When it comes to completing college applications, one of the most daunting aspects is the essay. While “What should I write about?” may be the top question we get from our students, “How long should my application essay be?” comes a close second! In answering how long the essay should be, the answer really depends on the type of essay – whether you are referring to the primary essay (Or also known as the personal statement or Common App essay) or the supplemental essay. As we explain in-depth below, the lengths definitely vary.
Primary Essay Length
By primary essay, we are referring to the essay or personal statement on the Common App or the main essay that you will be submitting with your application to all of the colleges to which you are applying. As we have mentioned in previous articles, you can submit the same main personal essay with all of your college applications. But just how long should that essay be?
The maximum amount of words that you can have in the Common App primary essay is 650. For the schools that don’t accept the Common App, you need to follow each school’s individual requirements. The limit does NOT mean that your essay has to be that long. When writing your essay, while you want it to be substantial and meaningful, your goal should not be about making it the longest essay. You should instead be focusing on conveying your message to the reader, i.e., the college admissions officer. It doesn’t matter if you tell your story in 400, 500 or 600 words. What is important is that you are able to say what you want within the space limits afforded.
Supplemental Essay Length
Some colleges require that you submit supplemental essays in addition to the primary essay. The supplemental essay is a prompt that is specific to a certain school. You must respond to that prompt as it is part of the application. This essay only goes to that college and the length of the supplemental essay varies. Each school has its own requirements, so it is very important that you pay attention to them. The supplemental essay length limits can be as short as 50 to 100 words, while others can be 250 words or more, and still others have a maximum as long as 800 words. Again, just like with the primary essay, don’t worry about stretching your essay to the word limit, focus instead on the content.
Word vs. Character Limits
When writing these essays make sure you notice whether the length limits are noted in words or characters. This particularly applies to the supplemental essays. Google Docs, Word and other programs track both word and character count. As you are writing, keep checking to make sure you are not exceeding the length restrictions – you don’t want to negatively impact your application to any of the colleges on your list.
Final Message on College Application Essay Length
Focus on making your college application essay long enough to get your message across in a succinct manner without exceeding the maximum number of words or characters that the essay outlines.