Word Limits on the Common Application

Each year we're asked about how to most effectively cut the word count of college essays down to the limits the schools assign for them. The first piece of advice we always give is to check and see if you actually have to hit that limit - in many cases, you don't, thanks to the "Upload Document" feature that's become so common on college applications.

The large majority of schools now require (or at least prefer) that you use an online application, either the Common App or the school's own application. If the school has an upload document feature instead of a text box that the essay needs to be pasted into, you can upload a file with an essay that goes over the word count. In many instances, this is to your benefit, because you can include the details that you feel are most significant to your application, without compromising the overall flow of the piece. We recommend that you not get crazy with your essay length, but if an essay is limited to, say, 500 words, it's not unreasonable to push it over 700 or even to 800 words.

Remember that the biggest priority for your college admissions essays is that it be good. Good is more important than short, and good is certainly more important than just "being done with it already." This writing is something you should put a lot of time into, and you may find that the college essay is the piece of writing you've revised most in your life. It is not uncommon to do five to ten drafts of each piece you submit. Writing can always be better! So work it as best you can and make it shine.

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