How Long Should College Application Essays Be?

Although there is typically a stated purpose for what colleges expect in terms of application essays, students should realize that quality is much more important than length. With that in mind, some information might be necessary to determine an appropriate approach to your own college application essay.

Length of College Application Essays

College application essays don't typically have a required length; however, there are a few things to keep in mind when determining how long your application essays should be.

Generally speaking, colleges might suggest that essays be about 650 words long. Although there really aren't any official requirements, you can keep a few points in mind that will help guide the length of your essay. These points include:

  • Stick to the point
  • Fully answer the prompt
  • Be original

Stick to the Point

When writing a college application essay, it's important to be concise while still providing sufficient detail. Some essay topics will call for longer essays than others; if your prompt asks for large amounts of information, you'll probably need more essay length to address all points. In general, though, it's better to be short and to the point than long-winded. The College Board also advises cutting out unnecessary words, leaving only the words that best convey the message or idea.

Fully Answer the Prompt

College application essays require you to follow a prompt or question. Select one idea, develop it throughout the essay, and include only the information that pertains to your topic. You might try to avoid writing abstract ideas or generalized thoughts. Instead, use concrete information and examples, which will prevent your writing from becoming lengthy and unfocused.

For example, if an essay prompt asks you to write about your college goals, instead of discussing general topics like getting good grades, meeting new people and earning a degree, you may be better served to write about the specific area you plan to study, the steps you plan to take to graduate with honors, and how you want to take part in student organizations in order to network or serve the community. Remember, admissions officers read a large amount of essays, and you'll want your essay to keep the reader engaged and interested.

Be Original and Personal

Because college admissions officers have a practiced eye, they can usually tell whether you're being personal and true to yourself or merely rewriting themes and ideas from essays for other schools. While you can certainly read sample essays to get a feel for how they should be written, you'll want to highlight your own unique style, viewpoints and achievements.

Remember to use proper grammar and appropriate language that is centered around the purpose of the essay, while maintaining a conversational tone. When you stay original and personal, you're more likely to stand out and impress an admissions officer, whether your essay is on the short or long side.

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