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How Long is a College Essay

In the competitive world of college admissions, your college essay may be the one and only way you can stand out from the crowd and win that coveted acceptance packet. For each college application you complete, you must carefully read the instructions for your personal statement. Rarely will you see a word count minimum, you’ll more than likely see a word or page limit. Your primary essay or personal statement should be between 200 and 650 words. Essays are rarely less than 250 words or more than 650 words.

That may seem like a lot to write, but in fact it’s not very many words to express why you are the one they should invite, why you rise above your peers. Given the word count limitation, it’s critical that you carefully and purposefully choose your words wisely.

What is a Personal Statement College Essay?

A primary essay or personal statement college essay is an essay about the one subject you know the very best – you. This essay, typically included in your college application, is your opportunity to endear yourself with the college admissions officers and explain why they should consider you.

Sometimes, an essay prompt will be provided to get you started, other times you are free to use those important words however you choose. When most of your competition has similar academic achievements, the only way to be remembered is to share insights about yourself that aren’t clear on a test score, school activities resume or high school transcript.

How to Make Your Personal Statement Stand Out?

Tell a Story About You

One way to assure you are noticed is to tell a story about you, to share a narrative that’s interesting to read, not only to a college admissions officer but to anyone. When you engage the admissions experts and entice them to want to know more about you as a person, you’ve captured their attention.

Your essay should flow easily, inviting them to peak into your life, your personality and your ambitions.  This is your opportunity to create a connection with the Director of Admissions and persuade the admissions team to choose you to attend college at their school.

Be Memorable

Everyone is unique and interesting. You, are unique and interesting—there’s only one of you. Try to include pieces in your essay that speak to what defines you and why you would be someone they want to know more. Maybe this is an anecdote or quote.  Maybe this is story about that one time when you did something that everyone is still talking about to this day.

It’s tempting to talk about achievements, and these are important to share, but try to also focus on who you are as a person. Countless essays will include details of impressive achievements, but it’s the person that speaks to the underlying character traits that led to those achievements that will truly stand out and be memorable.

For example, let’s say you raised $10,000 for a charity; that’s amazing!  Why did you raise the money? Why that charity? What prompted you to do this? How are you as a person, connected to this effort? Admissions officers will be reading all day about money raised for charity but it’s that essay where the student impressed upon the admissions team why they were passionate about this specific charity and how their efforts not only impacted others (the charity) but changed them as well. That’s the essay that will be truly effective.

Writing Your Personal Statement

Before you sit down and write your essay, it’s a good idea to jot down some key points you want to make sure you communicate. You might even want to survey your friends and family to understand what about you they think stands out. They might have ideas that you never considered but feel would be important to include on your essay.

Once you have your topics listed, it’s time to draft out the essay. Initially, just write without consideration of the word count, letting your ideas flow. Once you’ve done that, then you can go in and edit your essay to stay within the desired word limit, while still capturing all the main points you wanted to cover. After you have written your final draft, invite others to read it to check for errors and provide feedback. There may be college admission experts at your high school who can help you review your essay, if you have access to those great resources, use them! When your essay is done to your satisfaction, you are ready to submit it.

Mistakes to Avoid when Writing your Personal Statement Essay

When writing your essay, keep in mind your objective is to endear yourself to the admissions officers and persuade them that you are the one to choose. If you list out all you’ve achieved without any context of who you are, they only know facts and not you. You want them to know you, to understand why you are right fit for their school.

Be mindful of the word count. This is a simple thing to do and yet not so simple. There’s so much to say and you want to make sure you say it all while staying within the recommended word count, to show the school you can follow directions. It also shows that you respect the readers by not going too long (as they are reading hundreds, if not thousands of essays).

Be general but not generic. Students apply to lots of schools. It’s just not practical to write a unique essay for each school and if you use the Common App, your one essay will be sent to all the schools you apply for with the common application.

Keeping that in mind, while you will want to generalize to a point, so you can resonate with multiple schools, you don’t want to be so generic that you blend in with all the other essays. The worst thing you could do is to write an essay that easily blends in with the others; such that at the end of the day, your name also blends in and is lost when the time comes to send acceptance letters.

Supplemental Essays

In addition to your primary essay or personal statement, you will most likely be asked to write multiple supplemental essays. The number and word count of these essays will vary by the college or university.

Don’t be surprised if you are asked to upwards of 10 supplemental essays. Rest assured these essays are typically shorter in length than your personal statement, averaging around 250 words, so make sure again to use these valuable words wisely, to share exactly what you want to communicate about yourself, that will help the admissions officers get to know you best and convince them you are a perfect fit for their school.

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