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How Long Should a College Essay Be?

High school essays tend to require a page limit, but college essays tend to require a word count.

[Featured image] A young woman wearing glasses and a gray sweater uses her laptop.

When it comes to college application essays, many colleges and universities specify a word count. Some expect one longer essay, while others expect responses to multiple prompts using a shorter word count for each answer. However, that’s not always the case. If your institution doesn’t provide a specific word count, it’s best to keep your essay between the length established by the longer college admissions essay format: 250 to 650 words .

Word count is just one factor to consider as you craft your college admissions essay. Let’s go over other considerations, like whether a longer essay makes a difference, and whether it’s acceptable to exceed the word count. 

College essays: Word count vs. page limit 

High school essays tend to require a page limit, meaning that your teachers might ask you to submit a five-page paper or an eight-paper paper. However, college essays tend to require a word count. 

When a college provides you with a wide word count range, it’s best to take advantage of the upper word count limit. For example, if a college asks for an essay between 250-500 words, you should aim to craft a response that’s at least 400-450 words. You don’t need to hit the maximum length, but your essay should be well over half the word count. 

College essays or personal statements are an opportunity for a college admissions committee to hear directly from you. It’s valuable space. Writing the bare minimum may not send the best message to the committee, and it may not help them learn more about who you are outside of your transcripts and general application. 

Learn more: Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for College

How to measure your college essay's word count

Measuring your word count depends on which program you’re using to write your essay. Microsoft Word and Google Docs are two of the most common. 

Microsoft Word: The page count is typically displayed on the bottom left of your screen. You can also click “Review” and then “Word count” to find how much you’ve written. 

Google Docs: Under “Tools,” click on “Word count.” You can also highlight a portion of your text before clicking “word count” so you can determine the exact word count of that section. 

Should you go over the word count? 

Simply put, no. Do not go over the maximum word count. If there isn’t a preferred word count, submit an essay that’s under 650 words, according to the college application platform Common App, which works with over 900 colleges in the US [ 1 ]. 

Admissions officers are looking for well-written essays that follow directions. Officers review thousands of essays every year. In fact, the average college received 9,071 applications in 2020 [ 2 ]. Writing either a very short or a very long essay—ignoring the directions in either case—might send the wrong impression. 

You can always start by writing a longer draft and then trimming the most unnecessary parts to tighten your essay and get it down to the preferred word count. This will help you include the most important information and get your point across in a concise way.

What length should supplemental college essays be?

Supplemental essays are additional prompts that some colleges and universities ask students to answer in addition to their personal statement or college essay. It's usually an opportunity to specify your interest in that particular school: Admissions committees may ask why you want to attend or what you want to study and why.

Schools can require, on average, at least two or three supplemental essays, while others have been known to ask for over ten. Most schools will provide specific instructions about the word count for supplemental essays. As with the college essay, stay within the range or limit, and write a focused response that incorporates some knowledge about the school.  

How to format your college essay

As with word count, many institutions specify any formatting requirements, such as double-spacing (vs. single-spacing) your essay, and what font size you should use. (With general online application portals, such as Common App, the program will format your essay for you.)

Because a college essay is measured by word count rather than page length, writing in a larger font and using double-spaced formatting won’t affect the overall length of your essay, though it’s best to adhere to each college’s guidelines. Check if there are any parameters you need to follow for each application you submit.

4 tips for writing an effective college essay

No matter which essay prompt you choose, it’s important to take your time crafting your response, making sure every word adds to your story. Follow these tips to help your college essay stand out.

1. Be prepared to write a few drafts. 

Your college essay should go through a few drafts before you share the final version with one of your peers or a professional for additional feedback. Take advantage of the rough draft phase by overwriting. Forget about your word count for a moment and let yourself go. Doing so may help you discover something new to say, or help you expand upon your original idea. 

Make editing a separate process from the actual writing. As much as possible, write and then walk away for a period of time (a few hours or even a day). Return to your essay with fresh eyes and see if you can cut the essay, reduce the number of words you’re using, or find a more succinct or focused way to approach your response. 

2. Answer the question and relate it to your unique story.

Your essay should both answer the prompt and convey who you are. You don’t need a dazzling, one-of-a-kind story to get an admissions officer’s attention. Your life is unique to you—only you have had your experiences. 

Make sure that whatever you choose to write about is an authentic representation of who you are. Instead of comparing your essay to someone else in your class, work to make your response the best it can be for you. And as you focus your essay, go one step further by sharing what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown as a result. That kind of reflection can build more depth into your response.  

3. Get specific.

When recounting an experience, incorporate creative writing to your personal statement.  Use details to describe a situation and add a bit of color. Pick strong verbs and a few specific adjectives that correctly highlight the action and scene. Let’s compare these two examples: 

 1) When I got a musical instrument for my birthday, I wasn’t really sure I’d like it. Still, I figured I’d play it daily because I enjoy music. I got better, and soon I made band. I like that I get to go to all the school games.

