Word Limit and College Essays - How Important Are They?

Word Limit and College Essays - How Important Are They?

10 mins read9.7K Views 1 Comment
Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert
Updated on Apr 3, 2023 14:16 IST

Top universities across the world often require a series of admissions essays for their MBA and UG programs. While they might ask a similar set of questions from the applicants, they might bring in variation by means of a word limit. It is important to remember that adhering to the word limit is critical.

As you probably know, admissions essays may be classified on the basis of word limits. University essays range from very short answer-type questions to long essay-type questions. The range of word limits, hence, may vary from 100-200 words to about 1000 words. Remember that the word limit must always be honoured and taken seriously.

What is word limit in an admission essay?

Simply put, word limit means how long a college essay should be. A word limit ensures a standard length for all the essays a college receives, regardless of formatting or font. A college essay should be close to the word limit and not exceed it. For instance, for a 500-word limit essay, try to keep the length of the essay between 400-500 words. If the authorities give a range, then keep the length of the essay within that range only.  

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In short, the purpose of giving a specific word count is to standardize the process so that it becomes easy for Admission Committee (Ad Com) to compare the output among candidates. Keep in mind that the word limit is basically a test of the candidates’ ability to prioritize their thoughts and present them in a precise and impactful manner.

Process to Write Essays within the Word Limit

Before you start writing an essay, have a rough idea about how long your essay should be. If you think, the estimated word count seems less, include a few different ideas. However, if the word limit seems to exceed, then drop the less important ideas. Check the points given below to keep the essay within the word limit.

  • Think of a high-level structure for the essay
  • Note down the short phrases or words that highlight the main idea that you want to present
  • According to your style of creating sentences, keep the average number of words in mind that you need to elaborate on each idea
  • Combine all the ideas together and check if the word limit is exceeding or decreasing and work in and around it accordingly. 

How to Format College Essay?

When it comes to the word limit, many colleges specify the formatting requirements such as double-spacing your essay or which font size you should use. Though a college essay is measured by the word count rather than the page length, writing in a larger font and using double-spaced formatting shall not affect the overall length of your essay. So, it is best to adhere to the guidelines of the college.

Also, Read about Importance of Vocabulary in your Admission Essay

Can I go beyond the word limit?

The answer to this will be no. It is advised not to go over the maximum word count. If there is no preferred word count, then as per the college application form platform, Common App, it is safe to submit an essay that is under 650 words. Admission Officers look for well-written essays that follow directions. Every year, officers review thousands of essays. Ignoring the directions or word limit and writing a very long or short essay, may send the wrong impression.

So, if you go beyond the word limit, start trimming the unnecessary parts of the essay and get it down to the preferred word count. This will help in including the important information and will convey the main point of your essay in a precise way. If you exceed the word limit in a noticeable way, the admission officers may just stop reading your essay beyond the decided word count. What it means is that if you were asked to write an answer in 300 words, and you wrote it in about 350 words, they would simply not read the last 50 words. In extreme cases, the Ad Com can simply reject the essay as being ‘too long’, and not read it at all, marking the application as ‘invalidated’. Therefore, it is a good general rule to follow the instructions that have been given to you by the institution about the word limit.

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Can I go under the Word Limit?

It is clear that college essays have a strict word limit policy, so if you are writing 300 words for an essay that has a 500-word limit, it is better to ask yourself, is there anything more that you could add to support your points? You can also take help on this from your friend, teacher or parents on where you could elaborate your points.

If the college gives you a word range, then it is advised to follow that. For example, if the college gives you a word range of 400-500 words, then you need to at least write 400 words. In case, if you write less, it will come across as if you have nothing constructive to say.

Check out: Importance of Grammar in your Admission Essays

Some Tips for Writing an Effective College Essay

To make your college essay stand out from the other applications, you can follow the points given below:

  • Write a few drafts: Before sharing the final draft of your essay, your college essay should go through a few drafts. It is advised to utilize the rough draft phase by overwriting. In a sense, forget about the word count for a moment and let yourself write freely. This will help you write something new or help you expand your idea. Once you are done with your writing, start editing your essay. While editing, return to your essay with a fresh mind and see what you can cut short.
  • Be authentic: Whatever you choose to write, make sure it is an authentic representation of who you are. As you go on to write your essay, go one step further by writing what you have learned in a particular situation and how you have grown as a person from that situation.
  • Be specific: When you are stating an experience, try to make use of creative writing in your personal statement. In other words, use details to describe a situation in a better way. For this, you can use specific adjectives that highlight the action and scene.
  • Ask for feedback: After developing the final draft, do not rush to send it over to the authorities. Instead, ask one of your family members or a teacher, or a friend to read your essay and get constructive feedback. This could include making changes if something is unclear or re-writing a section. Be prepared to make the changes, as required.

