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How Long Should Your College Essays Be?  

For the most part, colleges tell you exactly how long your college essays should be, but what happens when they don’t? In this article, we will go over the reason behind word limits and what to do if a college you’re applying to does not provide a word limit.  

Why is there a word limit? 

Because most colleges receive such a large volume of essays, they don’t have time to read through multi page essays from every student.  If you’re having trouble staying within a given word limit, you might begin to feel frustrated. Maybe you are asking yourself, “why is there a word limit?” Rest assured that colleges don’t just come up with these word counts randomly. They know how long it should take for the average student to answer the given questions.    

Additionally, having a word count can be beneficial to you, even if you don’t initially realize it. Without a word limit, you might find yourself feeling anxious that you didn’t say enough or that you said too much. A word count can help you gauge how much detail you should go into and help reassure you that you said what you wanted to say within the guidelines. 

How to draft your essay with a word count 

Word count is a limitation to factor into your college applications, but it shouldn’t be what dictates how you answer essay questions. Write the first draft of your essay without a word limitation. Simply write down what it is you would like to convey and how. This will give you a good starting point from which you can tailor your essay to be either longer or shorter.  

You can use some of the questions below if you find that your essay is getting too long or too short.  

Is your essay too short? 

  • Did you mention all necessary details and clearly convey your message?  
  • Is there an added point that you would like to make that could strengthen the core of your essay? 
  • Is there another essay question that you could answer in addition to the one you just answered? 

Having an answer that you struggle to make long enough isn’t always a bad thing. If you can get your point across in fewer words, while not compromising the core of your essay, that’s okay. However, you should certainly check back through your answer a few times. The last thing you want to do is submit an answer that is too short and doesn’t fully answer the question asked.  

Don’t miss: How to end a scholarship essay

Avoid “fluffy filler”

You might feel tempted to use a lot of filler words in order to hit a certain word count, but this isn’t the best strategy. College admissions officers want to read engaging responses to get to know you. With such limited space to show off who you are, it’s important to take advantage of the space you have. If you’ve entirely answered the essay and are short on words, try incorporating an added point that ties well to your essay. 

Is your essay too long? 

  • Are there any details that could be omitted without changing the core of your essay?  
  • Is there anything you said that could be inferred and doesn’t need to be explicitly said? 
  • Did you use any filler words or is there wording that you could change to be more concise?  

Having an answer that is too long means you probably very thoroughly explained your answer, which is a good thing. But it also might mean that you went off track a bit and mentioned some things that weren’t necessary.  

Scan back through your article and try to be as concise as possible with your writing. If you can’t find anywhere to make cuts, have a family member or friend read through it for you and offer an outside perspective.  

Okay, but what happens if your essay really is too long, and you absolutely cannot cut it down… 

What happens if you exceed the word limit? 

If you exceed or come in just below the word limit by a few words and you’re sending your essay through a PDF or attached file, it’s not the worst thing. College admissions officers probably won’t notice that they had to read ten, or potentially even twenty extra words. The same goes for if you are below the word count.  

However, if you have to answer the essay question within a textbox, or a provided space, you may be unable to submit your answer unless it falls somewhere within the word count. So, keep that in mind as you move forward. You may not have any other choice but to revise your answer to make it fit the word count.  

Related: Tips for a successful college application

Key Takeaways

Key Takeaways

    • Word counts aren’t meant to be an added challenge to the college application process 
    • Before writing your essay, verify if you will be sending it via PDF, Word document, or if you will need to type it directly into a designated space 
    • Write the first draft of your essay without a word count in mind and then critique your essay from there 
    • If possible, give yourself a few different times to sit down and write various versions of your essay  
Key Takeaways

See also: Scholarships360 college essay prompt database

Frequently asked questions about essay word counts

What does “approximately” mean?

“Approximately” means “near,” “around,” and “close to.” It is typically recommended that you stay within 50 words above or below whatever approximation you are given. 

How long is 650 words?

Initially, 650 words may not seem like much space to answer a college essay. However, 650 words will look like just over one page of single spaced type or two and a half pages of double spaced type! 

Is 900 words too long for a college?

If you are not given a limit for your college essay, then 900 words is not technically too long. However, it will depend upon the essay prompt that you are given. Not all essay prompts will require long answers. If 900 words is necessary, then that is okay. Refer back to the sections above to make sure your answer isn’t getting too long. 

Remember, you don’t just want to fill space. You want to write a well written and engaging essay that conveys who you are! 

How long does it take to write a college essay?

How long it takes to write a college essay depends on the essay question, the school you’re applying to, and how much time you’ve given yourself to write. You should, however, budget at least a few hours to write a college essay. This isn’t a process that you want to rush. If you have enough time, engaging in separate writing sessions is wise. This way, you can write your first draft and then come back to it later. Going back to your draft after thinking about it is a helpful tool to help avoid writer’s block. 

Additional resources

We have plenty of resources to help you with essay writing, so before you start writing, take a look at the following articles: