Celebrating 150 years of Harvard Summer School. Learn about our history.

12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

College admission committees sift through thousands of college essays each year. Here’s how to make yours stand out.

Pamela Reynolds

When it comes to deciding who they will admit into their programs, colleges consider many criteria, including high school grades, extracurricular activities, and ACT and SAT scores. But in recent years, more colleges are no longer considering test scores.

Instead, many (including Harvard through 2026) are opting for “test-blind” admission policies that give more weight to other elements in a college application. This policy change is seen as fairer to students who don’t have the means or access to testing, or who suffer from test anxiety.

So, what does this mean for you?

Simply that your college essay, traditionally a requirement of any college application, is more important than ever.

A college essay is your unique opportunity to introduce yourself to admissions committees who must comb through thousands of applications each year. It is your chance to stand out as someone worthy of a seat in that classroom.

A well-written and thoughtful essay—reflecting who you are and what you believe—can go a long way to separating your application from the slew of forgettable ones that admissions officers read. Indeed, officers may rely on them even more now that many colleges are not considering test scores.

Below we’ll discuss a few strategies you can use to help your essay stand out from the pack. We’ll touch on how to start your essay, what you should write for your college essay, and elements that make for a great college essay.

Be Authentic

More than any other consideration, you should choose a topic or point of view that is consistent with who you truly are.

Readers can sense when writers are inauthentic.

Inauthenticity could mean the use of overly flowery language that no one would ever use in conversation, or it could mean choosing an inconsequential topic that reveals very little about who you are.

Use your own voice, sense of humor, and a natural way of speaking.

Whatever subject you choose, make sure it’s something that’s genuinely important to you and not a subject you’ve chosen just to impress. You can write about a specific experience, hobby, or personality quirk that illustrates your strengths, but also feel free to write about your weaknesses.

Honesty about traits, situations, or a childhood background that you are working to improve may resonate with the reader more strongly than a glib victory speech.

Grab the Reader From the Start

You’ll be competing with so many other applicants for an admission officer’s attention.

Therefore, start your essay with an opening sentence or paragraph that immediately seizes the imagination. This might be a bold statement, a thoughtful quote, a question you pose, or a descriptive scene.

Starting your essay in a powerful way with a clear thesis statement can often help you along in the writing process. If your task is to tell a good story, a bold beginning can be a natural prelude to getting there, serving as a roadmap, engaging the reader from the start, and presenting the purpose of your writing.

Focus on Deeper Themes

Some essay writers think they will impress committees by loading an essay with facts, figures, and descriptions of activities, like wins in sports or descriptions of volunteer work. But that’s not the point.

College admissions officers are interested in learning more about who you are as a person and what makes you tick.

They want to know what has brought you to this stage in life. They want to read about realizations you may have come to through adversity as well as your successes, not just about how many games you won while on the soccer team or how many people you served at a soup kitchen.

Let the reader know how winning the soccer game helped you develop as a person, friend, family member, or leader. Make a connection with your soup kitchen volunteerism and how it may have inspired your educational journey and future aspirations. What did you discover about yourself?

Show Don’t Tell

As you expand on whatever theme you’ve decided to explore in your essay, remember to show, don’t tell.

The most engaging writing “shows” by setting scenes and providing anecdotes, rather than just providing a list of accomplishments and activities.

Reciting a list of activities is also boring. An admissions officer will want to know about the arc of your emotional journey too.

Try Doing Something Different

If you want your essay to stand out, think about approaching your subject from an entirely new perspective. While many students might choose to write about their wins, for instance, what if you wrote an essay about what you learned from all your losses?

If you are an especially talented writer, you might play with the element of surprise by crafting an essay that leaves the response to a question to the very last sentence.

You may want to stay away from well-worn themes entirely, like a sports-related obstacle or success, volunteer stories, immigration stories, moving, a summary of personal achievements or overcoming obstacles.

However, such themes are popular for a reason. They represent the totality of most people’s lives coming out of high school. Therefore, it may be less important to stay away from these topics than to take a fresh approach.

Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students

Write With the Reader in Mind

Writing for the reader means building a clear and logical argument in which one thought flows naturally from another.

Use transitions between paragraphs.

Think about any information you may have left out that the reader may need to know. Are there ideas you have included that do not help illustrate your theme?

Be sure you can answer questions such as: Does what you have written make sense? Is the essay organized? Does the opening grab the reader? Is there a strong ending? Have you given enough background information? Is it wordy?

Write Several Drafts

Set your essay aside for a few days and come back to it after you’ve had some time to forget what you’ve written. Often, you’ll discover you have a whole new perspective that enhances your ability to make revisions.

Start writing months before your essay is due to give yourself enough time to write multiple drafts. A good time to start could be as early as the summer before your senior year when homework and extracurricular activities take up less time.

Read It Aloud

Writer’s tip : Reading your essay aloud can instantly uncover passages that sound clumsy, long-winded, or false.

Don’t Repeat

If you’ve mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don’t repeat it again in your essay.

Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

Also, be sure you’ve answered whatever question or prompt may have been posed to you at the outset.

Ask Others to Read Your Essay

Be sure the people you ask to read your essay represent different demographic groups—a teacher, a parent, even a younger sister or brother.

Ask each reader what they took from the essay and listen closely to what they have to say. If anyone expresses confusion, revise until the confusion is cleared up.

Pay Attention to Form

Although there are often no strict word limits for college essays, most essays are shorter rather than longer. Common App, which students can use to submit to multiple colleges, suggests that essays stay at about 650 words.

“While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 650 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would,” the Common App website states.

In reviewing other technical aspects of your essay, be sure that the font is readable, that the margins are properly spaced, that any dialogue is set off properly, and that there is enough spacing at the top. Your essay should look clean and inviting to readers.

End Your Essay With a “Kicker”

In journalism, a kicker is the last punchy line, paragraph, or section that brings everything together.

It provides a lasting impression that leaves the reader satisfied and impressed by the points you have artfully woven throughout your piece.

So, here’s our kicker: Be concise and coherent, engage in honest self-reflection, and include vivid details and anecdotes that deftly illustrate your point.

While writing a fantastic essay may not guarantee you get selected, it can tip the balance in your favor if admissions officers are considering a candidate with a similar GPA and background.

Write, revise, revise again, and good luck!

Experience life on a college campus. Spend your summer at Harvard.

Explore Harvard Summer School’s College Programs for High School Students.

About the Author

Pamela Reynolds is a Boston-area feature writer and editor whose work appears in numerous publications. She is the author of “Revamp: A Memoir of Travel and Obsessive Renovation.”

How Involved Should Parents and Guardians Be in High School Student College Applications and Admissions?

There are several ways parents can lend support to their children during the college application process. Here's how to get the ball rolling.

Harvard Division of Continuing Education

The Division of Continuing Education (DCE) at Harvard University is dedicated to bringing rigorous academics and innovative teaching capabilities to those seeking to improve their lives through education. We make Harvard education accessible to lifelong learners from high school to retirement.

Harvard Division of Continuing Education Logo

  • Success Stories
  • AI Scholar Program
  • Startup Internship Program
  • Research Scholar Program
  • GOALS Academic Support Program
  • Test Prep Program
  • Passion Project Program
  • For Families
  • For Schools
  • For Employers
  • Partnerships
  • Content Guides
  • News And Awards
  • College Admissions
  • Events and Webinars
  • Applications

College Essays: How Long Should They Be?

Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine Karydes

Lead admissions expert, table of contents, your best foot forward, what about supplemental college essays.

Stay up-to-date on the latest research and college admissions trends with our blog team.

College Essays: How Long Should They Be?

Looking for how long college essays are ? We’ve got a few tips for you. Read on to learn how many words you should include in your college essays.

When preparing for college applications, putting your best foot forward is key. A place where you get to really be yourself is in the college essay. However, this piece tends to stump many students and can cause anxiety that can impact your overall application. Have you ever found yourself wondering how many words college essays have? You’re definitely not alone, but we wanted to share with you some tips today to help clarify some questions you may have about college essays—and, in specific, how long a college essay should be exactly. 

Remember that the word count is different from what you might be used to when it comes to your high school papers, so having questions is okay! While you may be familiar with page count when it comes to writing, word count is different—all you need to do is pay attention to the number of words you are able to submit in your essay. Additionally, instead of being scared of word count, use it as a helpful tool when developing your storyline or narrative and when coming up with ideas during the brainstorming process (we’ll dive more into this in a bit.). For now, let’s take a deep dive into how long college essays are typically and what you should pay attention to when you begin drafting your own.

How long should a main college essay be?

When it comes to how long a college essay should be , you might find yourself wondering how much you should typically write. Well, main essays usually have a word-count range between 500-600 words or less, so it’s important to keep this in mind when coming up with topics to write about and/or choosing prompts that fit your story best. (For instance, applications like the Common App will typically have a cut-off of around 650 words!) 

Admissions officers, when reviewing your application, want to learn about the highlights of your achievements, your ability to persevere, as well as who you are both as a student and as an individual, but don’t have a ton of time to do so given the large number of applications submitted during a typical admissions cycle. Given this, it’s important to stick to the 500-600 word count limit when crafting your personal statement and ensure that what you do include should showcase the best of who you are and what you’ve achieved during high school. 

Something to keep in mind:

If you end up writing too little, it could work against you during the admissions process. Admissions officers look for students who can stick to the instructions and are mindful of this while preparing their pieces for their application submission. For that reason, we highly recommend trying to stick to the higher end of the essay limit (around 500 words or so at minimum), as it will 1) Give you more of an opportunity to thoroughly develop your narrative and 2) show the readers that you have taken time to show your dedication and your due diligence when sharing your story. 

When creating the drafts of your college essays, try to write a lot more at the beginning of the process. This can allow you to work through your answers and narrow your responses down to the statements that truly matter. While you may have difficulty brainstorming meaningful topics to connect to the prompts, you’ll find that once you start writing, it can be hard to stop yourself during the process! This is great for the first few drafts, but be sure to review these a few times and ask your friends, family, and even teachers if there are sentences that could be clearer and where you could add to or take away from the narrative. 

If you’ve previewed any supplemental essays before, you’ll notice they’re typically about half of the length of main application essays. These are normally more focused questions and have about eight main topics they typically fall into: 

  • the “why” essay, 
  • the intended choice of major essay, 
  • the “describe an extracurricular” essay, 
  • the community essay, 
  • the intellectual essay,
  • the short and sweet essay, 
  • and the imaginative essay. 

While these may differ slightly based on the school and/or even the specific major you’re applying to, generally, one of these topics can be found on most applications requiring the submission of supplemental essays. 

So, how long should these college essays be?

Supplemental essay questions will usually ask for a word count range of around 20-650 words, depending on what is being asked, so be sure to review the question and truly understand what is required of you.

