Looking for how long college essays are? We’ve got a few tips for you. Read on to learn how many words you should include in your college essays.
Your best foot forward
When preparing for college applications, putting your best foot forward is key. A place where you get to really be yourself is in the college essay. However, this piece tends to stump many students and can cause anxiety that can impact your overall application. Have you ever found yourself wondering how many words college essays have? You’re definitely not alone, but we wanted to share with you some tips today to help clarify some questions you may have about college essays—and, in specific, how long a college essay should be exactly.
Remember that the word count is different from what you might be used to when it comes to your high school papers, so having questions is okay! While you may be familiar with page count when it comes to writing, word count is different—all you need to do is pay attention to the number of words you are able to submit in your essay. Additionally, instead of being scared of word count, use it as a helpful tool when developing your storyline or narrative and when coming up with ideas during the brainstorming process (we’ll dive more into this in a bit.). For now, let’s take a deep dive into how long college essays are typically and what you should pay attention to when you begin drafting your own.
How long should a main college essay be?
When it comes to how long a college essay should be, you might find yourself wondering how much you should typically write. Well, main essays usually have a word-count range between 500-600 words or less, so it’s important to keep this in mind when coming up with topics to write about and/or choosing prompts that fit your story best. (For instance, applications like the Common App will typically have a cut-off of around 650 words!)
Admissions officers, when reviewing your application, want to learn about the highlights of your achievements, your ability to persevere, as well as who you are both as a student and as an individual, but don’t have a ton of time to do so given the large number of applications submitted during a typical admissions cycle. Given this, it’s important to stick to the 500-600 word count limit when crafting your personal statement and ensure that what you do include should showcase the best of who you are and what you’ve achieved during high school.
Something to keep in mind:
If you end up writing too little, it could work against you during the admissions process. Admissions officers look for students who can stick to the instructions and are mindful of this while preparing their pieces for their application submission. For that reason, we highly recommend trying to stick to the higher end of the essay limit (around 500 words or so at minimum), as it will 1) Give you more of an opportunity to thoroughly develop your narrative and 2) show the readers that you have taken time to show your dedication and your due diligence when sharing your story.
When creating the drafts of your college essays, try to write a lot more at the beginning of the process. This can allow you to work through your answers and narrow your responses down to the statements that truly matter. While you may have difficulty brainstorming meaningful topics to connect to the prompts, you’ll find that once you start writing, it can be hard to stop yourself during the process! This is great for the first few drafts, but be sure to review these a few times and ask your friends, family, and even teachers if there are sentences that could be clearer and where you could add to or take away from the narrative.
What about supplemental college essays?
If you’ve previewed any supplemental essays before, you’ll notice they’re typically about half of the length of main application essays. These are normally more focused questions and have about eight main topics they typically fall into:
- the “why” essay,
- the intended choice of major essay,
- the “describe an extracurricular” essay,
- the community essay,
- the intellectual essay,
- the short and sweet essay,
- and the imaginative essay.
While these may differ slightly based on the school and/or even the specific major you’re applying to, generally, one of these topics can be found on most applications requiring the submission of supplemental essays.
So, how long should these college essays be?
Supplemental essay questions will usually ask for a word count range of around 20-650 words, depending on what is being asked, so be sure to review the question and truly understand what is required of you.
When it comes to an extracurricular-focused essay, for example, these will likely ask for a more in-depth and longer response, so you’ll have more room to go into detail about the different extracurricular activities you participated in and the impact you were able to make while you participated. On the other hand, imaginative essays like Stanford’s “How did you spend your last two summers?” question only provide 50 words or less to describe something meaningful you were able to accomplish.
These essays tend to trip students quite often, so be sure to really think long and hard about something specific you would like to talk about and narrow your drafts down to the true essence of this past time or activity. This is your time to truly show the best of your story and who you are as a person to the admissions committee, so take your time and make it count!
I’m applying to the UCs, so what about personal statements?
When it comes to the University of California (or UCs for short) personal insight questions, there’s a specific set of questions already available for you to review online! As noted on the website, there are eight prompts to choose from, although you are only asked to respond to four. When it comes to the length of these responses, you only have a maximum of 350 words to work from per response, so it is important to make sure to include everything you need in a concise and clear manner to make the most out of these short-answer questions.
While many of the questions may connect with your own personal story, some may not. With this in mind, be sure to take the time to work through the list of available questions and weigh every one to make sure you’ll be able to make the word count matter as much as possible in your answer. Try to pick questions you’ll be able to answer as sincerely as possible, and you’ll likely find that answering these questions within the word count may become harder than you think! Once you develop drafts, try to narrow down the words you have so your point comes across clearly and concisely and ensures you are getting your point across as efficiently as possible.
How can word counts help me in my drafts?
Now you may be thinking, how can using word counts help me better develop my essays? As we’ve sprinkled throughout, there are various ways to use word count as a tool to help guide you along the essay writing process.
First and foremost, word counts provide a bit of a guideline for how to approach your essays and how much content you should incorporate into each response. While at first, you’ll find yourself writing quite a lot with some topics, shortening your responses can help ensure your storyline flows well, is as concise as possible, and removes unnecessary tangents you may find yourself following during the brainstorming process. Additionally, being mindful of the target word count when you begin the drafting process will allow you to plan your writing accordingly and should help make the process seem a bit less daunting. – Bear in mind word count when picking something to write!
What about if I’m not given a word count?
While most of the time you’ll receive a range of word counts to follow when crafting your personal essays, some schools may not provide a word count at all. In this case, it is recommended that you should stick to around 400 to 600 words for your response to make the most out of the prompt without creating too long of a narrative. Again, remember that your readers are reading thousands of other applications during the admissions cycle, so making your essay stick concisely is key to making your student profile stand out from the competition!
Now that you have a clearer idea of how many words are in a college essay, it’s time to put this into effect. If you’re looking for more guidance in writing your admissions essays or editing them, Empowerly’s team of experts is here to help you every step of the way. Your story matters, so it’s important to put your best foot forward when preparing for the next stage of your academic journey. It’s your chance to show the admissions committee the best of who you are, and we’ll be here to support you at each step along the way.