2) When my mother surprised me with a clarinet for my 15th birthday, I wondered if I’d enjoy playing it. Over the summer, when my friends gathered outside to enjoy their time off, I practiced my scales every day in my room—and slowly improved. After that hard work and sacrifice, I was excited to earn a place in the marching band.

Both paragraphs recount the same memory, but the second one creates a more memorable picture. 

4. Ask for feedback.

Once you feel as though you’ve developed a final draft, don’t rush to turn it in. Instead, ask one of your favorite teachers or a trusted friend or family member to read it. Ask for constructive feedback on ways to improve. Be prepared to make changes if something is unclear or if they think there’s a better way to phrase a section. But make sure you continue to write in your voice so the college gets to know who you are instead of someone else.

When you’re feeling confident, review your work one last time for grammar and spelling. Don’t let a small error override an otherwise thoughtful, engaging essay.

Keep learning 

You may find it helpful to brush up on your creative writing skills so you can express yourself clearly and colorfully before applying to college. On Coursera, you can enroll in Wesleyan University’s Creative Writing specialization for free. Or you can find courses that can help you gain more knowledge of the college admissions process . 

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Article sources

1. Common App. “ Are There Word Limits? , https://appsupport.commonapp.org/s/article/are-there-word-limits-kudeoeos." Accessed February 11, 2022.

2. US News and World Report. “ 10 Colleges That Received the Most Applications ,  https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/colleges-that-received-the-most-applications." Accessed February 11, 2022.

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how long are college essays usually

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

What’s covered: , personal statement length vs. supplemental essay length, are college essay word limits hard, what if a college essay word count isn’t given, what if you need to submit a graded paper, where to get your essays edited.

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. A good guideline is that 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 best practices for college essay length.

How many words should a college essay be? Personal statements 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 500-650 words.

650 words is the most common limit for your personal statement, but some schools may ask students to write more or less. For example, ApplyTexas , a platform used to apply to Texas public universities and other select colleges, requests essays with requirements that vary 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 each.

On the other hand, the University of California (UC) application includes a Personal Insight section with eight prompts . Students are asked to respond to any four of these prompts, with each response 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 your reasons for wanting to attend their school, your desired major, or your 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 supplemental essays ). These essays tend to be around 250 words, but some may be just as long as your main essay. For example, Cornell requires applicants to write a second supplemental essay (of 650 words max) that is specific to the program they’re applying to. The exception to this is the Cornell College of Engineering, for which applicants are required to compose two supplemental essays of 250 words max each.

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. For example, if the school requests 500 words, try to ensure that your essay is between 450 and 500 words.

For the Common App, try to stay within 550-650 words, even though the given range is 250-650. Any submission shorter than 500 words will make it look as though you simply didn’t care enough to give your best effort. An essay shorter than 500 words won’t be long enough to truly share who you are and what matters to you.

Exceeding the word count isn’t an option—the application portal cuts off anything over the maximum number of allowed words. This is something you want to be particularly careful of if you’re drafting your essay in a Word or Google document and pasting it into the application.

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 the best practices and conventions of writing. 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 12-point Times New Roman).

In the event that the college doesn’t offer any guidelines at all, aim for an essay length of around 500 words.

While essays are the most commonly requested writing sample, some colleges ask for additional pieces of content. For example, Princeton University requires students to submit a previously graded paper for evaluation .

Princeton offers guidelines that cover length, but if another school requests an old paper and doesn’t offer length requirements, a paper ranging from 3-5 pages should yield the 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 reading it.

Is your essay effective while staying within the required word count? It’s hard to evaluate your own writing, especially after rereading it numerous times. CollegeVine’s free Peer Essay Review provides an opportunity to have your essay reviewed by a fellow student, for free. Similarly, you can help other students by reviewing their essays—this is a great way to refine your own writing skills.

Expert advice is also available. CollegeVine’s advisors are prepared to help you perfect your personal statement and submit a successful application to your top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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College Essays

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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!

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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.

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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.

how long are college essays usually

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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.

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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!

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"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!

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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 my essay be?

The average length of a personal essay for college is 400─600 words. Always read the prompt. Follow the instructions provided in the application.

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Frequently asked questions

How long does it take to write a college essay.

While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.

You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.

Frequently asked questions: College admissions essays

When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.

No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.

The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.

Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

Most importantly, your essay should be about you , not another person or thing. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.

Your essay shouldn’t be a résumé of your experiences but instead should tell a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding your message and content. Then, check for flow, tone, style , and clarity. Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors .

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.

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 you’ve got to write your college essay fast , don’t panic. First, set yourself deadlines: you should spend about 10% of your remaining time on brainstorming, 10% on outlining, 40% writing, 30% revising, and 10% taking breaks in between stages.

Second, brainstorm stories and values based on your essay prompt.

Third, outline your essay based on the montage or narrative essay structure .

Fourth, write specific, personal, and unique stories that would be hard for other students to replicate.

Fifth, revise your essay and make sure it’s clearly written.

Last, if possible, get feedback from an essay coach . Scribbr essay editors can help you revise your essay in 12 hours or less.

Avoid swearing in a college essay , since admissions officers’ opinions of profanity will vary. In some cases, it might be okay to use a vulgar word, such as in dialogue or quotes that make an important point in your essay. However, it’s safest to try to make the same point without swearing.

If you have bad grades on your transcript, you may want to use your college admissions essay to explain the challenging circumstances that led to them. Make sure to avoid dwelling on the negative aspects and highlight how you overcame the situation or learned an important lesson.

However, some college applications offer an additional information section where you can explain your bad grades, allowing you to choose another meaningful topic for your college essay.

Here’s a brief list of college essay topics that may be considered cliché:

  • Extracurriculars, especially sports
  • Role models
  • Dealing with a personal tragedy or death in the family
  • Struggling with new life situations (immigrant stories, moving homes, parents’ divorce)
  • Becoming a better person after community service, traveling, or summer camp
  • Overcoming a difficult class
  • Using a common object as an extended metaphor

It’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic. However, it’s possible to make a common topic compelling with interesting story arcs, uncommon connections, and an advanced writing style.

Yes. The college application essay is less formal than other academic writing —though of course it’s not mandatory to use contractions in your essay.

In a college essay , you can be creative with your language . When writing about the past, you can use the present tense to make the reader feel as if they were there in the moment with you. But make sure to maintain consistency and when in doubt, default to the correct verb tense according to the time you’re writing about.

The college admissions essay gives admissions officers a different perspective on you beyond your academic achievements, test scores, and extracurriculars. It’s your chance to stand out from other applicants with similar academic profiles by telling a unique, personal, and specific story.

Use a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial to avoid distracting the reader from your college essay’s content.

A college application essay is less formal than most academic writing . Instead of citing sources formally with in-text citations and a reference list, you can cite them informally in your text.

For example, “In her research paper on genetics, Quinn Roberts explores …”

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 .

Most topics are acceptable for college essays if you can use them to demonstrate personal growth or a lesson learned. However, there are a few difficult topics for college essays that should be avoided. Avoid topics that are:

  • Overly personal (e.g. graphic details of illness or injury, romantic or sexual relationships)
  • Not personal enough (e.g. broad solutions to world problems, inspiring people or things)
  • Too negative (e.g. an in-depth look at your flaws, put-downs of others, criticizing the need for a college essay)
  • Too boring (e.g. a resume of your academic achievements and extracurriculars)
  • Inappropriate for a college essay (e.g. illegal activities, offensive humor, false accounts of yourself, bragging about privilege)

To write an effective diversity essay , include vulnerable, authentic stories about your unique identity, background, or perspective. Provide insight into how your lived experience has influenced your outlook, activities, and goals. If relevant, you should also mention how your background has led you to apply for this university and why you’re a good fit.

Many universities believe a student body composed of different perspectives, beliefs, identities, and backgrounds will enhance the campus learning and community experience.

Admissions officers are interested in hearing about how your unique background, identity, beliefs, culture, or characteristics will enrich the campus community, which is why they assign a diversity essay .

In addition to your main college essay , some schools and scholarships may ask for a supplementary essay focused on an aspect of your identity or background. This is sometimes called a diversity essay .

You can use humor in a college essay , but carefully consider its purpose and use it wisely. An effective use of humor involves unexpected, keen observations of the everyday, or speaks to a deeper theme. Humor shouldn’t be the main focus of the essay, but rather a tool to improve your storytelling.

Get a second opinion from a teacher, counselor, or essay coach on whether your essay’s humor is appropriate.

Though admissions officers are interested in hearing your story, they’re also interested in how you tell it. An exceptionally written essay will differentiate you from other applicants, meaning that admissions officers will spend more time reading it.

You can use literary devices to catch your reader’s attention and enrich your storytelling; however, focus on using just a few devices well, rather than trying to use as many as possible.

To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:

  • Identify your qualities → Brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities
  • Identify memorable stories → Connect your qualities to these stories

You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.

Yes—admissions officers don’t expect everyone to have a totally unique college essay topic . But you must differentiate your essay from others by having a surprising story arc, an interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style .