When it comes to an extracurricular-focused essay, for example, these will likely ask for a more in-depth and longer response, so you’ll have more room to go into detail about the different extracurricular activities you participated in and the impact you were able to make while you participated. On the other hand, imaginative essays like Stanford’s “How did you spend your last two summers?” question only provide 50 words or less to describe something meaningful you were able to accomplish.

These essays tend to trip students quite often, so be sure to really think long and hard about something specific you would like to talk about and narrow your drafts down to the true essence of this past time or activity. This is your time to truly show the best of your story and who you are as a person to the admissions committee, so take your time and make it count!

I’m applying to the UCs, so what about personal statements?

When it comes to the University of California (or UCs for short) personal insight questions, there’s a specific set of questions already available for you to review online! As noted on the website, there are eight prompts to choose from, although you are only asked to respond to four. When it comes to the length of these responses, you only have a maximum of 350 words to work from per response, so it is important to make sure to include everything you need in a concise and clear manner to make the most out of these short-answer questions. 

While many of the questions may connect with your own personal story, some may not. With this in mind, be sure to take the time to work through the list of available questions and weigh every one to make sure you’ll be able to make the word count matter as much as possible in your answer. Try to pick questions you’ll be able to answer as sincerely as possible, and you’ll likely find that answering these questions within the word count may become harder than you think! Once you develop drafts, try to narrow down the words you have so your point comes across clearly and concisely and ensures you are getting your point across as efficiently as possible.

How can word counts help me in my drafts?

Now you may be thinking, how can using word counts help me better develop my essays? As we’ve sprinkled throughout, there are various ways to use word count as a tool to help guide you along the essay writing process.

First and foremost, word counts provide a bit of a guideline for how to approach your essays and how much content you should incorporate into each response. While at first, you’ll find yourself writing quite a lot with some topics, shortening your responses can help ensure your storyline flows well, is as concise as possible, and removes unnecessary tangents you may find yourself following during the brainstorming process. Additionally, being mindful of the target word count when you begin the drafting process will allow you to plan your writing accordingly and should help make the process seem a bit less daunting.  – Bear in mind word count when picking something to write!

What about if I’m not given a word count?

While most of the time you’ll receive a range of word counts to follow when crafting your personal essays, some schools may not provide a word count at all. In this case, it is recommended that you should stick to around 400 to 600 words for your response to make the most out of the prompt without creating too long of a narrative. Again, remember that your readers are reading thousands of other applications during the admissions cycle, so making your essay stick concisely is key to making your student profile stand out from the competition! 

Final thoughts

Now that you have a clearer idea of how many words are in a college essay , it’s time to put this into effect. If you’re looking for more guidance in writing your admissions essays or editing them, Empowerly ’s team of experts is here to help you every step of the way. Your story matters, so it’s important to put your best foot forward when preparing for the next stage of your academic journey. It’s your chance to show the admissions committee the best of who you are, and we’ll be here to support you at each step along the way. 

Share this article:

College apps can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. empowerly college counseling is in it with you., related articles.

Filling Out the Common Application for College Admissions

Filling Out the Common Application for College Admissions

How to Approach College Admissions Essays

How to Approach College Admissions Essays

4 Tips for College Admissions Essays from a Stanford Grad

4 Tips for College Admissions Essays from a Stanford Grad

Gelyna Price

Ideal College Application Essay Length

Can you go over the Common App length limit? How long should your essay be?

  • Essay Samples & Tips
  • College Admissions Process
  • College Profiles
  • College Rankings
  • Choosing A College
  • Application Tips
  • Testing Graphs
  • College Financial Aid
  • Advanced Placement
  • Homework Help
  • Private School
  • College Life
  • Graduate School
  • Business School
  • Distance Learning
  • Ph.D., English, University of Pennsylvania
  • M.A., English, University of Pennsylvania
  • B.S., Materials Science & Engineering and Literature, MIT

The 2019-20 version of the  Common Application has an essay length limit of 650 words and a minimum length of 250 words. This limit has remained unchanged for the past several years. Learn how important this word limit is and how to make the most of your 650 words.

Key Takeaways: Common Application Essay Length

  • Your Common Application essay must be between 250 words and 650 words.
  • Don't assume shorter is better. A college requires an essay because they want to learn more about you.
  • Never go over the limit. Show that you can follow instructions and that you know how to edit.

How Strict Is the Limit?

Many wonder whether they can go over the limit, even if only by a few words. What if you feel that you need more space to communicate all of your ideas clearly?

650 words is not a lot of space in which to convey your personality, passions, and writing ability to the people in admissions offices—and the title and any explanatory notes are also included in this limit. The holistic admissions processes of most schools prove that colleges really do want to get to know the person behind your test scores and grades . Since the essay is one of the best places for showcasing who you are, is it worth it to go over?

Most experts recommend adhering to the limit. The Common Application will even prompt its applicants if they exceed the word count to prevent them from going over. Most admissions officers have stated that, while they will read all essays in their entirety, they are less inclined to feel that essays over 650 accomplish what they set out to do. In short: any of the prompts can and should be answered in 650 words or fewer.

Choosing the Right Length

If everything from 250 to 650 words is fair game, what length is best? Some counselors advise students to keep their essays on the shorter end, but not all colleges place the most value in succinctness.

The personal essay is the most powerful tool at your disposal for showing readers your personality without meeting them. If you've chosen a focus that reveals something meaningful about you, you're probably going to need more than 250 words to create a thoughtful, introspective, and effective essay. However, it isn't essential to hit the 650 mark, either.

From the Admissions Desk

"There is no need to meet the full word count [650] if the essay captures what the student would like to share. Visually, you want to make sure the essay looks complete and robust. As a general rule, I would suggest the essay be between 500-650 words."

–Valerie Marchand Welsh Director of College Counseling, The Baldwin School Former Associate Dean of Admissions, University of Pennsylvania

Each of the Common App essay prompts creates different writing challenges, but no matter which option you choose, your essay should be detailed and analytical, and it should provide a window into some important dimension of your interests, values, or personality. Ask yourself: Will the admissions officers know me better after reading my essay? Chances are, an essay in the 500- to 650-word range will accomplish this task better than a shorter essay

In general, the length of an essay does not determine its effectiveness. If you have answered the prompt in its entirety and feel proud of your work, there is no need to stress about any particular word count. Do not pad your essay with filler content and tautologies to stretch it out, and on the flip side, don't leave important sections out in the interest of keeping the essay brief.

Why You Shouldn't Go Over the Essay Length Limit

Some colleges will allow you to exceed the limit set by the Common Application, but you should avoid writing more than 650 words in all cases for the following reasons:

  • College students adhere to guidelines : If a professor assigns a five-page paper, they don't want a 10-page paper and you don't have 55 minutes to take 50-minute exams. The message that you send to a college when you write a powerful essay in 650 words or fewer, even when they accept longer submissions, is that you can succeed under any conditions.
  • Essays that are too long can leave a negative impression: Essays over 650 may make you appear over-confident. The word counts have been established by experts for a reason and writing more than you are allowed might make it seem like you think what you have to say is more important than other applicants, who have to follow the rules. Avoid seeming self-important by stopping yourself from going overboard.
  • Good writers know how to edit and cut : Any college writing professor would tell you that most essays become stronger when they are trimmed. There are almost always words, sentences, and even entire paragraphs that don't contribute to an essay and can be omitted. As you revise any essay you write, ask yourself which parts help you to make your point and which get in the way—everything else can go. Use these 9 style tips to tighten up your language.

College admissions officers will read essays that are too long but may consider them to be rambling, unfocused, or poorly-edited. Remember that your essay is one of many and your readers will wonder why yours is longer when it doesn't need to be.

  • The Length Requirements for the Common Application Essay in 2020-21
  • How Long Should Your Common Application Short Answer Essay Be?
  • "Handiwork" - Sample Common Application Essay for Option #1
  • The 2021-22 Common Application Essay Prompts
  • "My Dads" - Sample Common Application Essay for Option #1
  • Common Application Essay on a Meaningful Place
  • Private School Application Essay Tips
  • Common Application Essay Option 4—Gratitude
  • Common Application Short Answer Tips
  • "Grandpa's Rubik's Cube"—Sample Common Application Essay, Option #4
  • College Application Essay - The Job I Should Have Quit
  • Common Supplemental Essay Mistakes
  • 2020-21 Common Application Essay Option 4—Solving a Problem
  • Tips for Writing a Winning College Application Essay
  • Sample College Admissions Essay - Student Teacher
  • Topic of Your Choice: Common Application Essay Tips

How Long Is an Essay? The Ultimate Essay Length Guide

It’s safe to say that most students struggle with the word limit within an essay. Sometimes, it’s hard to find ideas for a text and meet the word requirement for every part of the paper. With so many factors influencing essay length, it’s easy to get confused.

Our specialists will write a custom essay specially for you!

The picture enumerates the factors influencing essay length.

Luckily, our custom-writing team has your back. In this article, our custom-writing experts will answer all your questions regarding essay length. We will also help you write papers with an ideal number of words!

📜 Is Essay Length Important?

📏 essay parts: recommended length.

  • 🤔 How to Make Essays Shorter or Longer
  • 📑 Essay Length & Formatting
  • ❓ Different Academic Levels FAQ
  • 📚 Essay Length: Different Types
  • ⭐ Other Aspects
  • 📝 Essay Examples

🔍 References

Often, the phrase “word limit” causes panic among students. After all, if an essay is too long or too short, your grade will be lowered. However, in reality, there’s nothing to worry about. When it comes to words, limitations are beneficial for both the students and the professors.

Let’s see what exactly it means.

Many people believe that the longer an essay is, the better. However, according to Frontiers, research shows that it’s a bias that couldn’t be further from the truth. A perfect-length paper is one that allows students to express their ideas and showcase their knowledge fully while keeping it clean and simple.

What Influences Essay Length

Various factors determine the length of an essay. Here are the most important ones:

Just in 1 hour! We will write you a plagiarism-free paper in hardly more than 1 hour

Let’s start with the essentials. Usually, assignment length is given as a number of words rather than pages. Unless your supervisor or instructor mentions any specific limitations, it’s acceptable to be 10% below or above the word limit.

It’s also worth knowing the 80/20 rule . According to it, the body should constitute 80% of the text, while the intro and the conclusion take up the remaining 20%.

Keep reading to learn more about the recommended length of each essay part. The main numbers are shown in the table below:

How Long Should an Introduction Be?

An introduction is the first section and the face of your essay. For that reason, it needs to be compelling and well-thought-out. Usually, it consists of 3 to 5 sentences or 50 to 80 words .

