Have a language expert improve your writing
Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.
- Knowledge Base
- How long is an essay? Guidelines for different types of essay
How Long is an Essay? Guidelines for Different Types of Essay
Published on January 28, 2019 by Shona McCombes . Revised on July 23, 2023.
The length of an academic essay varies depending on your level and subject of study, departmental guidelines, and specific course requirements. In general, an essay is a shorter piece of writing than a research paper or thesis .
In most cases, your assignment will include clear guidelines on the number of words or pages you are expected to write. Often this will be a range rather than an exact number (for example, 2500–3000 words, or 10–12 pages). If you’re not sure, always check with your instructor.
In this article you’ll find some general guidelines for the length of different types of essay. But keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity – focus on making a strong argument or analysis, not on hitting a specific word count.
Table of contents
Essay length guidelines, how long is each part of an essay, using length as a guide to topic and complexity, can i go under the suggested length, can i go over the suggested length, other interesting articles, a faster, more affordable way to improve your paper.
Scribbr’s new AI Proofreader checks your document and corrects spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes with near-human accuracy and the efficiency of AI!
Proofread my paper
In an academic essay, the main body should always take up the most space. This is where you make your arguments, give your evidence, and develop your ideas.
The introduction should be proportional to the essay’s length. In an essay under 3000 words, the introduction is usually just one paragraph. In longer and more complex essays, you might need to lay out the background and introduce your argument over two or three paragraphs.
The conclusion of an essay is often a single paragraph, even in longer essays. It doesn’t have to summarize every step of your essay, but should tie together your main points in a concise, convincing way.
The suggested word count doesn’t only tell you how long your essay should be – it also helps you work out how much information and complexity you can fit into the given space. This should guide the development of your thesis statement , which identifies the main topic of your essay and sets the boundaries of your overall argument.
A short essay will need a focused, specific topic and a clear, straightforward line of argument. A longer essay should still be focused, but it might call for a broader approach to the topic or a more complex, ambitious argument.
As you make an outline of your essay , make sure you have a clear idea of how much evidence, detail and argumentation will be needed to support your thesis. If you find that you don’t have enough ideas to fill out the word count, or that you need more space to make a convincing case, then consider revising your thesis to be more general or more specific.
The length of the essay also influences how much time you will need to spend on editing and proofreading .
You should always aim to meet the minimum length given in your assignment. If you are struggling to reach the word count:
- Add more evidence and examples to each paragraph to clarify or strengthen your points.
- Make sure you have fully explained or analyzed each example, and try to develop your points in more detail.
- Address a different aspect of your topic in a new paragraph. This might involve revising your thesis statement to make a more ambitious argument.
- Don’t use filler. Adding unnecessary words or complicated sentences will make your essay weaker and your argument less clear.
- Don’t fixate on an exact number. Your marker probably won’t care about 50 or 100 words – it’s more important that your argument is convincing and adequately developed for an essay of the suggested length.
In some cases, you are allowed to exceed the upper word limit by 10% – so for an assignment of 2500–3000 words, you could write an absolute maximum of 3300 words. However, the rules depend on your course and institution, so always check with your instructor if you’re unsure.
Only exceed the word count if it’s really necessary to complete your argument. Longer essays take longer to grade, so avoid annoying your marker with extra work! If you are struggling to edit down:
- Check that every paragraph is relevant to your argument, and cut out irrelevant or out-of-place information.
- Make sure each paragraph focuses on one point and doesn’t meander.
- Cut out filler words and make sure each sentence is clear, concise, and related to the paragraph’s point.
- Don’t cut anything that is necessary to the logic of your argument. If you remove a paragraph, make sure to revise your transitions and fit all your points together.
- Don’t sacrifice the introduction or conclusion . These paragraphs are crucial to an effective essay –make sure you leave enough space to thoroughly introduce your topic and decisively wrap up your argument.
If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!