There are no foolproof college essay topics —whatever your topic, the key is to write about it effectively. However, a good topic

  • Is meaningful, specific, and personal to you
  • Focuses on you and your experiences
  • Reveals something beyond your test scores, grades, and extracurriculars
  • Is creative and original

Unlike a five-paragraph essay, your admissions essay should not end by summarizing the points you’ve already made. It’s better to be creative and aim for a strong final impression.

You should also avoid stating the obvious (for example, saying that you hope to be accepted).

There are a few strategies you can use for a memorable ending to your college essay :

  • Return to the beginning with a “full circle” structure
  • Reveal the main point or insight in your story
  • Look to the future
  • End on an action

The best technique will depend on your topic choice, essay outline, and writing style. You can write several endings using different techniques to see which works best.

College deadlines vary depending on the schools you’re applying to and your application plan:

  • For early action applications and the first round of early decision applications, the deadline is on November 1 or 15. Decisions are released by mid-December.
  • For the second round of early decision applications, the deadline is January 1 or 15. Decisions are released in January or February.
  • Regular decision deadlines usually fall between late November and mid-March, and decisions are released in March or April.
  • Rolling admission deadlines run from July to April, and decisions are released around four to eight weeks after submission.

Depending on your prospective schools’ requirements, you may need to submit scores for the SAT or ACT as part of your college application .

Some schools now no longer require students to submit test scores; however, you should still take the SAT or ACT and aim to get a high score to strengthen your application package.

Aim to take the SAT or ACT in the spring of your junior year to give yourself enough time to retake it in the fall of your senior year if necessary.

Apply early for federal student aid and application fee waivers. You can also look for scholarships from schools, corporations, and charitable foundations.

To maximize your options, you should aim to apply to about eight schools:

  • Two reach schools that might be difficult to get into
  • Four match schools that you have a good chance of getting into
  • Two safety schools that you feel confident you’ll get into

The college admissions essay accounts for roughly 25% of the weight of your application .

At highly selective schools, there are four qualified candidates for every spot. While your academic achievements are important, your college admissions essay can help you stand out from other applicants with similar profiles.

In general, for your college application you will need to submit all of the following:

  • Your personal information
  • List of extracurriculars and awards
  • College application essays
  • Transcripts
  • Standardized test scores
  • Recommendation letters.

Different colleges may have specific requirements, so make sure you check exactly what’s expected in the application guidance.

You should start thinking about your college applications the summer before your junior year to give you sufficient time for college visits, taking standardized tests, applying for financial aid , writing essays, and collecting application material.

Yes, but make sure your essay directly addresses the prompt, respects the word count , and demonstrates the organization’s values.

If you plan ahead, you can save time by writing one scholarship essay for multiple prompts with similar questions. In a scholarship tracker spreadsheet, you can group or color-code overlapping essay prompts; then, write a single essay for multiple scholarships. Sometimes, you can even reuse or adapt your main college essay .

You can start applying for scholarships as early as your junior year. Continue applying throughout your senior year.

Invest time in applying for various scholarships , especially local ones with small dollar amounts, which are likely easier to win and more reflective of your background and interests. It will be easier for you to write an authentic and compelling essay if the scholarship topic is meaningful to you.

You can find scholarships through your school counselor, community network, or an internet search.

A scholarship essay requires you to demonstrate your values and qualities while answering the prompt’s specific question.

After researching the scholarship organization, identify a personal experience that embodies its values and exemplifies how you will be a successful student.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

  • A unique, personally meaningful topic
  • A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
  • Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
  • Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
  • Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
  • A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending

Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.

In most cases, quoting other people isn’t a good way to start your college essay . Admissions officers want to hear your thoughts about yourself, and quotes often don’t achieve that. Unless a quote truly adds something important to your essay that it otherwise wouldn’t have, you probably shouldn’t include it.

Cliché openers in a college essay introduction are usually general and applicable to many students and situations. Most successful introductions are specific: they only work for the unique essay that follows.

The key to a strong college essay introduction is not to give too much away. Try to start with a surprising statement or image that raises questions and compels the reader to find out more.

The introduction of your college essay is the first thing admissions officers will read and therefore your most important opportunity to stand out. An excellent introduction will keep admissions officers reading, allowing you to tell them what you want them to know.

You can speed up this process by shortening and smoothing your writing with a paraphrasing tool . After that, you can use the summarizer to shorten it even more.

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.

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.

In your application essay , admissions officers are looking for particular features : they want to see context on your background, positive traits that you could bring to campus, and examples of you demonstrating those qualities.

Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.

You don’t need a title for your college admissions essay , but you can include one if you think it adds something important.

Your college essay’s format should be as simple as possible:

  • Use a standard, readable font
  • Use 1.5 or double spacing
  • If attaching a file, save it as a PDF
  • Stick to the word count
  • Avoid unusual formatting and unnecessary decorative touches

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:

  • A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
  • A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

Campus visits are always helpful, but if you can’t make it in person, the college website will have plenty of information for you to explore. You should look through the course catalog and even reach out to current faculty with any questions about the school.