An introduction must have a hook, some background information, and a thesis statement. While the attention grabber and the thesis are usually brief, you may need 2 to 3 sentences for the background. To avoid going overboard, try to stay on topic and don’t add any filler.

Receive a plagiarism-free paper tailored to your instructions. Cut 15% off your first order!

How Long Is a Body Paragraph in an Essay?

The length of a body paragraph may vary. Sometimes, it can be limited to a single sentence. In other cases, it may take up a whole page. Usually, it’s recommended to have between 80 and 200 words (5-8 sentences) per body paragraph.

Since the paper’s body contains the most information, it’s necessary to explain and support your ideas properly. That’s why it’s no big deal if your body paragraphs go slightly over the word limit.

How Many Body Paragraphs Should Be in an Essay?

Like the word count, the number of paragraphs is determined by the type of paper and its topic. The minimum is 1. Generally, however, the body consists of 3-5 paragraphs , 1 for each argument.

To improve your paper’s structure, ensure that there are as many paragraphs as there are points in your thesis statement. Each one should have a purpose and support your arguments. If there’s any fluff, it’s better to get rid of it.

How Long Should a Conclusion Be?

Like the introduction, the conclusion consists of 50-80 words . It’s essential to keep it simple and only mention the central ideas. A weak concluding sentence may affect the reader’s understanding of the topic and spoil the overall impression of your paper.

Get an originally-written paper according to your instructions!

🤔 How to Make Essays Shorter or Longer: Best Tips

Undoubtedly the essay’s content is more important than the number of words you use. But there are times when students go more than 10-15% below or over the limit. Is there a solution to this problem?

Yes, there is! In this section, we will share the most useful tips to help you stay on point with your paper’s word count.

How to Make Essays Longer

Since having enough words is essential for a good grade, we’ve collected the best tips that can help you lengthen your essay without teachers noticing:

  • Use relevant quotations.  You don’t need to litter your essay with citations, but using them whenever appropriate is a great idea. For instance, if you’re working on a book analysis, referencing a couple of direct quotes from the source text will make your essay more credible and increase the word count.
  • Give examples.  Go through the claims in your paper and provide additional evidence where possible. It will make your essay longer and more informative.
  • Use transitional expressions.  Adding transition words and phrases is a natural way of increasing the number of words. It will also improve your essay’s readability. 
  • Add more references.  Providing references is always a good idea when writing a formal essay. That way, you will increase the number of words and make your paper more credible.
  • Work on your descriptions.  If you struggle to develop new ideas, go over what you’ve already written and consider adding some descriptive words. It’s a great idea for creative essays to include more imagery. 

How to Shorten an Essay

Another struggle of academic writing is cutting down the number of words in your essay to meet a set limit. We are here to tell you that it’s not that hard. Writing straightforwardly and keeping your sentences short is a key to concise content. Here are several strategies you may use to tighten a lengthy essay:

  • Choose the active voice.  It takes up less space than passive voice. Using it also makes your writing more professional and compelling.
  • Remove needless transitions.  Transitions can indeed maintain the flow of the paper. But some transitional phrases can be easily removed.
  • Get rid of unnecessary adverbs and adjectives.  Some students tend to overuse adjectives and adverbs. It adds wordiness to their writing.
  • Avoid running starts.  Some students like to start their sentences with long phrases like: “there are,” “it is believed,” or “the fact that.” Getting rid of them makes texts much more concise.
  • Delete “that.”  In most cases, the word “that” can often be easily removed from texts.

Another cool trick is to use our summarizing tool as essay shortener. Try it out!

📑 How Long Is an Essay Depending on Formatting?

As we mentioned earlier, the essay’s length is usually limited by the number of words. But sometimes, a teacher may ask you to write a specific number of pages. This is trickier because the amount of text you can place on the page depends on the formatting. By using the font size and spacing properly, it’s possible to make the paper visually longer or shorter. Let’s discuss it in more detail.

The picture describes how formatting affects essay length.

Essay Spacing: How Does It Affect the Length?

  • Adjusting the spacing between lines.  Try to make the changes as slight as possible. For instance, if you were asked to double-space the paper, use 2.1 or 2.2 spacing instead. Another option is to slightly extend spaces between paragraphs.
  • Extending the margin size.  You can increase the right and bottom margins by a quarter to make very subtle changes in length. For example, if the margins are 1 inch , you can set them at 1.25 inches instead. 
  • Increasing the spacing between characters.  It is less noticeable than the line spacing. Still, try not to overdo it and keep the numbers between 1.2 and 1.5 . 
  • Adjusting the footer.  Add a footer with page numbers to stretch the bottom margin even further.
  • Lengthening the header.  You can extend your header by adding your name, e-mail address, or other relevant information. Another option is double-spacing it.

Length of an Essay: Font and Size

  • Using the right type of font.  If your instructor didn’t specify which font you should use, go for the bigger ones. We suggest Arial, Bangla Sangam MN, Cambria, or Quicksand. They will make your text look longer without being too on the nose.  
  • Using a bigger font size.  This is another technique that can come in handy. However, be careful and don’t increase your font by more than 0.1-0.5 pt.  
  • Increasing the size of periods and commas.   This is one of the less noticeable tricks you can use. For instance, if your paper’s font is 12 pt. , increase it to 14 pt. only for punctuation marks. Italicizing periods and commas will also add several lines of length to your essay. 

What to Do if There Are No Length Guidelines

Sometimes a teacher sets no word limit for a written work. What to do in that case? Well, first, you can ask your professor to confirm if they have simply forgotten to mention it. But if that’s not the case, here are a couple of helpful solutions:

  • Think of the paragraph number.  Sometimes, you may be given the number of paragraphs instead of words. In that case, you can decide on the number of words depending on how many paragraphs you have. 
  • Think about the topic’s complexity.  The length of your paper is also directly dependent on the theme. If the topic is simple, 4-5 paragraphs will be enough. A more complex issue may require an in-depth explanation, so your essay can be 6-8 paragraphs long.

❓ Essay Length for Different Academic Levels FAQ

The length of the elementary school essay is usually short. Usually, a paper needs to have around 3-5 paragraphs, with 4-5 sentences per paragraph. Primary school essays can be 1-2 paragraphs long.

The word limit for a middle school essay is usually between 300 to 1000 words. The most common essay length is 500 words, which is about 5 paragraphs. However, it may differ from school to school.

The length of the high school essay may differ depending on the school and the complexity of the task itself. Usually, however, a paper can be between 300 to 1000 words long.

The length of the undergraduate college essay often falls within the range of 1500 to 2100 words. It translates into roughly 5-7 pages. 5 pages is the most common essay length at this level.

When it comes to the graduate school admission essay, the word limit is usually between 500 and 1000 words. It’s possible to go slightly over or below the set limit; however, it’s best to stick to the requirements as close as possible.

📚 How Long Should an Essay Be: Different Types

Now, let’s talk about different types of essays. How long should they be? Keep reading to learn about the length of college essays, short and extended ones, scholarship essays, and research papers.

How Long Is a College Essay?

When it comes to a college essay, it’s more important to stick to the word limit than with any other paper. Some teachers may refuse to read it unless it meets all the requirements.

The shortest limit for a college essay is about 250 words which is the shortest length of a Common App personal statement. It’s also rare to see a good college essay with over 650 words . So, an average piece usually has between 150 and 650 words ; you can go over or below the limit by 50.

How Long Is a Paragraph in College Essays?

A college essay usually consists of 4-5 paragraphs . One paragraph takes about 1/3 of the page, which is roughly 5 sentences . Each sentence corresponds with one of the following components:

  • Topic sentence.
  • Explanation.
  • Transitions.

College Essay Length Requirements: Top 5 Schools

To understand the requirements for a college application essay even better, take a look at the table below. It showcases the top 5 schools and their length criteria for personal statements. Keep it in mind when writing your college essay:

How Long Is a Short Essay?

A short essay is usually 500 words long. Using 12pt Times New Roman font with standard margins and double spacing should result in about 2 pages of text.

Extended Essay Length

An extended essay is different from a short or a standard one. It requires extensive research and thorough explanation. That’s why the upper limit for this kind of essay is 4000 words . In this case, a typical essay length is 3500 words or 18 paragraphs .

Scholarship Essay Length

Generally, scholarship papers have a limit of 500 words , which is 1 page in length. Most scholarship programs provide additional requirements that indicate the minimum number of words or pages. If there are no set limitations, you can stick to the limit.

How Long Is a Research Paper?

Typically, a research paper is between 4000 and 6000 words long. Sometimes, there are shorter papers, which have around 2000 words, or in-depth ones with over 10000 words.

⭐ Other Aspects of Essay Length

When it comes to essay length, many different aspects come into play. Here, we’ve gathered all the essential information regarding an essay’s number of pages, paragraphs, words, and references.

How Many Paragraphs Are in an Essay?

Sometimes, it is more convenient to count paragraphs rather than words. Let’s now figure out how many paragraphs are in essays of different lengths. You may also check out the examples to see what such an essay looks like:

How to Count Paragraphs in an Essay Based on Word Count

You can also count the number of body paragraphs for your essay using the formula below:

Number of body paragraphs (average) = (TWC – TWC*0.16)/100

  • TWC – total word count
  • 0.16 – an average percentage of total word count for introduction and conclusion
  • 100 – an average number of words per paragraph

How Many Pages Are in an Essay?

The number of pages in your essay may vary from subject to subject. But it’s still possible to determine the number of pages based on word count. Check out the numbers below to see the conversions with bonus examples:

You can also use a specialized calculator such as Word Counter to determine a number of pages in your essay.

What Does an Essay Look Like when Typed?

You might be wondering: what do essays of different lengths look like when typed? Well, here’s the table where you can find out the metrics for single- and double-spaced papers.

How Many Pages Are in a Handwritten Essay?

In case you need to turn in a handwritten paper, you should check out the table below.

Counting Words in a Handwritten Essay

If you don’t have enough time to count the words in your handwritten essay one by one, here’s what you can do:

  • Count how many words there are in one line. Take the first and last lines and a line in the middle of a page. Let’s say there are 15, 14, and 15 words in them. Then, the average number of words per line is 15.
  • Next, count how many lines there are on one page. Let’s say there are 17 lines on a page.
  • Take the number of words per line and multiply it by the number of lines per page. In our case, we multiply 15 by 17. So, there are 255 words per page on average.
  • Finally, multiply the number of words per page by the number of pages. If your essay has 3 pages, it is approximately 765 words long.

How Long Does it Take to Write an Essay?

It is crucial to know how long writing will take you, especially if you are working on an exam essay or just short on time. Note that you need to consider the time for typing and researching necessary to complete a piece. Research time may vary. Usually, it’s 1-2 hours for 200-250 words .

The picture shows the fact about the average speed of writing.

