Common Application Adds Word Limit to Essay Question

(Originally written in 2011) Good news, juniors! While there are no major changes to next year’s Common Application, we found one interesting modification during a sneak peak last week.
For the first time, the Common Application will specify a word limit (250 – 500 words) for the main essay question; previously there was a 250-word minimum yet no maximum word count.

Because there was no maximum length, many students, certain more was better, wrote exceptionally long essays — some close to 1,000 words, or possibly more. Just imagine what it must have been like for the admissions folks at the 460 member colleges and universities reading all of those essays.  Some complained to the Common Application bosses, who decided to impose a word limit.

While this is not earth-shattering news, it is food for thought.We teach our students to write for their audience: college admissions officers. In this case, the audience members have limited time to read through the stacks of applications they receive; yours should be unique, yet also clean and to the point. Unless you are asked to write 1,000 words, don’t. You can certainly make your case for admission in 500 words or less.

If we were admissions officers, we would send thank you notes to candidates who completed essays in just 250 words.  Less can be best, as long as you answer the prompt in your own words and in your own voice.

We do not know if the word length will be enforced, but we recommend taking it seriously. Here is a link to the Common App website.

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Kim Lifton

Kim Lifton is President of Wow Writing Workshop. Perceptive, resourceful and curious, Kim can get a story out of anyone. Kim is a former newspaper reporter and corporate communications manager. With Susan Knoppow, Wow’s CEO, Kim developed the Wow Method by combining her journalistic training with Susan’s organization and instructional design skills. She holds a BA in Journalism from Michigan State University. Kim’s articles on the college essay appear regularly in print and on the web, and her work has been featured in a variety of newspapers, magazines and online publications. Kim and Susan have co-authored three books – How to Write an Effective College Application Essay (The Inside Scoop for Parents, Students, Counselors). They are members/affiliates of the Michigan Association of College Admission Counseling (MACAC), the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA).
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