How to Shorten Your College Application Essay Without Ruining It

by Kim Lifton

A few weeks ago, I reviewed a student’s third draft of a personal statement for Michigan State University, which requires each student to “submit a short essay of up to 400 words from a list of designated topics.”

The draft, which he assumed was ready for a final edit, was 751 words. That meant 351 words had to be cut. He didn’t think he could shorten it.

Nonsense, I told him. Anything can be cut. At Wow, we read and suggest cuts to students every day; we’ve never seen a personal statement weakened by the editing process. Some admissions insiders say limits are strictly enforced, while others suggest a few words too many or too few will not matter.

We say it is not worth the risk, so just follow the directions. Answer the question within the specified word count, and you will not need to worry.

Here are five simple tips for trimming your stories without destroying content.

  1. Circle or highlight all adverbs. Take them out. These include “very” and many “ly” words, such as really, extremely, completely and absolutely.
  2. Look for a single word or short phrase followed by a comma. These include because of this, in fact, first, last, hopefully, to be frank, quite frankly and in conclusion. Highlight the words or phrases, then read the sentences without them. Take out the ones that do not enhance your story.
  3. Delete helping verbs. Example: Replace “is going to be attending” with “will attend.”
  4. Delete to be verbs. Rather than saying “I am a voracious reader,” try “I read voraciously.”
  5. Turn some nouns into verbs: “I concluded” is better than “I came to the conclusion.”

If you are stuck, you can use our College Essay Crash Course, Wow’s self-guided video course for college application essay writing that takes you step-by-step through the essay writing process. It’s just $39.

If you’ve already written a draft or two, and you cannot cut it or just need a professional opinion, send it to Wow for a comprehensive review. Wow’s trained writing coaches can guide you through your drafts so you can stand out at your favorite college. No matter what your need, we’re here for you.  Upload your essays here!

Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop. You can read our blogs and get useful tips about the college admissions process by signing up for Wow’s weekly newsletter; Wow is also on Facebook and Twitter.