Below, we’ve gathered the average writing time for average and slower writing speed:

And here are the results in pages:

How Many References Does an Essay Need?

Another essential part of any composition is the reference list. Different academic levels require different references. You’ll find out how many of them should be in your paper in the table below!

📝 Essay Examples: Different Length

Finally, we’ve gathered some excellent sample essays of different lengths. Make sure to check them out!

We also recommend you check out our free essay samples sorted by pages:

  • 1-Page Essay Examples
  • 2-Page Essay Examples
  • 3-Page Essay Examples
  • 4-Page Essay Examples
  • 5-Page Essay Examples
  • 10-Page Essay Examples
  • 20-Page Essay Examples
  • 30-Page Essay Examples
  • 40-Page Essay Examples
  • 50-Page Essay Examples

Now you know all about essay length, word limits, and ways to lengthen or shorten your text. If you know other interesting tricks, make sure to share them in a comment! Good luck with your writing assignments!

You may also like:

  • How to Write a Process Analysis Essay: Examples & Outline
  • How to Write a Precis: Definition, Guide, & Examples 
  • How to Write a Critical Analysis Essay: Examples & Guide
  • How to Write a Narrative Essay Outline: Template & Examples
  • How to Write a Formal Essay: Format, Rules, & Example
  • Word Limits and Assignment Length: Massey University
  • The Paragraph in the College Essay: California State University, Long Beach
  • Introductions & Conclusions: The University of Arizona Global Campus
  • How Long Should a Paragraph Be?: Daily Writing Tips
  • Paragraphing (Length Consistency): Purdue University
  • Hitting the Target Word Count in Your College Admission Essay: Dummies.com
  • How Long Should Your College Essay Be? What is the Ideal Length?: College Vine
  • Writing Personal Statements Online: Issues of Length and Form: Penn State University
  • Pen Admissions: Essays: University of Pennsylvania
  • Essay Questions: University of Michigan
  • Essay Structure: Harvard University
  • Components of a Good Essay: University of Evansville
  • Write Your Essay: UNSW Sydney
  • College Writing: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 21 Helpful and Easy Tips to Make an Essay Longer: Seventeen
  • How to Make a College Paper Longer: ThoughtCo
  • Share to Facebook
  • Share to Twitter
  • Share to LinkedIn
  • Share to email

How to Get Perfect Letters of Recommendation for College [Guide]

Do you dream of being successfully admitted to college? Well, you probably know that admission is a long process that includes many challenging steps. One of them is a recommendation letter: a document written on your behalf that describes your characteristics as a student. If done well, such a letter...

Building a Job-Winning Resume

Almost everyone feels insecure when they start working on their first resume. Suddenly there are lots of questions that need to be answered. What should I write? How should I write it? What should I include in my resume to make it more appealing? If you’re looking for answers to...

How to Search the Web Effectively [For Students]

What’s the first thing we do when facing the unknown? We Google it, of course! Google is fundamental to our experience of the Internet. According to the statistics, more than 100 000 people press “search” on Google every second! At first glance, the process is straightforward. You type in what...

Top 25 Gadgets You Need to Study Smarter [from $20]

Ever heard of a smart egg tray? Welcome to 2024! Today, there are gadgets for everything, and the variety of intelligent devices available increases every day. Some of them can improve your life. Others seem a bit useless. Will a smart egg tray actually add value to your life, or...

24 Tips for Dorm Living

Dorms become like a second home to many students during their university experience. And while dorm life can mean making new friends and having exciting adventures, adjusting to new routines is not always easy. Since most students who come to the dorms have no prior experience living outside their parents’...

Fact-Checking Your Writing: Tips & Helpful Websites

Imagine you’ve just written a paper. You’re going to proofread it, right? But is proofreading enough to ensure the absence of any factual errors or unfounded conclusions? Can you say with 100% certainty that you cited every reference correctly? If you want to learn how to fact-check like a pro,...

Everything You Need to Know about College Rankings

Every year, millions of U.S. students decide which university they want to attend. Around 20% of students rely on college rankings to make their final decision. Over the last two decades, such rankings have significantly grown in popularity. But are these lists reliable? Which criteria can be trusted? And which...

Why Developing a Growth Mindset is Vital to Your Academic Success

Have you ever seen someone else’s success and thought to yourself: “Why can’t I do the same?” What was your thought process like? Perhaps you believed you lacked some innate quality. Or did you think you could have achieved the same thing if you had put in enough effort? The difference in these attitudes is defined by two distinct mindsets—growth or fixed. You will read all about them in this article by Custom-Writing.org. You’ll also...

7 Affordable Hobbies You Can Monetize

Are you interested in having a side hustle? If you have a hobby you are passionate about, look no further. A hobby-based side hustle is a great way to spend time doing something you love, a great source of income, and a way to boost your resume! In this article by Custom-Writing.org, you will find: a list of 7 inexpensive hobbies available to anyone; ways to monetize them; their benefits for...

Online Degrees: Ultimate List & Tips for Studying

In 2024, online education remains one of the most searched terms. Not only can you undertake short courses, but it is now commonplace to get Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees online. Is this the right fit for you? Keep reading to find out! In this article, our custom writing team will:...

Becoming a Volunteer: Diverse Benefits of Volunteering

What is the number one reason for becoming a volunteer? You may already know that charitable organizations help people in need and allow everyone to make a difference. However, there are some material benefits as well. Volunteer experience can boost your career prospects: it increases your chances of getting into...

Crossword Puzzles in Learning: Role, History, & 29 Resources

Are you excited about grammar? Have you ever read the dictionary for fun? Do you become enthralled by your textbooks? Whether you are a language nerd or not, crossword puzzles are here to help. In this article, you will find dozens of exciting puzzle resources to support your learning. You...

Calculate for all schools

Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, ideal word count for a college essay.

Hi all! I'm starting to work on my college essays and I was curious about how many words I should be aiming for in my essay. Are there any general guidelines or suggestions? Thanks!

When it comes to college essays, different schools may have different word count requirements, which you can usually find on the school's application instructions or their website. However, the Common Application's personal statement has a word limit of 650. It's a good idea to stay within that limit, ensuring that you fully answer the prompt while still being concise.

As a general guideline, aim to write an essay between 500 to 650 words. An essay that's too short might not provide enough depth, while an excessively long essay can be tough to engage with. It's important to strike a balance, conveying your unique story or perspective in a focused and engaging way. Remember, quality often trumps quantity. Good luck with your essays!

About CollegeVine’s Expert FAQ

CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

How long should my essay be?

The average length of a personal essay for college is 400─600 words. Always read the prompt. Follow the instructions provided in the application.

Also Found On

What are your chances of acceptance?

Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.

Duke University

Your chancing factors

Extracurriculars.

how many words should be in college essay

How to Format and Structure Your College Essay

←What Is a College Application Theme and How Do You Come Up With One?

How to Write a Personal Statement That Wows Colleges→

A person sitting cross legged, pointing to the text, with an abstract monitor behind them

Does your Common App essay actually stand out?

Your essay can be the difference between an acceptance and rejection — it allows you to stand out from the rest of applicants with similar profiles. Get a free peer review or review other students’ essays right now to understand the strength of your essay.

Submit or Review an Essay — for free!

College essays are an entirely new type of writing for high school seniors. For that reason, many students are confused about proper formatting and essay structure. Should you double-space or single-space? Do you need a title? What kind of narrative style is best-suited for your topic?

In this post, we’ll be going over proper college essay format, traditional and unconventional essay structures (plus sample essays!), and which structure might work best for you. 

General College Essay Formatting Guidelines

How you format your essay will depend on whether you’re submitting in a text box, or attaching a document. We’ll go over the different best practices for both, but regardless of how you’re submitting, here are some general formatting tips:

  • There’s no need for a title; it takes up unnecessary space and eats into your word count
  • Stay within the word count as much as possible (+/- 10% of the upper limit). For further discussion on college essay length, see our post How Long Should Your College Essay Be?
  • Indent or double space to separate paragraphs clearly

If you’re submitting in a text box:

  • Avoid italics and bold, since formatting often doesn’t transfer over in text boxes
  • Be careful with essays meant to be a certain shape (like a balloon); text boxes will likely not respect that formatting. Beyond that, this technique can also seem gimmicky, so proceed with caution
  • Make sure that paragraphs are clearly separated, as text boxes can also undo indents and double spacing

If you’re attaching a document:

  • Use a standard font and size like Times New Roman, 12 point
  • Make your lines 1.5-spaced or double-spaced
  • Use 1-inch margins
  • Save as a PDF since it can’t be edited. This also prevents any formatting issues that come with Microsoft Word, since older versions are sometimes incompatible with the newer formatting
  • Number each page with your last name in the header or footer (like “Smith 1”)
  • Pay extra attention to any word limits, as you won’t be cut off automatically, unlike with most text boxes

Conventional College Essay Structures

Now that we’ve gone over the logistical aspects of your essay, let’s talk about how you should structure your writing. There are three traditional college essay structures. They are:

  • In-the-moment narrative
  • Narrative told over an extended period of time
  • Series of anecdotes, or montage

Let’s go over what each one is exactly, and take a look at some real essays using these structures.

1. In-the-moment narrative

This is where you tell the story one moment at a time, sharing the events as they occur. In the moment narrative is a powerful essay format, as your reader experiences the events, your thoughts, and your emotions with you . This structure is ideal for a specific experience involving extensive internal dialogue, emotions, and reflections.

Here’s an example:

The morning of the Model United Nation conference, I walked into Committee feeling confident about my research. We were simulating the Nuremberg Trials – a series of post-World War II proceedings for war crimes – and my portfolio was of the Soviet Judge Major General Iona Nikitchenko. Until that day, the infamous Nazi regime had only been a chapter in my history textbook; however, the conference’s unveiling of each defendant’s crimes brought those horrors to life. The previous night, I had organized my research, proofread my position paper and gone over Judge Nikitchenko’s pertinent statements. I aimed to find the perfect balance between his stance and my own.

As I walked into committee anticipating a battle of wits, my director abruptly called out to me. “I’m afraid we’ve received a late confirmation from another delegate who will be representing Judge Nikitchenko. You, on the other hand, are now the defense attorney, Otto Stahmer.” Everyone around me buzzed around the room in excitement, coordinating with their allies and developing strategies against their enemies, oblivious to the bomb that had just dropped on me. I felt frozen in my tracks, and it seemed that only rage against the careless delegate who had confirmed her presence so late could pull me out of my trance. After having spent a month painstakingly crafting my verdicts and gathering evidence against the Nazis, I now needed to reverse my stance only three hours before the first session.

