College Essay Length: Go to the Maximum Word Count
Previously Published on September 24, 2017:
College applicants should use the real estate offered in college essays to make their case — all of it! If the maximum word count for a college admissions essay is 650 words, applicants should not write 500 words. They should write 650 words — or pretty close to it.
When you’re a real estate developer in Manhattan, and you’re allowed to build twenty-five stories, you don’t construct ten stories and dedicate the rest of the space for the native pigeons of Manhattan. You build up —twenty-five levels. The pigeons have the skies.
And yet even though it seems only logical that college applicants should use all of the allotted real estate to make their case in essays, to tell their stories, to distinguish themselves in super competitive applicant pools, it never ceases to amaze us how many students write essays that don’t come anywhere near the maximum word count. Instead, they leave the space on the table to the disservice of their candidacies.
Students Should Go to the Word Limit in Every College Essay
If Brown University asks applicants to write a 200-250-word essay on how students would take advantage of the Open Curriculum, as the Ivy League school does on its 2022-2023 application, students should not offer them 200 words. College applicants are not interior designers — blank space does not look lovely. They should submit 250-word essays.
When Brown admissions officers come across an essay that doesn’t come close to the school’s maximum word count, they’re likely to think, “This student doesn’t love our school enough to put in the work to write an essay just for us. She probably wants to go elsewhere.”
And if that thought crosses the mind of an admissions officer, the odds are strong that the same admissions officer is unlikely to offer that student a spot in the incoming class. And, of course, this doesn’t just apply to Brown — it applies to every highly selective institution in America.
Students Should Use the Maximum Word or Character Count in Short Answers Too
We can’t stress enough the importance of taking advantage of the real estate an applicant is afforded in essays to make their case. But don’t be fooled that an essay only means boxes on The Common Application that allow students to include 100 words or more.
After all, many top schools pose short answer questions too. Maybe they’re called short-takes. On the 2022-2023 application, the University of Southern California, for instance, asks applicants to name their favorite movie of all time, their dream job, favorite trip, and favorite snack, among others.
Students should go up to the maximum character count in these opportunities too — and opportunities is the apropos word because they’re opportunities to wow admissions officers, present a window into a student’s world and distinguish themselves from other talented applicants. In short, students should not just name their favorite movie — they should say why concisely.
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