Use the Maximum Word Count in College Essays

College Essays, Admissions Essays, Word Count in College Essays

Use the real estate you’re given in college essays.

If the maximum word count for a college admissions essays 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 build ten stories and dedicate the rest of the space for the native pigeons of Manhattan. You build up — twenty-five stories up. The pigeons have enough space. And yet even though it seems only logical that college applicants should use all of the real estate they’re allotted to make their case in essays, to tell their story, to distinguish themselves in a competitive pool, you’d be amazed how many students write essays that don’t come anywhere near the maximum word count.

Use the Maximum Word Count in Every College Essay

Capitalizing on the maximum word count of college essays doesn’t just apply to the Common Application Personal Statement, which allows applicants to write 650 words. This applies to every supplemental essay as well. If Dartmouth asks you to write 300 words, don’t give them 250 words because you think empty space looks nice. You’re not an interior designer! When Dartmouth admissions officers come across an essay that doesn’t come close to their max word count, they’re likely to think, “This kid doesn’t love our school enough to put in the work to write an essay specifically for us. She probably wants to go elsewhere.” And if that thought happens to cross the mind of an admissions officer, the odds are good that same admissions officer is unlikely to offer the student a spot in the incoming class. This of course doesn’t just apply to Dartmouth. It applies to every highly selective institution in America.

Yes, Use the Maximum Word Count in the 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 his or her case. But don’t think that an essay means only boxes that allow for 100 words or more. Many schools ask short answer questions too. Maybe they’re called short-takes. Hint, hint. Go up to the maximum word or character count in these opportunities too — and opportunities is the right word because that’s precisely what they are. These short-takes too are opportunities to present a window into your world, to distinguish yourself from other talented applicants to an elite institution.

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1 Comment

  • Sahana says:

    For William and Mary, the word limit is 650 words, but in the prompt they say, “We know nobody fits neatly into 500 words or less…” Should I aim for 650 or 500 words? Thank you!

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