How to Keep Your College Application Essay Short

April 8, 2011.  It’s not easy to keep an essay within the college application’s maximum word limit when writing your college essay. For example, the University of Michigan requires two essays to supplement the common application: one essay is just 250 words (one page, double-spaced), and a second essay has a 500-word maximum. However, you’ll find that the discipline of staying within word limits will pay off. First of all, some colleges reject applications with essays that are over the word limit.  Secondly, keeping your college application essay short can add power to your words, like the powerful flavor of condensed soup or the powerful run of a sprinter.

To keep your essay short, try these tips:

1)    Start writing the essay at least one month before it is due.  Read your draft out loud every day to yourself or, when you feel ready, to someone else.  Each time you read the essay, you’ll see words to cut.  Does a sentence bore you?  Cut it!  Are you repeating yourself?  Cut!  Is your first sentence compelling and descriptive?  If not, Cut! Cut! Cut!

2)    Remember that more words are not necessarily clearer. Make precise word choices.  For example, substitute “remove” for “take off,” or “prepare” for “get ready.”

3)    Aim for a first draft word length that is three-quarters the length of the required essay. This is helpful because the editing process involves both cutting and adding words.  But it is harder to cut than to add. During the editing, you may add names, places, colors, dialogue, adjectives, transitions, and reflections to strengthen the details and the story in the essay.

4)    Believe in yourself. You can tell good writing from bad.  This is like tasting your food before you serve it to friends and family.  If the essay does not sound right to your ear, “cook” it and season it until it’s just right, before you send off your application.  Click here for additional help with writing a college application essay.