Colleges set a “Why this college?” essay because they want to see that you’ve done your research. You must prove that you know what makes the school unique and can connect that to your own personal goals and academic interests.

Depending on your writing, you may go through several rounds of revision . Make sure to put aside your essay for a little while after each editing stage to return with a fresh perspective.

Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your language, tone, and content . Ask for their help at least one to two months before the submission deadline, as many other students will also want their help.

Friends and family are a good resource to check for authenticity. It’s best to seek help from family members with a strong writing or English educational background, or from older siblings and cousins who have been through the college admissions process.

If possible, get help from an essay coach or editor ; they’ll have specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and be able to give objective expert feedback.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style , and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

Include specific, personal details and use your authentic voice to shed a new perspective on a common human experience.

Through specific stories, you can weave your achievements and qualities into your essay so that it doesn’t seem like you’re bragging from a resume.

When writing about yourself , including difficult experiences or failures can be a great way to show vulnerability and authenticity, but be careful not to overshare, and focus on showing how you matured from the experience.

First, spend time reflecting on your core values and character . You can start with these questions:

  • What are three words your friends or family would use to describe you, and why would they choose them?
  • Whom do you admire most and why?
  • What are you most proud of? Ashamed of?

However, you should do a comprehensive brainstorming session to fully understand your values. Also consider how your values and goals match your prospective university’s program and culture. Then, brainstorm stories that illustrate the fit between the two.

In a college application essay , you can occasionally bend grammatical rules if doing so adds value to the storytelling process and the essay maintains clarity.

However, use standard language rules if your stylistic choices would otherwise distract the reader from your overall narrative or could be easily interpreted as unintentional errors.

Write concisely and use the active voice to maintain a quick pace throughout your essay and make sure it’s the right length . Avoid adding definitions unless they provide necessary explanation.

Use first-person “I” statements to speak from your perspective . Use appropriate word choices that show off your vocabulary but don’t sound like you used a thesaurus. Avoid using idioms or cliché expressions by rewriting them in a creative, original way.

If you’re an international student applying to a US college and you’re comfortable using American idioms or cultural references , you can. But instead of potentially using them incorrectly, don’t be afraid to write in detail about yourself within your own culture.

Provide context for any words, customs, or places that an American admissions officer might be unfamiliar with.

College application essays are less formal than other kinds of academic writing . Use a conversational yet respectful tone , as if speaking with a teacher or mentor. Be vulnerable about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences to connect with the reader.

Aim to write in your authentic voice , with a style that sounds natural and genuine. You can be creative with your word choice, but don’t use elaborate vocabulary to impress admissions officers.

Admissions officers use college admissions essays to evaluate your character, writing skills , and ability to self-reflect . The essay is your chance to show what you will add to the academic community.

The college essay may be the deciding factor in your application , especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

Some colleges also require supplemental essays about specific topics, such as why you chose that specific college . Scholarship essays are often required to obtain financial aid .

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Gabriella’s Avatar

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How long is a good college essay.

I need to start writing mine and I'm feeling lost #college-admissions #writing #editing

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David’s Answer

Hi Gabriella!

As a current undergrad student myself who applied to college just two years ago, I know how you're feeling right now! Hopefully some of the steps I took to write my own essay can help you too.

  • Relax and Take a Breath

When thinking back to my own essay writing experience, I immediately recall how stressful and worrisome the whole application process can be! That being said, the first step to writing a great college essay is to try to relax, take a deep breath, and acknowledge that you're eventually going to write an amazing essay. It might take one, two, or even ten drafts, but you're eventually going to emerge with an amazing piece of work that communicates your individual character to the admissions officers who read your application. Seeing as though you're already starting to think about college essays (and it's only August), you're leaving yourself an ample amount of time (a few months) to draft, re-draft, and draft some more!

Writing a good essay is a very emotional process and unwanted stress will only add difficulty to what is already a tough task.

  • Think About Personal Experiences that Make You Who You Are

College admissions officers read essays because they want to get to know YOU better. Your essay is, for all intents and purposes, the only opportunity you have to express who you are to admissions reps throughout the course of the application (besides maybe a teacher recommendation). Depending on the school's specific prompt (if it's a common app school the prompts encourage this), you should attempt to incorporate a personal experience that you feel defines you within your essay (this can be anything from the time you hit the winning shot at the big game in high school, anecdotes about your culture/family, anything really that YOU find important). When writing your essay, always ask yourself the question; if someone I had never met read this essay, do I think they would know and understand who I consider myself to be? In this manner, you can almost consider the college essay to be a story of sorts, the story of YOU.

