Common application has a maximum word limit for essay which is 650. Many colleges who don’t use the Common Application also have clearly defined length limits for the essays.
I receive lots of email messages asking about these length limits. Can you go over the limit? If so, by how much? What if you need 700 words to convey your ideas? What if your essay is just a few words over?
These are all good questions. After all, 650 words is not a lot of space in which to convey your personality, passions, and writing ability to the folks in the admissions office.
However, the new Common Application won’t let you go over the limit. With CA4, the new Common Application, you’ll need to enter your essay in a text box that counts words. You won’t be allowed to enter anything over 650 words. Note that there is also a minimum length–CA4 won’t accept any essay under 250 words.
If you are applying to a college that does allow you to go over the limit, or if you have a supplemental essay with a recommended word count, you still should not go over the limit. Here’s why:
- Good college students know how to follow directions: If a professor assigns a 5-page paper, she doesn’t want a 10-page paper. If you have 50 minutes to take a college exam, you can’t have 55 minutes. Think about the message you’re sending a college if you don’t follow the directions on the application. Will a college want to admit a student who thinks directions are optional?
- Good writers know how to edit and cut: As you revise your essay, keep asking yourself what ideas are truly essential. Everything else can go.
The Common Application and other college applications ask for relatively short essays because college admissions officers don’t want to waste time reading long, rambling, unfocused, poorly edited essays. Not all colleges, however, are fans of the shorter length.
Some colleges like a longer essay because they can get to know their applicants better, and they get to see how well applicants can sustain focus in a longer piece of writing (a valuable college skill). However, for any application essay you write, follow the directions. If a college wants a long essay, the directions will ask for it.