How Long Should a College Application Essay Be?

We work with so many students each year on the college application process. One of the most popular and frequently asked questions is: “How long should my college application essay be?” This is a great question. After all, you want it long enough to tell your story, but not too long so that the reader’s mind starts to wander. You also don’t want it too short, as you want to convey that you put serious thought into your work. So where does that leave you? What is that middle sweet spot number?

Note Fixed Word Counts

From a logistical standpoint, college applications will typically tell you the maximum number of words, characters or pages your essay can be. For example, some may say between 200 and 250 words is acceptable. If you are using the Common App, which is the application that most colleges use, the primary essay is referred to as the Personal Statement. The maximum number of words for the Common App Personal Statement is 650. These word counts don’t mean that you need to write 650 words. The limit merely means that your essay cannot exceed that amount. If the application states a certain figure, make sure you follow those guidelines and don’t exceed the allowed limit. That said, you never have to aim to reach the maximum word count.

Use as Many Words as You Need to Tell Your Story Without Going Over Set Limits

When it comes to writing your college application essay, it isn’t a matter of using up the word count allotted to tell your story. Rather, it’s about the impact of your story on the reader. Focus on reaching the reader rather than reaching the word count.

Our Best Advice on Length of College Application Essays

Make sure you’re mindful of the maximum number of words, characters, and/or pages that a college may state for your essay – and don’t exceed them.
Don’t be over wordy.

Tell your story in the space provided to make the most impact – that doesn’t mean that you need to use up all the space allotted.

Looking for help with the college search and application process? We help students and families through the entire college planning journey – from search, applications and essays to interview prep, financial aid consultation and final school selection.

Contact us at or by phone, 845.551.6946. We work with students through Zoom, over the phone, and by email.