- Ad hominem fallacy
- Post hoc fallacy
- Appeal to authority fallacy
- False cause fallacy
- Sunk cost fallacy
- Choosing Essay Topic
- Write a College Essay
- Write a Diversity Essay
- College Essay Format & Structure
- Comparing and Contrasting in an Essay
- Grammar Checker
- Paraphrasing Tool
- Text Summarizer
- AI Detector
- Plagiarism Checker
- Citation Generator
Cite this Scribbr article
If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.
McCombes, S. (2023, July 23). How Long is an Essay? Guidelines for Different Types of Essay. Scribbr. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/length/
Is this article helpful?
Other students also liked, how to write an essay introduction | 4 steps & examples, how to conclude an essay | interactive example, how to write a statement of purpose | example, what is your plagiarism score.
- Online Degree Explore Bachelor’s & Master’s degrees
- MasterTrack™ Earn credit towards a Master’s degree
- University Certificates Advance your career with graduate-level learning
- Top Courses
- Join for Free
How Long Should a College Essay Be?
High school essays tend to require a page limit, but college essays tend to require a word count.
When it comes to college application essays, many colleges and universities specify a word count. Some expect one longer essay, while others expect responses to multiple prompts using a shorter word count for each answer. However, that’s not always the case. If your institution doesn’t provide a specific word count, it’s best to keep your essay between the length established by the longer college admissions essay format: 250 to 650 words .
Word count is just one factor to consider as you craft your college admissions essay. Let’s go over other considerations, like whether a longer essay makes a difference, and whether it’s acceptable to exceed the word count.
College essays: Word count vs. page limit
High school essays tend to require a page limit, meaning that your teachers might ask you to submit a five-page paper or an eight-paper paper. However, college essays tend to require a word count.
When a college provides you with a wide word count range, it’s best to take advantage of the upper word count limit. For example, if a college asks for an essay between 250-500 words, you should aim to craft a response that’s at least 400-450 words. You don’t need to hit the maximum length, but your essay should be well over half the word count.
College essays or personal statements are an opportunity for a college admissions committee to hear directly from you. It’s valuable space. Writing the bare minimum may not send the best message to the committee, and it may not help them learn more about who you are outside of your transcripts and general application.
Learn more: Step-by-Step Guide to Applying for College
How to measure your college essay's word count
Measuring your word count depends on which program you’re using to write your essay. Microsoft Word and Google Docs are two of the most common.
Microsoft Word: The page count is typically displayed on the bottom left of your screen. You can also click “Review” and then “Word count” to find how much you’ve written.
Google Docs: Under “Tools,” click on “Word count.” You can also highlight a portion of your text before clicking “word count” so you can determine the exact word count of that section.
Should you go over the word count?
Simply put, no. Do not go over the maximum word count. If there isn’t a preferred word count, submit an essay that’s under 650 words, according to the college application platform Common App, which works with over 900 colleges in the US [ 1 ].
Admissions officers are looking for well-written essays that follow directions. Officers review thousands of essays every year. In fact, the average college received 9,071 applications in 2020 [ 2 ]. Writing either a very short or a very long essay—ignoring the directions in either case—might send the wrong impression.
You can always start by writing a longer draft and then trimming the most unnecessary parts to tighten your essay and get it down to the preferred word count. This will help you include the most important information and get your point across in a concise way.
What length should supplemental college essays be?
Supplemental essays are additional prompts that some colleges and universities ask students to answer in addition to their personal statement or college essay. It's usually an opportunity to specify your interest in that particular school: Admissions committees may ask why you want to attend or what you want to study and why.
Schools can require, on average, at least two or three supplemental essays, while others have been known to ask for over ten. Most schools will provide specific instructions about the word count for supplemental essays. As with the college essay, stay within the range or limit, and write a focused response that incorporates some knowledge about the school.
How to format your college essay
As with word count, many institutions specify any formatting requirements, such as double-spacing (vs. single-spacing) your essay, and what font size you should use. (With general online application portals, such as Common App, the program will format your essay for you.)
Because a college essay is measured by word count rather than page length, writing in a larger font and using double-spaced formatting won’t affect the overall length of your essay, though it’s best to adhere to each college’s guidelines. Check if there are any parameters you need to follow for each application you submit.