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Word Limit and College Essays FAQs

Q. Do colleges look at the word limit for essays?

A. Yes, colleges check the word limit for essays. The main purpose of specifying a word limit is to standardize the process so that it becomes easy for the Ad Com to compare the output among candidates. Remember that the word limit evaluates your ability to prioritize your thoughts and showcase them in a concise and impactful manner.

Q. Is it fine to go below the word limit of the essays?

A. No, ideally, you must not fall too short for the word limit of the essays. At the most, what you can do is to keep it ten words short of the word limit. So, if the essay’s word limit is 300 words, the essay can be over 290 words, but should be within 300. You can always add some more details and information pertaining to your admission essay and avoid falling short on the given word limit. 

Q. What will colleges do if you go over the word limit?

A. If you exceed the word limit of an essay, then the admissions officer can just stop reading your essay past that point. Meaning, if the word limit is 500 words, and if you have written 600 words, the admission officers may not read after the 500 words. Ideally the admission essays should follow the word limit restriction, avoid crossing the word limit and try and be precise if adding too many pieces of information. 

Q. Do colleges prefer short essays or long essays?

A. If your college does not provide a specific word limit, it is best to keep the length of the essay between 250 to 650 words. Though colleges requesting for admission essays do mention the word limit, however in rarity of the case the word limit is not mentioned, students should be precise and try and keep their admission essay as short as possible by atleast adhering to 300 words for the essay. 

Q. What do colleges look for in essays?

A. The colleges may look for these three things in your admission essay: strong writing, a unique perspective, and an authentic voice. A great essay is one where it feels like the student is present right there in the room, talking authentically to the Admissions Committee. Moreover, its the thought process that intrigues the reader to read more in the admission essay, hence one must be able to grab the attention of the reader and keep them motivated to read the essay.

Q. Does the college essay length matter?

A. All in all, it is best to stay within the word limit while writing a college essay. An essay word count has been specified for a reason. Writing too much would likely result in your essay being cut off, and writing under the word limit may cause readers to think that you are not interested in their university. In case, no word limit is given, it is best to stick to 400-600 words.

Q. How can I make my college essay stand out?

A. In order to write a stellar college essay, it is important to write about something that is important to you. Do not just recount in a college essay, rather reflect. Meaning, describe how an event changed you and what you learnt from it. It is also advised to start drafting your college essay as early as possible. Make sure there is no repetition in your college essay such as do not write your test scores. When you are done drafting your essay, edit it properly to check if there are any errors.

Q. What are the most common mistakes that you should avoid while writing a college essay?

A. The most common mistakes that you should avoid while writing a college essay include writing about the controversial topics. Also, do not generalize the points but rather make them personal. For this, try to talk about what you love and find a way to make yourself stand out from other applicants. Admission officers want to know who you are and how you can contribute to the college community. It is also advised to not lie in your college essay as admission officers do look for honesty trait as well in the applicants.

Q. What are some of the great qualities of an outstanding college essay?

A. Some of the qualities of an outstanding college essay include being reflective and introspective. The college essays should also be engaging and descriptive and they should always come from a place of honesty. Apart from these, a college essay should be error free, grammatically precise, and stylistically on point. Above all, a college essay should add value to the applicant’s college application.

Q. How can you avoid going over the word limit in a college essay?

A. In order to avoid going over the word limit in a college essay, it is important to cut out unnecessary words, use strong ideas, check for repetition, and be direct. Once you have drafted your college essay, make sure to edit it properly, revise what you have written, ensure the expressions you have used fit in the context, remove unnecessary details and check for duplicate information. In case there are discrepancies, check for redundant info and make changes or delete the info. This way the applicant will not exceed the word limit in his/her admission essay.

Q. Who should write admission essay for college on behalf of the applicant?

A. The applicant should write the admission essay by themselves only for college submissions. The college aims to examine the applicant's potential through his/her writing and not through someone else's eye. Thus, it would be unfair if someone else writes a college essay on behalf of the applicant and submits it to the college of admission. 

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About the Author
Written by
Aishwarya Bhatnagar
Study Abroad Expert

Aishwarya is a professional Writer currently working as a Study Abroad Expert in the Editorial Team at Shiksha. She has over 5 years of experience and is skilled at creating Online Content with leveraged knowledge i... Read Full Bio




Aakash Subedi

6 years ago

Still it has some grammatical mistakes.

Reply to Aakash Subedi

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