. In turn, failing to follow instructions may lead to undesired outcomes, like loss of grading points and rejection of college admissions. Hence, some tips that one should consider:

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  1. The Best College Essay Length: How Long Should It Be?

    As exemplified by the University of Illinois, the shortest word limits for college essays are usually around 150 words (less than half a single-

  2. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    College essay word count limits. Most colleges do provide a word count limit or range. · Personal statements. The primary essay for your college application

  3. Does the college application essay box allow more than 650 words?

    This personal essay gives you 7 different prompts and you need to write 1 (maximum of 650 words). To make things a bit more confusing, when you submit your

  4. How Long Should Your College Essay Be? What is the Ideal Length?

    Main application essays are generally 500-650 words. For example, the Common Application, which can be used to apply to more than 800 colleges

  5. How many Paragraphs should a College Essay be?

    Typically, college essays are anywhere between 500 and 800 words long. However, in some cases, you will be required to follow a specific word limit set by your

  6. How Long is a College Essay? 7 Answers

    *by “within reason,” I mean that if your first few drafts of a 650 word limit essay are 800 or 900 words, no worries. You'll have to cut, but

  7. How to Stick to the Word Count on College Essays

    If you don't write the Common App essay, or if you write additional essays, note that most college essays set word limits around 500-750 words.

  8. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit.

  9. How to Write a College Admission Essay That Really Works

    While your essay can be close, it should not exceed the word limit. If possible, a standard practice to make sure you don't exceed the word

  10. College Essay Length: How Long Should It Be or Word Limit

    Besides, answers to essay questions or body paragraphs should contain between 200 and 800 words. As for long college papers, such papers should