Working off the point I listed above, brainstorm all the personal experiences/facets of your individual character that you think could be good to write about and WRITE THEM DOWN! Even if you feel like an idea may be "dumb" or ridiculous, write it down anyway and begin brainstorming ways that you could write an essay working off it. In the college essay writing process, the most important thing is to get your juices flowing! It's true that some topics are better to write about than others, but writing down all your ideas will ensure that you don't miss out on the story you should be writing about!

  • Show Other People Your Work

Remember to have someone you trust (friend, family member) proofread your work and offer suggestions on the topic that you choose. It's really difficult to edit your own work for grammar and style, and allowing someone else the opportunity to help you out will ensure that your essay is the best that it can be!

Sorry that this is so long!

With regard to your original question, essay length depends on the prompt given (common application limits essays to 750 words). Definitely stay within the word limit (don't go over 750), but don't be afraid to be under it (for example, 700 words would be fine). It's all about how many words/how much time you need to tell YOUR story. My own essay was only 650 words! Less is more!

Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any follow up questions/or if I could help in any way!

Cheers, David

Archana Jain’s Avatar

Archana Jain

Archana’s answer.

To write a proper essay one needs to have structure of thought, imagination, and creativity. An examiner can tell a lot about a student by looking at the way a student writes his essays. Thus, essays have become an inseparable part of academics. The two most important parts of an essay are structure and content. The structure is the format and the content is whatever you write adhering to the essay format.

Margins, Spacing, and Font Size

First and foremost you should leave a marginal space of 1 inch from the top, bottom, left and right sides of the page. You can easily leave a margin space of one inches in Word by doing the following tasks:

Go to the page layout option and click the margins tab. Click on the normal option, which is default to 1 inch space from all the sides. Each and every line of the paragraph should be double-spaced. Proper line spacing can be achieved in MS Word through the following steps:

Select the paragraph. Right click on the selected portion. Go to Paragraph. In the Indents and Spacing tab: go-to ‘line spacing’ option and select ‘Double’. Make sure that you use the Times New Roman font with size 12 to write your essay. This is a universal font acceptable in all academic papers. Don’t try to use a larger font to write less!

The heading should start with the top left corner of the page. Make sure that you have set the indentation to left-justified. The left justified option can be easily enabled in your MS Word software.

The heading of the essay should follow a format which is:

Write your name on the first line of the heading. Write your instructor name below your name. Write the name of the subject and the subject code below the instructor’s name. Write the date of submission below the subject name. An example heading could be:

Marc Stevens Dr. Thomas Daniels Math 1005 4 March 2014

One of the most ignored but the most important parts in essay formatting is the header. The first page of the header should contain only the page number. From the second page and further, the header should contain your last name and page number, both should be right indented.

Header formatting steps for first page:

Go to the insert option. Click on the header tab. Check the different first page option. Click on the page number tab in the design tab. Inside the top of page option select the right indented page number. Header formatting steps for second page and further.

Go to the insert option and click the headers tab. Uncheck the different first page option. Click on the page number tab in the design tab. Choose the right indented page number style. Write your last name before the page number. The MLA rule book says that the paragraphs should start by leaving a half-inch space at the beginning. To keep it simple, you can start your paragraphs after pressing the tab button. Make sure that each and every paragraph that you write should follow this format.

The title should come after the heading and should be center aligned. After writing the title, make sure that you press enter twice before starting with the paragraph. You can use the formatting symbol (¶) option and check that there are two formatting symbols between the title and the paragraph. You can start writing the first paragraph after the title. Keep the text left aligned every time you start with a new line. These are simple college essay formatting guidelines that every student should follow in his academic age. The format makes the essay easy to read and comprehend for the reader.

Don’t beat around the bush! Keep your sentences short and simple. Also make use of the active voice as much as you can. The active voice will make your sentences impactful and also allow you to communicate more effectively.

Understand the topic! When writing essays, it is easy to drift away from the topic and go offbeat. So, when you are writing your essays you need to be connected to the topic at hand- in some way. Please do not talk about ‘birds’ when the topic is about dog food (Though dogs may love to eat birds!). To keep yourself on track, go back to the title after every paragraph you write. Ask yourself,” Is the next paragraph that I am about to write connected to the title in anyway?” If the answer to this question is ‘Yes’, then you may move forward.

Show connection and fluidity in your writing! There should be a connection between a sentence and the sentences following it. If you are not able to make that connection- it’s poor writing! So all you need to do is start with an idea, expand that idea and give a proper conclusion to it. That’s it! And your essay is already in the top notches.

Follow a structure! You should have a plan, a set structure, when you are writing an essay. Don’t go about writing your essays in a haphazard way without any goal. Plan an outline, plan each and every paragraph before you start to write. And most importantly plan the conclusion. The conclusion should summarize your essay in the most succinct form and should be able to make an impact on the reader.