Gradually, anger gave way to utter panic. My research was fundamental to my performance, and without it, I knew I could add little to the Trials. But confident in my ability, my director optimistically recommended constructing an impromptu defense. Nervously, I began my research anew. Despite feeling hopeless, as I read through the prosecution’s arguments, I uncovered substantial loopholes. I noticed a lack of conclusive evidence against the defendants and certain inconsistencies in testimonies. My discovery energized me, inspiring me to revisit the historical overview in my conference “Background Guide” and to search the web for other relevant articles. Some Nazi prisoners had been treated as “guilty” before their court dates. While I had brushed this information under the carpet while developing my position as a judge, it now became the focus of my defense. I began scratching out a new argument, centered on the premise that the allied countries had violated the fundamental rule that, a defendant was “not guilty” until proven otherwise.

At the end of the three hours, I felt better prepared. The first session began, and with bravado, I raised my placard to speak. Microphone in hand, I turned to face my audience. “Greetings delegates. I, Otto Stahmer would like to…….” I suddenly blanked. Utter dread permeated my body as I tried to recall my thoughts in vain. “Defence Attorney, Stahmer we’ll come back to you,” my Committee Director broke the silence as I tottered back to my seat, flushed with embarrassment. Despite my shame, I was undeterred. I needed to vindicate my director’s faith in me. I pulled out my notes, refocused, and began outlining my arguments in a more clear and direct manner. Thereafter, I spoke articulately, confidently putting forth my points. I was overjoyed when Secretariat members congratulated me on my fine performance.

Going into the conference, I believed that preparation was the key to success. I wouldn’t say I disagree with that statement now, but I believe adaptability is equally important. My ability to problem-solve in the face of an unforeseen challenge proved advantageous in the art of diplomacy. Not only did this experience transform me into a confident and eloquent delegate at that conference, but it also helped me become a more flexible and creative thinker in a variety of other capacities. Now that I know I can adapt under pressure, I look forward to engaging in activities that will push me to be even quicker on my feet.

This essay is an excellent example of in-the-moment narration. The student openly shares their internal state with us — we feel their anger and panic upon the reversal of roles. We empathize with their emotions of “utter dread” and embarrassment when they’re unable to speak. 

For in-the-moment essays, overloading on descriptions is a common mistake students make. This writer provides just the right amount of background and details to help us understand the situation, however, and balances out the actual event with reflection on the significance of this experience. 

One main area of improvement is that the writer sometimes makes explicit statements that could be better illustrated through their thoughts, actions, and feelings. For instance, they say they “spoke articulately” after recovering from their initial inability to speak, and they also claim that adaptability has helped them in other situations. This is not as engaging as actual examples that convey the same meaning. Still, this essay overall is a strong example of in-the-moment narration, and gives us a relatable look into the writer’s life and personality.

2. Narrative told over an extended period of time

In this essay structure, you share a story that takes place across several different experiences. This narrative style is well-suited for any story arc with multiple parts. If you want to highlight your development over time, you might consider this structure. 

When I was younger, I was adamant that no two foods on my plate touch. As a result, I often used a second plate to prevent such an atrocity. In many ways, I learned to separate different things this way from my older brothers, Nate and Rob. Growing up, I idolized both of them. Nate was a performer, and I insisted on arriving early to his shows to secure front row seats, refusing to budge during intermission for fear of missing anything. Rob was a three-sport athlete, and I attended his games religiously, waving worn-out foam cougar paws and cheering until my voice was hoarse. My brothers were my role models. However, while each was talented, neither was interested in the other’s passion. To me, they represented two contrasting ideals of what I could become: artist or athlete. I believed I had to choose.

And for a long time, I chose athlete. I played soccer, basketball, and lacrosse and viewed myself exclusively as an athlete, believing the arts were not for me. I conveniently overlooked that since the age of five, I had been composing stories for my family for Christmas, gifts that were as much for me as them, as I loved writing. So when in tenth grade, I had the option of taking a creative writing class, I was faced with a question: could I be an athlete and a writer? After much debate, I enrolled in the class, feeling both apprehensive and excited. When I arrived on the first day of school, my teacher, Ms. Jenkins, asked us to write down our expectations for the class. After a few minutes, eraser shavings stubbornly sunbathing on my now-smudged paper, I finally wrote, “I do not expect to become a published writer from this class. I just want this to be a place where I can write freely.”

Although the purpose of the class never changed for me, on the third “submission day,” – our time to submit writing to upcoming contests and literary magazines – I faced a predicament. For the first two submission days, I had passed the time editing earlier pieces, eventually (pretty quickly) resorting to screen snake when hopelessness made the words look like hieroglyphics. I must not have been as subtle as I thought, as on the third of these days, Ms. Jenkins approached me. After shifting from excuse to excuse as to why I did not submit my writing, I finally recognized the real reason I had withheld my work: I was scared. I did not want to be different, and I did not want to challenge not only others’ perceptions of me, but also my own. I yielded to Ms. Jenkin’s pleas and sent one of my pieces to an upcoming contest.

By the time the letter came, I had already forgotten about the contest. When the flimsy white envelope arrived in the mail, I was shocked and ecstatic to learn that I had received 2nd place in a nationwide writing competition. The next morning, however, I discovered Ms. Jenkins would make an announcement to the whole school exposing me as a poet. I decided to own this identity and embrace my friends’ jokes and playful digs, and over time, they have learned to accept and respect this part of me. I have since seen more boys at my school identifying themselves as writers or artists.

I no longer see myself as an athlete and a poet independently, but rather I see these two aspects forming a single inseparable identity – me. Despite their apparent differences, these two disciplines are quite similar, as each requires creativity and devotion. I am still a poet when I am lacing up my cleats for soccer practice and still an athlete when I am building metaphors in the back of my mind – and I have realized ice cream and gummy bears taste pretty good together.

The timeline of this essay spans from the writer’s childhood all the way to sophomore year, but we only see key moments along this journey. First, we get context for why the writer thought he had to choose one identity: his older brothers had very distinct interests. Then, we learn about the student’s 10th grade creative writing class, writing contest, and results of the contest. Finally, the essay covers the writers’ embarrassment of his identity as a poet, to gradual acceptance and pride in that identity. 

This essay is a great example of a narrative told over an extended period of time. It’s highly personal and reflective, as the piece shares the writer’s conflicting feelings, and takes care to get to the root of those feelings. Furthermore, the overarching story is that of a personal transformation and development, so it’s well-suited to this essay structure.

3. Series of anecdotes, or montage

This essay structure allows you to focus on the most important experiences of a single storyline, or it lets you feature multiple (not necessarily related) stories that highlight your personality. Montage is a structure where you piece together separate scenes to form a whole story. This technique is most commonly associated with film. Just envision your favorite movie—it likely is a montage of various scenes that may not even be chronological. 

Night had robbed the academy of its daytime colors, yet there was comfort in the dim lights that cast shadows of our advances against the bare studio walls. Silhouettes of roundhouse kicks, spin crescent kicks, uppercuts and the occasional butterfly kick danced while we sparred. She approached me, eyes narrowed with the trace of a smirk challenging me. “Ready spar!” Her arm began an upward trajectory targeting my shoulder, a common first move. I sidestepped — only to almost collide with another flying fist. Pivoting my right foot, I snapped my left leg, aiming my heel at her midsection. The center judge raised one finger. 

There was no time to celebrate, not in the traditional sense at least. Master Pollard gave a brief command greeted with a unanimous “Yes, sir” and the thud of 20 hands dropping-down-and-giving-him-30, while the “winners” celebrated their victory with laps as usual. 

Three years ago, seven-thirty in the evening meant I was a warrior. It meant standing up straighter, pushing a little harder, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am”, celebrating birthdays by breaking boards, never pointing your toes, and familiarity. Three years later, seven-thirty in the morning meant I was nervous. 

The room is uncomfortably large. The sprung floor soaks up the checkerboard of sunlight piercing through the colonial windows. The mirrored walls further illuminate the studio and I feel the light scrutinizing my sorry attempts at a pas de bourrée , while capturing the organic fluidity of the dancers around me. “ Chassé en croix, grand battement, pique, pirouette.” I follow the graceful limbs of the woman in front of me, her legs floating ribbons, as she executes what seems to be a perfect ronds de jambes. Each movement remains a negotiation. With admirable patience, Ms. Tan casts me a sympathetic glance.   

There is no time to wallow in the misery that is my right foot. Taekwondo calls for dorsiflexion; pointed toes are synonymous with broken toes. My thoughts drag me into a flashback of the usual response to this painful mistake: “You might as well grab a tutu and head to the ballet studio next door.” Well, here I am Master Pollard, unfortunately still following your orders to never point my toes, but no longer feeling the satisfaction that comes with being a third degree black belt with 5 years of experience quite literally under her belt. It’s like being a white belt again — just in a leotard and ballet slippers. 

But the appetite for new beginnings that brought me here doesn’t falter. It is only reinforced by the classical rendition of “Dancing Queen” that floods the room and the ghost of familiarity that reassures me that this new beginning does not and will not erase the past. After years spent at the top, it’s hard to start over. But surrendering what you are only leads you to what you may become. In Taekwondo, we started each class reciting the tenets: honor, courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, courage, humility, and knowledge, and I have never felt that I embodied those traits more so than when I started ballet. 

The thing about change is that it eventually stops making things so different. After nine different schools, four different countries, three different continents, fluency in Tamil, Norwegian, and English, there are more blurred lines than there are clear fragments. My life has not been a tactfully executed, gold medal-worthy Taekwondo form with each movement defined, nor has it been a series of frappés performed by a prima ballerina with each extension identical and precise, but thankfully it has been like the dynamics of a spinning back kick, fluid, and like my chances of landing a pirouette, unpredictable. 

This essay takes a few different anecdotes and weaves them into a coherent narrative about the writer’s penchant for novel experiences. We’re plunged into her universe, in the middle of her Taekwondo spar, three years before the present day. She then transitions into a scene in a ballet studio, present day. By switching from past tense to present tense, the writer clearly demarcates this shift in time. 

The parallel use of the spoken phrase “Point” in the essay ties these two experiences together. The writer also employs a flashback to Master Pollard’s remark about “grabbing a tutu” and her habit of dorsiflexing her toes, which further cements the connection between these anecdotes. 

While some of the descriptions are a little wordy, the piece is well-executed overall, and is a stellar example of the montage structure. The two anecdotes are seamlessly intertwined, and they both clearly illustrate the student’s determination, dedication, reflectiveness, and adaptability. The writer also concludes the essay with a larger reflection on her life, many moves, and multiple languages. 

Unconventional College Essay Structures

Unconventional essay structures are any that don’t fit into the categories above. These tend to be higher risk, as it’s easier to turn off the admissions officer, but they’re also higher reward if executed correctly. 