4 tips for writing an effective college essay
No matter which essay prompt you choose, it’s important to take your time crafting your response, making sure every word adds to your story. Follow these tips to help your college essay stand out.
1. Be prepared to write a few drafts.
Your college essay should go through a few drafts before you share the final version with one of your peers or a professional for additional feedback. Take advantage of the rough draft phase by overwriting. Forget about your word count for a moment and let yourself go. Doing so may help you discover something new to say, or help you expand upon your original idea.
Make editing a separate process from the actual writing. As much as possible, write and then walk away for a period of time (a few hours or even a day). Return to your essay with fresh eyes and see if you can cut the essay, reduce the number of words you’re using, or find a more succinct or focused way to approach your response.
2. Answer the question and relate it to your unique story.
Your essay should both answer the prompt and convey who you are. You don’t need a dazzling, one-of-a-kind story to get an admissions officer’s attention. Your life is unique to you—only you have had your experiences.
Make sure that whatever you choose to write about is an authentic representation of who you are. Instead of comparing your essay to someone else in your class, work to make your response the best it can be for you. And as you focus your essay, go one step further by sharing what you’ve learned or how you’ve grown as a result. That kind of reflection can build more depth into your response.
3. Get specific.
When recounting an experience, incorporate creative writing to your personal statement. Use details to describe a situation and add a bit of color. Pick strong verbs and a few specific adjectives that correctly highlight the action and scene. Let’s compare these two examples:
1) When I got a musical instrument for my birthday, I wasn’t really sure I’d like it. Still, I figured I’d play it daily because I enjoy music. I got better, and soon I made band. I like that I get to go to all the school games.
2) When my mother surprised me with a clarinet for my 15th birthday, I wondered if I’d enjoy playing it. Over the summer, when my friends gathered outside to enjoy their time off, I practiced my scales every day in my room—and slowly improved. After that hard work and sacrifice, I was excited to earn a place in the marching band.
Both paragraphs recount the same memory, but the second one creates a more memorable picture.
4. Ask for feedback.
Once you feel as though you’ve developed a final draft, don’t rush to turn it in. Instead, ask one of your favorite teachers or a trusted friend or family member to read it. Ask for constructive feedback on ways to improve. Be prepared to make changes if something is unclear or if they think there’s a better way to phrase a section. But make sure you continue to write in your voice so the college gets to know who you are instead of someone else.
When you’re feeling confident, review your work one last time for grammar and spelling. Don’t let a small error override an otherwise thoughtful, engaging essay.
You may find it helpful to brush up on your creative writing skills so you can express yourself clearly and colorfully before applying to college. On Coursera, you can enroll in Wesleyan University’s Creative Writing specialization for free. Or you can find courses that can help you gain more knowledge of the college admissions process .
Your Guide to College Entrance Exams
How to Be Successful in College: 9 Tips
How to Get a Bachelor’s Degree
How Many Credits Do You Need to Graduate College?
11 Good Study Habits to Develop
1. Common App. “ Are There Word Limits? , https://appsupport.commonapp.org/s/article/are-there-word-limits-kudeoeos." Accessed February 11, 2022.
2. US News and World Report. “ 10 Colleges That Received the Most Applications , https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/colleges-that-received-the-most-applications." Accessed February 11, 2022.
Coursera is the global online learning platform that offers anyone, anywhere access to online course...
This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.
Take $100 off your annual subscription
- For a limited time, you can get a new Coursera Plus annual subscription for $100 off for your first year!
- Get unlimited access to 7,000+ learning programs from world-class universities and companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yale.
- Build the skills you need to succeed, anytime you need them—whether you're starting your first job, switching to a new career, or advancing in your current role.
Choose Your Test
Sat / act prep online guides and tips, the best college essay length: how long should it be.
Figuring out your college essay can be one of the most difficult parts of applying to college. Even once you've read the prompt and picked a topic, you might wonder: if you write too much or too little, will you blow your chance of admission? How long should a college essay be?