It’s all about a killer title and an intriguing head start! One of the most difficult things in writing essays is coming up with a good title. The title should not only sell your essay in a few words but also give an idea about the most important point that you are about to make through the essay. So before giving a title, ask yourself- What impact do you want to make? Is your title relevant to the essay? And when you have the answers, go forth and give that killer title.

Students have written 400-word essays and gotten into good colleges – and some have written 2,000 words. Generally students write between 500-700 words.

Hope this calrifies most of your doubts around essay writing process.

Do well, all the best.

Regards, Archana Jain

Susan E. Oser’s Avatar

Susan E. Oser

Susan e.’s answer.

First of all what are the requirements of the college essay you're writing on? Usually you are given so many words and the "good" is very subjective. It depends on what your teacher requires of you and what the topic is about.

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July 8, 2023

College Essay Length: Go to the Maximum Word Count

This is McNutt Hall, Dartmouth's admissions office.

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

It’s not as though students only make the mistake of leaving words on the table in their Common Application Personal Statement . They also often do so in their equally as critical supplemental essays.

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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How long should a college essay be?

Bonus Material : PrepMaven’s 30 College Essays That Worked

If you’re a high school student preparing to apply to top schools, you might already know that one of the most important parts of the application process is your college admissions essay. Because the personal essay is so crucial, you’ll want to make sure you perfect it before sending it out to admissions committees. 

We’ve helped thousands of students gain admission into selective colleges through college essay coaching, and in this blog post we’ll guide you through how the length of your essay affects your chances of admission. 

By using this guide alongside our other college application essay guides on brainstorming and formatting , you can perfect your college application essay and maximize your chance of acceptance. 

Another great starting point is our collection of 30 real, proven sample essays that worked to secure top-tier admissions for our past students, which you can download free below. 

Download Thirty College Essays that Worked

Jump to section:

What is the word limit on the Common App Personal Statement? How long should your final essay be? How long should your first draft be? How do you cut to get to the word count? How do you add more to get to the word count? Next steps

What is the word limit on the Common App Personal Statement?

The Common App’s personal essay has had the same maximum word count for years: you get 250-650 words for the entire essay. While you don’t have to hit this limit exactly, the Common App portal will not accept anything longer than 650 words. Any part of the college essay beyond the 650 words will simply not paste in.

Though the Common App is by far the most common college application essay, accepted by the majority of universities, there are a few other personal essay word limits you should be familiar with. 

how long are college essays usually

The University of California system is the most important other one to know: it asks you to respond to four “Personal Insight Questions,” each of which has a maximum of 350 words. 

Other college application essays you’ll write, like supplemental essays, will vary widely in length, though will often cap you at somewhere between 150 and 250 words. Of course, you’ll have to ensure you double-check each essay question’s specific maximum and minimum word count. 

How long should your final essay be?

how long are college essays usually

We can’t stress this enough: the best common application essay responses are at or near the maximum word count . The personal essay is your chance to tell the admissions committee about what makes you unique, and it should actually feel difficult to condense your personality and interests into a mere 650 words. 

With very rare exception, the most successful college admissions essays are between 600 and 650 words. If your personal essay comes out shorter than that, you’re simply not maximizing the opportunity provided to you. In other words, you need to really sit down and think about what could be expanded, what else you could say to make a strong impression on admissions officers. 

Below, we’ll talk about the different stages of the drafting process. Even though the personal statement should end up close to 650 words, that does not mean your first draft should be at the same length. We’ll also offer some advice on how to both shorten and expand your admissions essay.

This advice is backed by decades of experience in crafting successful college application essays, but it is general advice. If you want personalized essay coaching on your specific essays, there’s no better way to get it than by reaching out to us here and getting connected with one of our expert college essay counselors. 

And be sure to read over these real sample essays and note how long each one is: you’ll notice most of the best essays come close to the word count. 

How long should your first draft be?

how long are college essays usually

The easiest way to set yourself up for a college admissions essay that hits the word count is to start long. The truth is that it’s easier to shorten an essay than to add to it. The best way to ensure you don’t find yourself under the word count for your final essay is to start with a first draft that exceeds the word count. 

When we work with students, we advise them to start with a first draft of 850 or more words. We know: that sounds like a lot of writing, but this approach has a ton of benefits for the final product. For one thing, writing more than you have to at first lets you warm up and sharpen your writing skills. 

For another, it pushes you to get all of your ideas on paper. There may be ideas that you don’t initially want to include in your admissions essay: maybe you think they’re unresponsive to the essay question, or maybe you think they wouldn’t interest college admissions officers. 

how long are college essays usually

But the only way to actually know if these ideas will work is to get them on paper. Writing a long first draft ensures you don’t leave any potentially good ideas behind. One of the best things you can do for the first draft of your admissions essay is to get all your ideas on paper, then have someone–like, say, one of our phenomenal admissions essay counselors–read your first draft and tell you what’s worth keeping. 