There are endless possibilities for unconventional structures, but most fall under one of two categories:

1. Playing with essay format

Instead of choosing a traditional narrative format, you might take a more creative route to showcase your interests, writing your essay:

  • As a movie script
  • With a creative visual format (such as creating a visual pattern with the spaces between your sentences forming a picture)
  • As a two-sided Lincoln-Douglas debate
  • As a legal brief
  • Using song lyrics

2. Linguistic techniques

You could also play with the actual language and sentence structure of your essay, writing it:

  • In iambic pentameter
  • Partially in your mother tongue
  • In code or a programming language

These linguistic techniques are often hybrid, where you write some of the essay with the linguistic variation, then write more of an explanation in English.

Under no circumstances should you feel pressured to use an unconventional structure. Trying to force something unconventional will only hurt your chances. That being said, if a creative structure comes naturally to you, suits your personality, and works with the content of your essay — go for that structure!

←What is a College Application Theme and How Do You Come Up With One?

Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

how many words should be in college essay

The Ivy Coach Daily

  • College Admissions
  • College Essays
  • Early Decision / Early Action
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Standardized Testing
  • The Rankings

September 27, 2023

Word and Character Limits in College Essays

Word And Charater Limits In College Essays

Previously Published on September 2, 2011:

With every college essay comes a word limit. Some essays are 35 words, others 650 words. Some are 100 characters, others two pages. But for each of these essays, irrespective of the word count, there is one guiding principle that college applicants should follow: stick to the word count — don’t write more, don’t write less.

Essays Are Real Estate for Applicants to Make Their Case

Each essay — no matter its length — offers applicants real estate to make their case for admission. Some schools, of course, offer more real estate than others. For the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle, for example, Harvard University has five 250-word essays . Meanwhile, Brown University has three essays and four short answers: 200-250 words for the three essays, three words for the first short answer, 100 words for two short answers, and 50 words for the final short answer.

Applicants Should Write to the Maximum Word Count in Essays

So, when a school asks applicants to write a 200-250-word essay, how many words should they write? That’s an  easy  one: 250. When a school offers students the chance to write optional essays, should they write them?  You bet ! No  optional  essay in highly selective college admissions should ever be considered optional. Instead, it’s a chance for students to make their case. And applicants should always write to the maximum word count in all college essays .

A Word Count Test

To conclude, we’ve got a test for this year’s applicants. Applicants to Duke University ’s Class of 2028 are required to answer one 250-word essay, and they’re given five optional essay options of which they can write up to two. So, how many essays should this year’s Duke applicants write? You guessed it — three! And how long should each of their essays be? You guessed it again — 250 words! Not more, not less.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with College Essays

If you’re interested in optimizing your case for admission by submitting the most powerful essays possible, fill out Ivy Coach ’s free consultation form , and we’ll be in touch to outline our college admissions counseling services.

You are permitted to use www.ivycoach.com (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.

Related Articles

how many words should be in college essay

Using A.I. to Write College Admission Essays

October 13, 2023

how many words should be in college essay

What English Teachers Get Wrong About Writing College Essays

how many words should be in college essay

Bragging in College Essays: Is It Ever Okay?

September 26, 2023

how many words should be in college essay

What Not to Write: 3 College Essay Topics to Avoid

September 24, 2023

how many words should be in college essay

2023-2024 Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompts

September 14, 2023

how many words should be in college essay

2023-2024 University of Virginia Supplemental Essay Prompts

Toward the conquest of admission.

If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s college counseling,
fill out our complimentary consultation form and we’ll be in touch.

Fill out our short form for a 20-minute consultation to learn about Ivy Coach’s services.

Yale College Undergraduate Admissions

  • A Liberal Arts Education
  • Majors & Academic Programs
  • Teaching & Advising
  • Undergraduate Research
  • International Experiences
  • Science & Engineering Faculty Features
  • Residential Colleges
  • Extracurriculars
  • Identity, Culture, Faith
  • Multicultural Open House
  • Virtual Tour
  • Bulldogs' Blogs
  • First-Year Applicants
  • International First-Year Applicants
  • QuestBridge First-Year Applicants
  • Military Veteran Applicants
  • Transfer Applicants
  • Eli Whitney: Nontraditional Applicants
  • Non-Degree & Alumni Auditing Applicants
  • What Yale Looks For
  • Putting Together Your Application
  • Selecting High School Courses
  • Application FAQs
  • First-Generation College Students
  • Rural and Small Town Students
  • Choosing Where to Apply
  • Inside the Yale Admissions Office Podcast
  • Visit Campus
  • Virtual Events
  • Connect With Yale Admissions
  • The Details
  • Estimate Your Cost
  • QuestBridge

Search form

650 words on college essays.

how many words should be in college essay

The life of an admissions officer can be a fascinating one. I spend a lot of time traveling to faraway places to meet students from around the world, voting in committee to help determine each next college class, but I am perhaps most privileged to have a unique glimpse into the personal lives of hundreds of 17 year olds each year via my absolute favorite art form: the college essay. After 5 years I have read thousands of these 650-word windows into the minds of high school students, and can assure you that the college essay comes in many flavors: good, bad, eloquent, conversational, sarcastic, insightful, deep, shallow, hilarious, painful, delightful, disturbing, and so on.

For any high school senior working on their college applications, the essay can seem like a daunting task. For Yale, you’ll even have to write more than one. I hope you see this not as a burden or a hoop you must jump through, but an opportunity: to reflect on your past few years and look ahead to college. The skills of reflection, self-expression, and cogent writing are all ones that will serve you well in college (in fact, they will be critical), so consider this practice. You do not have to be the world’s most eloquent wordsmith to write a successful college essay; the best essays we read are those where the genuine voice of a high school student (that’s you!) comes through loud and clear and we really get a sense of who you are.

When I talk to prospective Yalies about the application process, I am often asked what my favorite essay topic is. I assure you there is no such thing. The quality of a college essay has little to do with topic, and everything to do with reflection and voice. I truly believe I could read 100 essays about the same topic, each of them completely unique and in their own ways excellent and entrancing (or not). There are certainly amusing trends that emerge over time: in the past few years, I’ve seen an uptick in essays reflecting on life lessons learned from Uber drivers. I’m told that 10 years ago, essays explaining what Hogwarts House one belongs in were abundant. I wouldn’t dare say that there are any essay topics you should shy away from, because I’m certain that a great college essay could be written about nearly anything. And it doesn’t matter if we’ve read about it before – only you can write about you.

I do have favorite essays that I can remember, but they have no particular topic in common. Instead, they are the ones where at the end I have a grasp on what it might be like to have a conversation with the writer, to be in the same room as them. This is what we mean when we talk about voice. Revise and edit, but be sure not to lose the sense of individuality that only you can put into words. Have someone proofread, but don’t get too much help. My colleagues and I can tell when an essay is written more by a parent or, dare I even say it, a college consultant than by a student – and I can promise you that those pieces are not very good.

While your grades and test scores will speak for themselves and your teachers and counselor will write on your behalf, the essays are your opportunity to really take control of your application. Every required bit of writing should be considered precious real estate on your applications; think about what you want us to know about you, and do your best to work that information into the space allotted. It is through these essays that your admissions officer revels in your successes, shares in your disappointments, gets to know – forgive the cliché – the real you. So get writing. We can’t wait to hear from you.

More Posts by Anonymous

how many words should be in college essay

In Support of Student Protests

how many words should be in college essay

Application Submitted. Now What?

Yale Admissions Office

Deferred? We Have Some Advice For You.

how many words should be in college essay

PrepScholar

Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how does sat essay length affect your score.

SAT Writing

feature_howlong

True or False : Since essay length is not mentioned in the SAT essay grading rubric , it doesn’t matter how much you write in your essay.

Answer : True...but also false. Read on for an explanation of why and how the length of your SAT essay can affect your score.

feature image credit: How long by Martin Abegglen , used under CC BY-SA 2.0 /Cropped & modified from original.

UPDATE: SAT Essay No Longer Offered

(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});.

In January 2021, the College Board announced that after June 2021, it would no longer offer the Essay portion of the SAT (except at schools who opt in during School Day Testing). It is now no longer possible to take the SAT Essay, unless your school is one of the small number who choose to offer it during SAT School Day Testing.

While most colleges had already made SAT Essay scores optional, this move by the College Board means no colleges now require the SAT Essay. It will also likely lead to additional college application changes such not looking at essay scores at all for the SAT or ACT, as well as potentially requiring additional writing samples for placement.

What does the end of the SAT Essay mean for your college applications? Check out our article on the College Board's SAT Essay decision for everything you need to know.

Why Does Essay Length Matter?

Why would you think that essay length even matters in the first place? As I said in the introduction, it's not as if the SAT essay rubric mentions essay length at all.

Well, there's at least one good reason to think this: essay length is positively correlated with essay score .

Ever since the essay was added to the SAT, current MIT research affiliate (and former director of the MIT undergraduate writing program) Les Perelman has been vocal about how the longer an essay is, the more likely it is to get a higher score. According to this 2005 New York Times article by Michael Winerip, Perelman analyzed the lengths and scores of 54 SAT-approved sample essays and found a nearly 90% correlation. The shortest essays (around 100 words) received the lowest possible score, 1 (or a combined score of 2 out of 12), while the longest essays (around 400 words), received the highest score, a 6 (or a combined score of 12 out of 12) . Based on these findings, representatives of the CollegeBoard stated that they would be releasing shorter examples of higher-scoring essays.

This controversy first erupted in early 2005, right after the new SAT essay was introduced. To see if there had been any changes since then, I did my own analysis of the essays in the CollegeBoard's essay scoring guide that were all written in response to the sample prompt. Take a look at what I found:

body_satwriting_wordcount

Bonus graph reading practice for you in this, an article on essays. You're welcome.

As you can see, as essay length (measured by word count in the graph above) increases, the score also increases .

Just because longer essays tend to score better, however, doesn’t mean that you should just write the word “ideology” over and over again to fill up the page. The reason longer essays tend to score better is that students who write longer essays provide more support for their theses.

If this is the essay prompt:

"Is it important to question the ideas and decisions of people in positions of authority,"

and all you write is the following:

"It's important to question authority because sometimes authority stops you from doing things you want. Like getting a pony. I want a pony. I want a pony. I want a pony. I want a pony."

for two pages, you'll still get a 0. Maybe a 1, if the grader is feeling generous and thinks that you made some attempt to write about the issue discussed in a prompt. For more on the thought process of essay grading, read our article about insights from real SAT essay graders .

Similarly, if you try to drag out one example by writing larger than usual and restating the same facts and information over and over again, it won't automatically get you a higher score. In fact, you may lose points if either of your essay's graders think that your repeating of information leads to lack of coherence in your writing.

