What’s a Good Word Count for a College Application Essay?

Casey Brown

Writing a college application essay can be difficult and stressful. You want an admissions counselor to see your essay as a standout piece that makes him want to pick you over all other applicants. You want your words to make a positive impression, but you also don’t want to drone on and on for days.

You want to know that when you look at the word counter you're in a good range, but what is a good range?

Reading college essay examples can help you get a sense of what a good essay looks like.
Reading college essay examples can help you get a sense of what a good essay looks like.

Generally speaking, 350-500 words works well. This is long enough to develop ideas, but short enough the keep someone’s interest.

How can you be thorough, interesting, and detailed but not too wordy with this limited word count? Crafting the perfect essay requires some careful thought and planning.

Let’s explore some ways to write a phenomenal college essay that is just the perfect length.

1. Look at College Essay Examples

Search Google for college essay examples. There are dozens of sites to help you find some high-quality essays. Here are a few to get you started: Johns Hopkins University essays, College Board essay, and Hamilton University essays.

It will help to search for examples that answer prompts similar to those you are trying to answer for your own essays. Write notes about how these types of questions are answered effectively.

Reflect on the writer’s style: What works well with each essay? What is the writer doing to keep your attention and to provide interesting insight into her personality?

You can also search for some examples of not-so-great essays and learn by reflecting on what you would do differently.

2. Stick with Guidelines if They are Given

This is not the time to go rogue with your writing guidelines. If a college says to write a one-page essay, do it. (If you're wondering how many words per page to write, generally one page is 250 words.)

If a college says to write 1000 words, do it. (And how many pages is 1000 words? About 4.) College admissions counselors will notice if they ask for 4 pages and you provide 2 pages. Or 6 pages. Give them what they are asking for.

Not following directions provided by colleges is one of the easiest ways to have your work ignored and your application rejected. It sucks to put in a ton of work and not have it looked over simply because you didn’t pay attention to one or two small details in the directions or didn’t follow guidelines.

3. Be Thoughtful and Detailed—Not “Wordy”

This is your chance to paint a complete picture of yourself and your personality. You also need to be sure that you have enough content to fully and clearly answer the prompt you've been given without adding a lot of fluff. You want to shine. But be careful to not go overboard.

Aim for 350-500 words for your college essay. Make every word count.
Aim for 350-500 words for your college essay. Make every word count.

Tell an interesting story that shows who you are and what you value. Offer meaningful examples. The keyword: meaningful.

Avoid repetition and unnecessary words. Don’t give a laundry list of accomplishments. One specific, well-developed example that means a lot is way more valuable than ten examples that just skim the surface.

4. Use Vivid and Clear Language

Don’t bore or confuse your reader. If you are bored reading your essay, so is the admissions counselor. If you aren’t sure if your essay is boring, get some feedback from others. Ask your parents, teachers, and peers to read your essay.

Have them tell you which parts make them smile, laugh, reflect, or think. Ask them to honestly tell you where they are bored, confused, or completely lost. Revise accordingly and get rid of the boring or confusing parts. No one wants to read those.

As you are writing your college essay, remember to count your words, but also make sure that every word counts. Choose meaningful, interesting stories to tell, and avoid repetition and fluff. With hard work (and a lot of revision), you will have your pick of universities to choose from!