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How Long Should a College Essay Be?

by Rebecca Acree, on Sep 3, 2020 4:48:03 PM

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. 

Supplemental & 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!

Topics:college admissions

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