When I would help out my friends with their college application essays, one of the most crucial pieces of advice I would always give them was, “Don’t try to add unnecessary sentences or ideas just to fill up space. It’s not worth it, and it will only work against you.”
And if I do say so myself, I think it’s pretty reasonable advice. Even college admission officers often complain to students and guidance counselors about how difficult it is to read through thousands upon thousands of college application essays in such a limited time frame. My high school AP Literature teacher, who worked for a few years as an admissions officer for Duke University (and is also an alumna of the college), would explain how they literally had only half a minute to glance over application essays. She could not emphasize more how crucial it was to fit your words in as small amount of space as possible.
But in a surprisingly strange and ironic twist, The Common Application decided to extend the word limit on their essays to 650. After giving so much advice on NOT writing unnecessarily long essays, colleges have elected to give you the golden opportunity to write even unnecessarily longer essays.
This presents you with a double-edged sword. And the question of how long your essay should be becomes infinitely more mind-boggling.
It is also important for me to point out that many of the students accepted to Duke University did not follow the rules regarding the two paragraph word limit on their supplemental essays. I’ve seen many essays easily over two paragraphs, and some essays even over 1000 thousand words. Although this seems to make no sense at all, it may have to do with the fact that when students demonstrate strong academic and extracurricular strengths, coupled with a well-written Common Application essay, the admission officers simply did not have the time to read the supplemental essay in completion and assumed that the students’ success in other areas were enough to grant acceptance.
Also, I’d never written an essay longer than 500 words before the college application process. All of the essays I’ve written for my high school classes were 500 words. As such, writing 500 words for my college application essays felt natural. But once I entered college, I was suddenly bombarded with 4000-word research papers and 2000-word weekly essays. I was completely swamped and lost. Although the increase from 500 to 650 words obviously won’t remedy the situation much, it at least serves as a simple acknowledgement to the principle that having such few word count limit on an essay is not very reflective of a student’s preparedness for future collegiate success.
The bottom line is that the college application process (especially the essays) is extremely confusing and frustrating. However, do keep in mind that the word limit is called that for a good reason. Because you’re not meant to exceed it, but there’s nothing wrong with being a substantial amount under the word limit. Think about it; everyone else has essays of 650 words filled to the brim with repetitive ideas and wordy phrases. However, you, with your 400 word essay of eloquently phrased thoughts, are going to stick out from the rest of the crowd.
All in all, I’m sorry I presented a lot of conflicting viewpoints in this article. And I’m sorry if I have made your college essay writing process any more challenging than it already has been for you. But I do this because I love each and every one of you, and I want you all to write super fabulous essays.
Finally, with all due respect to irony, I decided to write this article in exactly 650 words. Good luck to you all with essay writing! May the odds be ever in your favor!