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The Length Of A College Essay



The length of an academic essay varies depending on your level and subject of study, departmental guidelines, and specific course requirements. In general, an essay is a shorter piece of writing than a research paper or thesis.




the length of a college essay



  • Table of contentsEssay length guidelines

  • How long is each part of an essay?

  • Using length as a guide to topic and complexity

  • Can I go under the suggested length?

  • Can I go over the suggested length?



A short essay will need a focused, specific topic and a clear, straightforward line of argument. A longer essay should still be focused, but it might call for a broader approach to the topic or a more complex, ambitious argument.


The Common App essay gives colleges the opportunity to learn more about you as a person and what's important to you. You should use this space to tell your story and reveal different facets of your personality.


You can find the Common App essay prompts and instructions by navigating to the "Common App" tab on your Common App account and clicking on "Writing." You'll get to choose one of seven prompts to respond to, and your essay must be between 250 and 650 words long.


The application form provides you with a box in which to type your essay; however, it's strongly recommended that you compose your essay in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or another word processor before copying and pasting your final draft into this box.


The Common App essay is a key part of your college application. According to a 2019 study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, 56.4% of colleges surveyed considered the personal statement moderately or considerably important. Highly selective institutions tended to place more emphasis on the essay.


"Applying to a hyper-selective college with mediocre or uneven grades and a fabulous essay will likely not get you into that college, [whereas] applying to a hyper-selective college with top grades and scores, outstanding extracurriculars, and a mediocre essay could sink your application," she said.


Admissions officers, higher education administrators, education consultants, and college admissions advisors like Benedict have many tricks for approaching the Common App essay. Here are some of their biggest tips.


Choosing the right Common App essay topic can be tricky, but it's extremely important. "Students I work with run the gamut from having a good idea to having absolutely no idea what to write about," Benedict said. "Often in our brainstorming session, an idea will pop up in discussion, and I'll say, 'That's a good idea,' and the student will be surprised."


The Common App essay word count range is 250-650 words. But just how long should your statement be? Admissions Blog advises aiming for around 500 words. And former Tufts University admissions officer Becky Leichtling concurs.


"The most common 'personal statement' length is in the ballpark of 500 words," Leichtling writes for Bright Horizons College Coach. "I consider 500 the 'sweet spot,' but don't stress if you write an essay closer to 430 or 620 [words] that you're honestly proud of."


Likewise, students should refrain from relying on cliches. This includes phrases such as "happily ever after," "beggars can't be choosers," and "crack of dawn." Benedict advises getting someone to "cliche-proof" your essay.


Lots of competitive universities require the Common App essay in addition to supplemental essays and/or short answers. If you have other essays to submit, don't spend all your time working on the Common App essay. After all, all essays can impact your admission chances.


"I can't stress enough the importance of the supplemental essays," Benedict continued. "For the most selective universities, all of the essays taken together present a 'package' of who you are." And how you choose to put together that package is up to you.


Tyler Epps is an editor for BestColleges. He writes and edits content about higher education, specializing in degree planning and college rankings. He is passionate about helping students prepare for college and navigate their educational journey. He holds a BSBA in management and a minor in human resources from Appalachian State University. He also has a background in online research and writing.","image":"https:\/\/res.cloudinary.com\/highereducation\/images\/c_fill,g_face,f_auto,q_auto,h_60,w_60\/v1659637439\/BestColleges.com\/Tyler-Epps_1331150706\/Tyler-Epps_1331150706.jpeg?_i=AA","link":"https:\/\/www.bestcolleges.com\/contributors\/tyler-epps\/","linkedin":"https:\/\/www.linkedin.com\/in\/tyler-epps-690a01106\/","twitter":"","web":"","career":"","subject":"","categories":["name":"Editor","slug":"editor","name":"Writer","slug":"writer"],"interviews":[],"events":[]}],"date":"January 18, 2022","content":"Applying to college? Discover seven tips for writing a college essay that can help you gain admission to your top school.","id":14442},"link":"https:\/\/www.bestcolleges.com\/resources\/college-application-essays\/","image":"https:\/\/res.cloudinary.com\/highereducation\/images\/v1642619623\/BestColleges.com\/BC_Resources_College-Planning_College-Apllication-Essays_1.19.22_FTR_v2\/BC_Resources_College-Planning_College-Apllication-Essays_1.19.22_FTR_v2.jpg","title":"How to Write a College Application Essay: A Complete Guide","author":["id":12089,"name":"Juliann Scholl, Ph.D.","description":"Juliann Scholl, Ph.D., was a tenured professor at Texas Tech University for several years, where she taught undergraduates and graduate students and served as a graduate admissions director. She also worked as a social scientist for the CDC. Juliann currently enjoys writing about higher education, health and medicine, crisis communication, travel, business, finance, and lifestyle.\r\n\r\nJuliann holds a Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Oklahoma. She also has an MA from the University of Alabama and a BA from the University of Nebraska.","image":"https:\/\/res.cloudinary.com\/highereducation\/images\/c_fill,g_face,f_auto,q_auto,h_60,w_60\/v1659637629\/BestColleges.com\/Juliann_Scholl_12213146f8\/Juliann_Scholl_12213146f8.png?_i=AA","link":"https:\/\/www.bestcolleges.com\/contributors\/juliann-scholl\/","linkedin":"https:\/\/www.linkedin.com\/in\/juliann-scholl-0730639\/","twitter":"","web":"","career":"","subject":"Higher education, health and medicine, crisis communication, travel, business, finance, lifestyle","categories":["name":"Writer","slug":"writer"],"interviews":[],"events":[]],"date":"November 7, 2022","content":"The college application essay is a key part of the admissions process. Learn how to write a personal statement for college, including what to avoid.","id":2201,"link":"https:\/\/www.bestcolleges.com\/business\/mba\/common-mba-essay-questions\/","image":"https:\/\/res.cloudinary.com\/highereducation\/image\/upload\/f_auto,fl_lossy,q_auto\/v1\/BestColleges.com\/cards\/BC_default.jpg","title":"Common MBA Essay Questions and How to Tackle Them","author":["id":12153,"name":"Stefanie Grodman","description":"Former tutor Stefanie Grodman has a bachelor's degree in English from Muhlenberg College. She enjoys researching and writing about a variety of topics including education, sustainability, politics, and the arts.","image":"https:\/\/res.cloudinary.com\/highereducation\/images\/c_fill,g_face,f_auto,q_auto,h_60,w_60\/v1659637662\/BestColleges.com\/Stefanie_Grodman_12188debb8\/Stefanie_Grodman_12188debb8.jpeg?_i=AA","link":"https:\/\/www.bestcolleges.com\/contributors\/stefanie-grodman\/","linkedin":"https:\/\/www.linkedin.com\/in\/stefaniegrodman\/","twitter":"","web":"","career":"","subject":"Education, sustainability, politics, the arts","categories":["name":"Writer","slug":"writer"],"interviews":[],"events":[]],"date":"April 25, 2022","content":"The MBA admission essay can be a crucial part of your application. Explore common prompts and essay samples so you can stand out.","id":9863]; Explore More College Resources View all by Staff Writers February 8, 2023 How to Write a Body Paragraph for a College Essay by Staff Writers February 18, 2021 College Application Deadlines for Fall 2023 Admission by Staff Writers September 1, 2021 BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.


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.


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.


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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