In any case, unless you have extremely small handwriting, it’s very difficult to write an essay that presents a thesis and supports it with at least two specific examples in less than one page.

body_miniaturepony

So How Long Should Your Essay Be?

Many factors go into determining essay length, which makes it difficult to give a blanket length recommendation. Here are the most important factors when it comes to length of your SAT essay:

  • Vocabulary. Often, the more advanced vocab you use, the fewer words you’ll need to get the job done, which might result in a shorter essay.
  • Handwriting size. Students with larger handwriting will naturally take up more space on the page than students with smaller handwriting. This doesn't necessarily mean students with larger handwriting have an advantage, however; in fact, students with larger handwriting tend to run into the issue of having filled two pages and not finished saying everything they needed or wanted to say.
  • How fast you can write and think. If you need to take longer to plan out your essay, you might end up writing a shorter essay, simply because you don't have as much time to write. That doesn't necessarily mean that you'll do worse on the essay - since an organized essay with strong specific examples will score better than a disorganized one without specific examples - but it does mean that you might end up with less time to write out your ideas.
  • How much time you leave yourself to write (vs. how much time you take to plan). This is something you need to figure out for yourself through practice and observation. Over the years, I've realized that I can write fairly quickly, which means that it's okay if I take a little more time to plan out my essay - I'll still be able to fill up those two pages. On the other hand, if you find that you're a slow writer, you might not be able to write enough unless you get very fast at planning your essay.

In general, assuming about 150 words per handwritten page, you need to write at least a page and a half (1.5 pages) to get a 3 or above on your essay (or a combined score of 6 or above). You'll need at least that much space to say what you need to say and support it clearly with concrete examples.

What’s Next?

Want to find out more about how to write a good SAT essay? Watch us write a top-scoring essay step-by-step , then check out our tips on how to write a long SAT essay as well as our more general SAT essay tips .

Discover the secrets to getting a perfect 12 on your SAT essay here .

What if you're planning on taking the new SAT? Read our breakdown of the new SAT essay here .

Want to get serious about improving your SAT score? We have the leading online SAT prep program that will raise your score by 160+ points, guaranteed .

Exclusive to our program, we have an expert SAT instructor grade each of your SAT essays and give you customized feedback on how to improve your score.

Check out our 5-day free trial and sign up for free:

Improve Your SAT Score by 160+ Points, Guaranteed

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.

Student and Parent Forum

Our new student and parent forum, at ExpertHub.PrepScholar.com , allow you to interact with your peers and the PrepScholar staff. See how other students and parents are navigating high school, college, and the college admissions process. Ask questions; get answers.

Join the Conversation

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!

Improve With Our Famous Guides

  • For All Students

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 160+ SAT Points

How to Get a Perfect 1600, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 800 on Each SAT Section:

Score 800 on SAT Math

Score 800 on SAT Reading

Score 800 on SAT Writing

Series: How to Get to 600 on Each SAT Section:

Score 600 on SAT Math

Score 600 on SAT Reading

Score 600 on SAT Writing

Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests

What SAT Target Score Should You Be Aiming For?

15 Strategies to Improve Your SAT Essay

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 4+ ACT Points

How to Get a Perfect 36 ACT, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 36 on Each ACT Section:

36 on ACT English

36 on ACT Math

36 on ACT Reading

36 on ACT Science

Series: How to Get to 24 on Each ACT Section:

24 on ACT English

24 on ACT Math

24 on ACT Reading

24 on ACT Science

What ACT target score should you be aiming for?

ACT Vocabulary You Must Know

ACT Writing: 15 Tips to Raise Your Essay Score

How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League

How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA

How to Write an Amazing College Essay

What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?

Is the ACT easier than the SAT? A Comprehensive Guide

Should you retake your SAT or ACT?

When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Stay Informed

how many words should be in college essay

Get the latest articles and test prep tips!

Looking for Graduate School Test Prep?

Check out our top-rated graduate blogs here:

GRE Online Prep Blog

GMAT Online Prep Blog

TOEFL Online Prep Blog

Holly R. "I am absolutely overjoyed and cannot thank you enough for helping me!”

help for assessment

  • Customer Reviews
  • Extended Essays
  • IB Internal Assessment
  • Theory of Knowledge
  • Literature Review
  • Dissertations
  • Essay Writing
  • Research Writing
  • Assignment Help
  • Capstone Projects
  • College Application
  • Online Class

How Many Words Should A College Essay Be? (Quick Answer)

Author Image

by  Antony W

November 4, 2021

essay word limit

When it comes to writing college admission essays , students spend many hours thinking about the topics to write about.

And while it is okay to be concerned if your p ersonal statement is compelling or original enough, there is one thing that should be the least of your worries. It’s the question on how long a college essay should be.

Here’s the question: Exactly how many words should a college essay be? Well, it’s important to understand that college essays aren’t like high school assignments that come with strict word requirements.

The majority of colleges give applicants a word range as opposed to a strict word limit. Providing a word limit helps to ensure that all essays will be of the same word length irrespective of formatting or font. The rule of thumb is to try as much as possible to get to the upper end of the range and not overly exceed it. Here is more information about the ideal word length of a college essay.

How Long Should A College Application Essay Be? 

The standard length for college essays is anything between 250 and 650 words. So what length is the most ideal?

Some counselors will advise you to write essays that are on the shorter end of the word range. However, not all colleges put the most value in brevity. With a personal essay, you have the most powerful tool to show the reader what your personality is like even without coming face-to-face with them.

If you’ve taken the route that shows something unique about you, chances are that 250 words won’t suffice to create an introspective, effective, and thoughtful essay.

But it’s not necessary that you reach the 650-word mark. While most colleges put a requirement of   500 words , other schools may impose more or fewer words.

For example, Apply Texas , which is a platform that’s used to apply to public universities in Texas, usually requests essays with word requirements that vary by school. Students who apply to UT Austin, for example, will usually be asked to write an essay of 500-700 words, plus three short-answer questions worth 250-300 words. The University of California, on the other hand, has a Personal Insight part with 8 prompts. It asks students to answer any four questions, and answers being maxed at 350 words. Also, some schools will request that students write a couple of supplemental essays. These are shorter than the length of a personal statement.

The applicants use these questions to get a more thorough understanding of the abilities and interests of students.

Thus, they may include topics such as why you want to be enrolled in their schools, your favorite activity, or your desired major.

How Strict Is The College Admission Word Limit?

Always go for quality over quantity because admission officers have proved in the past that they prioritize the former over the latter.

You won’t find an admission officer counting the words one-by-one to ensure the word limit was adhered to. Writing too little or too much will immediately be noticed. For instance, writing exactly 250 words when the available space can accommodate 650 words isn’t being smart.

Also, writing 3 pages of content when it only called for one page can set a bad tone. But there won’t be much difference between 512 words and 630 or 280 and 315. This will go entirely unnoticed. It's important to note that admission officers do consider how clear your thoughts are and how effectively you communicate your ideas.

If the limit of the essay was, for example, 300 words and your essay is well-written in 250 words, adding 50m words of fluff just to meet the word count will only dilute the strength of the essay.

In the same way, if the word count demands that you stick to 300 words but you find that your piece is 500 words long, it is ill-advisable to go line-by-line deleting the extra words.

Rather, look at the extent of your essay. It could be that the topic you chose could not be sufficiently expressed within the 300-length word count. However, it is advisable to never go above the absolute maximum word count. This is because most portals are designed in a way that they will cut off your content when it goes past the top range.

Treat the upper word limit as the absolute max. Whatever you write, don’t exceed it.

No Word Limit For A College Essay

While the common practice is for schools to give applicants a word count to stick to, some colleges have more general guidelines.

A college may, for example, ask you to write a specific number of paragraphs or pages. If there is no word count, you should aim to write while adhering to the best conventions and practices.

Do not write too short or too long paragraphs. Keeping paragraph word count at 250 words is an ideal upper limit.

If a college requires you to write a given number of pages, double or single-spaced, make sure you write it in standard font type and size, which is normally Times New Roman 12.

If there are no guidelines offered by the college, writing a 500-words long essay isn’t a bad idea.

If you still want to know the ideal word count of a college essay, then 500 words are the most common length for a personal statement.

All the three standardized portals cap their word requirement at 650 words. However, this is just the absolute limit beyond which your content will be cut off.

While 500 words is considered to be the sweet spot, do not lose sleep if you have 620 or 435 that you are proud of. Also, many colleges can require you to provide short response answers, also variously called personal insight questions or supplemental prompts.

These usually range at 150, 250, or sometimes 350 words. If this is the case, always try to reach the suggested limit and be wary of the limits on either end.

There is nothing to worry about if your essay exceeds or is under the required word length by 10-15%.

About the author 

Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.

  • Skip to main content
  • Keyboard shortcuts for audio player

Unpacking the truth of antisemitism on college campuses

Odette Yousef headshot

Odette Yousef

Colleges have become a flashpoint in discussions about rising antisemitism. But some on those campuses say the alarm from politicians and groups distorts reality and their motives should be examined.

Copyright © 2024 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Those Who Preach Free Speech Need to Practice It

Too many leaders, on campus and in government, are failing to uphold the First Amendment rights they claim to champion.

A photo of student protesters facing off against riot police.

Updated at 9:35 a.m. ET on April 30, 2024

Say you’re a college senior, just a few weeks from graduation. For as long as you can remember—even back in high school, before you set foot on campus—older people have talked about free speech. More specifically, older people have talked about free speech and you : whether your generation understands it, whether you believe in it, whether you can handle it.

After watching some of those same people order crackdowns on campus protests over the past few days, you might have a few questions for them.

Last week, from New York to Texas, cops stormed college campuses clad in riot gear. They weren’t there to confront active shooters, thank goodness, or answer bomb threats. Instead, they were there to conduct mass arrests of students protesting the war in Gaza.

As the legal director of a First Amendment advocacy nonprofit, I teach students across the country that the government can’t silence speakers because of their beliefs, even—and perhaps especially—if those beliefs are unpopular or cause offense. That’s a foundational principle of free-speech law. But many of the crackdowns appear to be a direct reaction to the protesters’ views about Israel.

After sending a phalanx of state law-enforcement officers into the University of Texas at Austin campus, for example, Governor Greg Abbott announced on X that students “joining in hate-filled, antisemitic protests at any public college or university in Texas should be expelled.”

Erwin Chemerinsky: No one has a right to protest in my home

But no First Amendment exception exists for “hate-filled” speech. And for good reason: In our pluralistic democracy, everyone has their own subjective idea of what, if any, speech is too “hateful” to hear, making an objective definition impossible. And empowering the government to draw that line will inevitably silence dissent.

