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Allen Grove

Can Your Common Application Essay Be More than 500 Words?

By November 22, 2012

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The most significant change to the Common Application in recent years is the word limit on the personal essay. Before 2011, your own best judgment determined the essay length. Starting in the 2011 - 2012 admissions cycle, the application changed to state that the essay must be 250 to 500 words. That's not a lot of space in which to convey your passions and personality, although as Eileen's essay demonstrates, a strong writer can do a lot with fewer than 500 words.

I've had many applicants email me asking if the 500-word limit is enforced by the Common Application, and if they can go over the limit. The actual Common Application form has you upload your essay from your computer, and the software then converts your essay to a pdf file. The software does not count words or prevent you from submitting an essay that is longer than 500 words. That said, don't do it. While most colleges probably wouldn't even notice if your essay was 510 words long, you'd be wise to get rid of those 10 extra words. The strongest college students know how to follow directions, and the strongest writers know how to cut out all but the most essential elements of their essays. Show colleges that you can do both of these things.

The Common Application moved to the 500-word limit after lots of college admissions officers complained about long, rambling, poorly edited essays. Not all schools agreed with the limit. However, if a college wants more writing from you, they will ask for it with a supplemental essay. Don't try to second guess whether or not a college cares about the 500-word limit. Keep your personal essay short. Learn more in this article on essay length.

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October 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm
(1) Aristotle Circle says:

THis post makes a great point! THe stronger essays are the ones that have been edited down to the right word count.

Our experts came up with a few tips on ways to trim your essay, including things like “omitting needless words” and sticking to one theme. Read the full post here: http://www.aristotlecircle.com/blog/making-most-your-500-word-essay

October 29, 2011 at 10:18 pm
(2) SB says:

The Common app does not say “your essay must be 250-500 words” That would have been really helpful if they did. Various other admission counselors say the 250-500 word is just a guideline.

The common app states the cannot enforce the a limited essay length but somehow they can enforce a 500kb upload to the additional information section.

If they want no more than 500 words then they should clearly say so or they should figure out how to control the upload instead of stressing out kids who try and reach a magic number instead of focusing on the message of their essay.

November 3, 2011 at 5:15 pm
(3) Cara says:

I just finished editing my college essay down from 553 words to 500 words exactly, and none of those 53 words are missed. I thought it wasn’t a huge deal if I was a little bit over, but I’m glad I decided to cut it down anyway. I think my writing is much stronger now, and I think the word limit is absolutely fine.

And @SB, the CommonApp writing prompt now says, “Please write an essay (250-500 words) on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below. This personal essay helps us to become acquainted with you as a person and student, apart from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will also demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself.” Just saying.

August 20, 2012 at 3:17 am
(4) temperance says:

I cut my essay from 660 words to 526. I don’t know how to cut it down further, but I must find a way to make it 500. I guess they pay a lot of attention to directions. Better safe than sorry :)

October 29, 2012 at 11:18 pm
(5) jane says:

well honestly i feel like a 500 word limit is kind of unreasonable and waaaaaay too limited. how are you supposed to properly explain anything in such a short space?!

December 12, 2012 at 1:09 am
(6) Will says:

Cutting out filler words like “that” is a great first step towards cutting down words. Another thing to do is to reword sentences that aren’t direct. If a sentence uses “to be” or “is”, it can often be reworded as a more active sentence. I’ve edited many student essays at College Creed and the biggest thing I would stress is really being concise with your personal statements. Cut the excess SAT words that you think college admissions officers want to see and keep things simple. Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication.

January 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm
(7) Jess says:

Actually, if you take the time to edit it a few handful of times, it’s not so hard. I went from 700+ (just free writing it at first), then I got down to editing it over the course of a week (allowing time to think and re-word). I was then able to get down to 436 words (as my final copy). I’m quite please with it. It got the main topic across the page as I had planned originally, just used less wording, and active words help a lot!! (:

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