The truth is that most students will need to cut lots of the things from their first draft of the college admissions essay. If you start your first draft at or near the word count, that’ll make it harder to hit that sweet spot of just under 650 words. 

Your essay’s length might look something like this through the drafting process: 

  • Draft 1: around 850 words
  • Draft 2: around 750 words
  • Draft 3: around 650 words
  • Draft 4 and on: just below 650 words. 

Of course, this is just a sample: your own process might be faster or slower, but the gradual shortening of the essay through the drafting process is nearly universal. 

In a nutshell: start with a long first draft, and cut from there as you redraft. 

How do you cut to get to the word count?

So, let’s say you’ve written the first draft of your college admissions essay and gotten to around 900 words. Well done! But now how do you get it down under the maximum word count? How do you decide what deserves to get cut from the essay, and what absolutely has to make its way to college admission officers?

how long are college essays usually

You can think of this process as consisting of three stages:

Start by identifying what is central to your essay. What moments or reflections are absolutely crucial for you to tell your story? Anything not totally necessary to your essay should be on the chopping block. Remember: it is far better to go into detail on a few ideas than to talk about lots of things but without specificity. 

This is the chopping stage: in essence, you eliminate entire moments/sections/paragraphs from your essay. You’re deciding that these elements of your essay simply don’t need to be there. This stage, which is one of the most important in the editing process, should reduce your word count significantly. 

Next, you trim. If you’re certain that all of the content you have in your draft needs to be there for your college admissions essay to work but the draft is still above the word count, you need to trim your existing ideas down to size. 

When we trim essays, we’re not generally removing any of the content. Instead, we’re tactically cutting two words here, a word there. This is precise fine-tuning: can you flip the sentence structure to save yourself two words without losing the flow? Can you cut a helping verb without messing with the grammar of the sentence?

The trimming stage can take a long time, but you’ll be surprised how much you can shorten an essay even if you’re working just one to two words at a time. 

how long are college essays usually

Of course, there’s nothing worse than cutting something that might have wowed an admission committee, or taking out precisely the wrong word in an effort to shorten a sentence. The best way to avoid those mistakes is with an experienced second-opinion: our essay coaches have been through this process themselves, and will be happy to help you avoid any crucial mistakes in these drafting stages. 

If you look at the below essays, you might want to think about all the work that went into ensuring none of this brilliant content got cut out along the way. 

How do you add more to get to the word count?

Ideally, you won’t have this problem: if you follow our initial drafting advice, you’ll be worried about cutting, not adding. 

But if you’re already in the later drafting stages and are struggling with getting up to the maximum word count, there are a few things you can do without adding new content. 

The biggest is simply to add more detail! This is, at the end of the day, what makes a strong college admissions essay: the specific, vivid details from your own life. It’s basically the time-tested adage of “show don’t tell.” 

Instead of saying, for example, “I was nervous as I prepared to perform in the school play,” you’d be better off writing something like, “As I waited my turn to take the stage, I felt my knees grow weak. Was I going to make a fool of myself out there? Had I really rehearsed my role enough?” And so on: it’s the same basic information, but more detailed, more interesting, and longer. 

how long are college essays usually

Ultimately, all suggestions on adding to reach a word count will circle around this same basic idea: more detail. But again, we recommend sidestepping this whole problem by beginning with long drafts overflowing with specific details and content. 

If you’re preparing to write your college essay, your next steps are pretty straightforward. First, make sure you’re well-prepared by reading our guides on brainstorming and essay formatting. Then, read over a few sample essays from the 30 real college essays we’ve collected below. Then: write that long first draft!

We know, we know: it’s easy to say “Write a first draft of 850+ words,” but it can be a lot harder to actually do it. That’s why we’ve got a brilliant team of college essay tutors, all of whom have been accepted to elite universities and all of whom are ready to help you craft the perfect application essay as soon as you reach out. 

Mike

Mike is a PhD candidate studying English literature at Duke University. Mike is an expert test prep tutor (SAT/ACT/LSAT) and college essay consultant. Nearly all of Mike’s SAT/ACT students score in the top 5% of test takers; many even score above 1500 on the SAT. His college essay students routinely earn admission into their top-choice schools, including Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth. And his LSAT students have been accepted In into the top law schools in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia Law.

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  4. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    If your institution doesn't provide a specific word count, it's best to keep your essay between the length established by the longer college

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    ... college essays. They should not write essays significantly below the ... They also often do so in their equally as critical supplemental essays.

  14. How long should a college essay be?

    With very rare exception, the most successful college admissions essays are between 600 and 650 words. If your personal essay comes out shorter