At UT, the officers arrested scores of protesters for “ trespassing .” But the students don’t appear to have violated school rules. And you can’t trespass on a place where you have the right to be, as students at the public universities they attend clearly do. Even a cameraman for a local news station was tackled and arrested . The next day, the Travis County attorney’s office dropped all of the trespassing charges for lack of probable cause—a telling indicator of the disturbingly authoritarian response. (Shockingly, the cameraman does face a felony charge , for allegedly assaulting a police officer—an allegation difficult to square with video of his arrest.) The government can’t throw Americans in jail for exercising their First Amendment right to peaceful protest.

Governor Abbott’s illiberal show of force has no place in a free country. It’s especially galling given the governor’s previous posture as a stalwart defender of campus free speech: In June 2019, he signed a law prohibiting Texas’s public colleges and universities from shutting down campus speakers because of their ideology. So much for that.

Governor Abbott isn’t alone. During her congressional testimony earlier this month, Columbia University President Minouche Shafik pledged investigations of students and faculty who voiced allegedly anti-Semitic criticism of Israel and Zionism, and agreed—on the fly—to remove a professor from his position as a committee chair because of his speech.

Michael Powell: The unreality of Columbia’s ‘liberated zone’

Columbia is a private institution, so it isn’t bound by the First Amendment. But the university promises freedom of expression to its students and faculty—and Shafik’s willingness to sacrifice faculty and student rights to appease hostile members of Congress betrays those promises.

If such things had happened only at UT and Columbia, that would be bad enough—but the problem is spreading. At Emory University, in Atlanta, police officers reportedly used tear gas and Tasers against protesters. State troopers with rifles directed toward protesters stood watch on a rooftop at Ohio State University. At Indiana University, administrators rushed out a last-minute, overnight policy change to justify a similar show of force from law enforcement, resulting in 34 arrests. It’s hard to keep up.

Students nationwide are watching how the adults who professed to care about free speech are responding under pressure. And they are learning that those adults don’t really mean what they say about the First Amendment. That’s a dangerous lesson. Our schools and universities could still teach the country a better one.

“Free Speech 101” starts here: The First Amendment protects an enormous amount of speech, including speech that some, many, perhaps most Americans would find deeply offensive. You may not like pro-Palestine speech; you may not like pro-Israel speech. You may think some of it veers into bigotry. The answer is to ignore it, mock it, debate it, even counterprotest it. But don’t call in the SWAT team.

George Packer: The campus-left occupation that broke higher education

Granted, free speech is not without carefully designated exceptions, and these exceptions are important but narrow. True threats and intimidation, properly defined, are not protected by the First Amendment. Neither is discriminatory harassment. Violence is never protected.

And public universities can maintain reasonable “time, place, and manner” restrictions on speech. That means, for example, that for the authorities to place a ban on playing heavily amplified sound right outside the dorms at 2 a.m. likely does not violate the First Amendment. A prohibition on camping overnight in the quad probably doesn’t either. And taking over a campus building, as Columbia students did early this morning , is not protected.

But the enforcement of these rules must be evenhanded and proportionate. The use of force should be a last resort. Students must be given clear notice about what conduct crosses a line. And any student facing punishment for an alleged infringement should receive a fair hearing. Consistency counts. Our leaders—in government, in university administration—must demonstrate their commitment to free expression in both word and deed.

Students are protesting on campuses nationwide, and they’re watching the reaction of university presidents and elected officials closely. The current moment presents a generational challenge: Do older people and people in authority really mean what they say about the First Amendment? Do they believe in free speech—and can they handle it? Right now, too many leaders are failing the test.

IMAGES

  1. College Essay Format: Simple Steps to Be Followed

    how many words should be in college essay

  2. 32 College Essay Format Templates & Examples

    how many words should be in college essay

  3. College Essay Format: Simple Steps to Be Followed

    how many words should be in college essay

  4. 500 Word Essay Count

    how many words should be in college essay

  5. Guide to Write from 200 to 750 Word Essay

    how many words should be in college essay

  6. How to write a college essay about someone who influenced you

    how many words should be in college essay

VIDEO

  1. College essays should be enough to tell whether someone is a good writer or not

  2. How many words should we write in PTE

  3. How many words should We write for 1,2,3,4,5,6 marks questions? Class X,XI, XII| You can learn

  4. IB History: How many words should I aim to write?

  5. How many words should my 1.5 year old say?

  6. How many words should a 30 minute essay be?

COMMENTS

  1. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    Revised on June 1, 2023. Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit. If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words. You should aim to stay under the specified limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely.

  2. The Best College Essay Length: How Long Should It Be?

    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.

  3. How Long Should Your College Essay Be? What Is the Ideal Length?

    How many words should a college essay be? Personal statements are generally 500-650 words. For example, the Common Application, which can be used to apply to more than 800 colleges, requires an essay ranging from 250-650 words.

  4. How Long is an Essay? Guidelines for Different Types of Essay

    Essay length guidelines. Type of essay. Average word count range. Essay content. High school essay. 300-1000 words. In high school you are often asked to write a 5-paragraph essay, composed of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. College admission essay. 200-650 words.

  5. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    For example, if a college asks for an essay between 250-500 words, you should aim to craft a response that's at least 400-450 words. You don't need to hit the maximum length, but your essay should be well over half the word count. College essays, or personal statements, are an opportunity for a college admissions committee to hear directly ...

  6. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

    Sample College Essay 2 with Feedback. This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at www.khanacademy.org. College essays are an important part of your college application and give you the chance to show colleges and universities your personality. This guide will give you tips on how to write an effective college essay.

  7. How to Write Your College Essay: The Ultimate Step-by-Step Guide

    Next, let's make sure you understand the different types of college essays. You'll most likely be writing a Common App or Coalition App essay, and you can also be asked to write supplemental essays for each school. Each essay has a prompt asking a specific question. Each of these prompts falls into one of a few different types.

  8. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    Harvard College Writing Center 2 Tips for Reading an Assignment Prompt When you receive a paper assignment, your first step should be to read the assignment prompt carefully to make sure you understand what you are being asked to do. Sometimes your assignment will be open-ended ("write a paper about anything in the course that interests you").

  9. 12 Strategies to Writing the Perfect College Essay

    Don't Repeat. If you've mentioned an activity, story, or anecdote in some other part of your application, don't repeat it again in your essay. Your essay should tell college admissions officers something new. Whatever you write in your essay should be in philosophical alignment with the rest of your application.

  10. College Essays: How Long Should They Be?

    So, how long should these college essays be? Supplemental essay questions will usually ask for a word count range of around 20-650 words, depending on what is being asked, so be sure to review the question and truly understand what is required of you. When it comes to an extracurricular-focused essay, for example, these will likely ask for a ...

  11. College Essay Format & Structure

    College Essay Format & Structure | Example Outlines. Published on September 24, 2021 by Meredith Testa . Revised on May 31, 2023. There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay, but you should carefully plan and outline to make sure your essay flows smoothly and logically. Typical structural choices include.

  12. How Long Should Your College Application Essay Be?

    Updated on December 30, 2019. The 2019-20 version of the Common Application has an essay length limit of 650 words and a minimum length of 250 words. This limit has remained unchanged for the past several years. Learn how important this word limit is and how to make the most of your 650 words.

  13. What's a good word count for a college essay?

    Sometimes, a shorter essay can be more powerful and engaging if it's written effectively. In addition to the main essay, some colleges may also require supplemental essays with their own specific word counts, which can range from 100-400 words. Make sure to check each college's requirements carefully and adjust your essays accordingly.

  14. How Long Is an Essay?: Word Count Tips & Essay Length Tricks [+Examples]

    The shortest limit for a college essay is about 250 words which is the shortest length of a Common App personal statement. It's also rare to see a good college essay with over 650 words. So, an average piece usually has between 150 and 650 words; you can go over or below the limit by 50.

  15. How to Format a College Essay: Step-by-Step Guide

    Again, we'd recommend sticking with standard fonts and sizes—Times New Roman, 12-point is a standard workhorse. You can probably go with 1.5 or double spacing. Standard margins. Basically, show them you're ready to write in college by using the formatting you'll normally use in college.

  16. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    Previously Published on September 24, 2017: College applicants should use the real estate offered in college essays to make their case — all of it! If the maximum word count for a college admissions essay is 650 words, applicants should not write 500 words. They should write 650 words — or pretty close to it.

  17. Ideal word count for a college essay?

    As a general guideline, aim to write an essay between 500 to 650 words. An essay that's too short might not provide enough depth, while an excessively long essay can be tough to engage with. It's important to strike a balance, conveying your unique story or perspective in a focused and engaging way. Remember, quality often trumps quantity.

  18. How long should my essay be?

    How to Write a College Application Essay. Top. The average length of a personal essay for college is 400─600 words. Always read the prompt. Follow the instructions provided in the application.

  19. How to Format and Structure Your College Essay

    Make sure that paragraphs are clearly separated, as text boxes can also undo indents and double spacing. If you're attaching a document: Use a standard font and size like Times New Roman, 12 point. Make your lines 1.5-spaced or double-spaced. Use 1-inch margins.

  20. Word and Character Limits in College Essays

    Previously Published on September 2, 2011: With every college essay comes a word limit. Some essays are 35 words, others 650 words. Some are 100 characters, others two pages. But for each of these essays, irrespective of the word count, there is one guiding principle that college applicants should follow: stick to the word count — don't ...

  21. 650 Words On College Essays

    After 5 years I have read thousands of these 650-word windows into the minds of high school students, and can assure you that the college essay comes in many flavors: good, bad, eloquent, conversational, sarcastic, insightful, deep, shallow, hilarious, painful, delightful, disturbing, and so on. For any high school senior working on their ...

  22. How Does SAT Essay Length Affect Your Score?

    According to this 2005 New York Times article by Michael Winerip, Perelman analyzed the lengths and scores of 54 SAT-approved sample essays and found a nearly 90% correlation. The shortest essays (around 100 words) received the lowest possible score, 1 (or a combined score of 2 out of 12), while the longest essays (around 400 words), received ...

  23. How Many Words Should A College Essay Be? (Quick Answer)

    If you still want to know the ideal word count of a college essay, then 500 words are the most common length for a personal statement. All the three standardized portals cap their word requirement at 650 words. However, this is just the absolute limit beyond which your content will be cut off. While 500 words is considered to be the sweet spot ...

  24. Unpacking the truth of antisemitism on college campuses : NPR

    Early this morning, police arrested more than 100 pro-Palestinian protesters outside Emerson College in Boston. And some students and alumni are worried about antisemitism. Former Columbia student ...

  25. How many paragraphs should a college essay be?

    Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay. You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely.

  26. Those Who Preach Free Speech Need to Practice It

    Updated at 9:35 a.m. ET on April 30, 2024. Say you're a college senior, just a few weeks from graduation. For as long as you can remember—even back in high school, before you set foot on ...