Whether you're a terse writer or a loquacious one, we can advise you on college essay length. In this guide, we'll cover what the standard college essay length is, how much word limits matter, and what to do if you aren't sure how long a specific essay should be.
How Long Is a College Essay? First, Check the Word Limit
You might be used to turning in your writing assignments on a page-limit basis (for example, a 10-page paper). While some colleges provide page limits for their college essays, most use a word limit instead. This makes sure there's a standard length for all the essays that a college receives, regardless of formatting or font.
In the simplest terms, your college essay should be pretty close to, but not exceeding, the word limit in length. Think within 50 words as the lower bound, with the word limit as the upper bound. So for a 500-word limit essay, try to get somewhere between 450-500 words. If they give you a range, stay within that range.
College essay prompts usually provide the word limit right in the prompt or in the instructions.
For example, the University of Illinois says :
"You'll answer two to three prompts as part of your application. The questions you'll answer will depend on whether you're applying to a major or to our undeclared program , and if you've selected a second choice . Each response should be approximately 150 words."
As exemplified by the University of Illinois, the shortest word limits for college essays are usually around 150 words (less than half a single-spaced page). Rarely will you see a word limit higher than around 650 words (over one single-spaced page). College essays are usually pretty short: between 150 and 650 words. Admissions officers have to read a lot of them, after all!
Weigh your words carefully, because they are limited!
How Flexible Is the Word Limit?
But how flexible is the word limit? What if your poignant anecdote is just 10 words too long—or 100 too short?
Can I Go Over the Word Limit?
If you are attaching a document and you need one or two extra words, you can probably get away with exceeding the word limit by such a small amount. Some colleges will actually tell you that exceeding the word limit by 1-2 words is fine. However, I advise against exceeding the word limit unless it's explicitly allowed for a few reasons:
First, you might not be able to. If you have to copy-paste it into a text box, your essay might get cut off and you'll have to trim down anyways.
If you exceed the word limit in a noticeable way, the admissions counselor may just stop reading your essay past that point. This is not good for you.
Following directions is actually a very important part of the college application process. You need to follow directions to get your letters of recommendation, upload your essays, send supplemental materials, get your test scores sent, and so on and so forth. So it's just a good general rule to follow whatever instructions you've been given by the institution. Better safe than sorry!
Can I Go Under the Word Limit?
If you can truly get your point across well beneath the word limit, it's probably fine. Brevity is not necessarily a bad thing in writing just so long as you are clear, cogent, and communicate what you want to.
However, most college essays have pretty tight word limits anyways. So if you're writing 300 words for an essay with a 500-word limit, ask yourself: is there anything more you could say to elaborate on or support your points? Consult with a parent, friend, or teacher on where you could elaborate with more detail or expand your points.
Also, if the college gives you a word range, you absolutely need to at least hit the bottom end of the range. So if you get a range from the institution, like 400-500 words, you need to write at least 400 words. If you write less, it will come across like you have nothing to say, which is not an impression you want to give.
Don't let this sinister hand stop you from writing everything you have to say!
What If There Is No Word Limit?
Some colleges don't give you a word limit for one or more of your essay prompts. This can be a little stressful, but the prompts generally fall into a few categories:
Some colleges don't provide a hard-and-fast word limit because they want a writing sample from one of your classes. In this case, a word limit would be very limiting to you in terms of which assignments you could select from.
For an example of this kind of prompt, check out essay Option B at Amherst :
"Submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence. You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay."
While there is usually no word limit per se, colleges sometimes provide a general page guideline for writing samples. In the FAQ for Option B , Amherst clarifies, "There is no hard-and-fast rule for official page limit. Typically, we anticipate a paper of 4-5 pages will provide adequate length to demonstrate your analytical abilities. Somewhat longer papers can also be submitted, but in most cases should not exceed 8-10 pages."
So even though there's no word limit, they'd like somewhere in the 4-10 pages range. High school students are not usually writing papers that are longer than 10 pages anyways, so that isn't very limiting.
Want to write the perfect college application essay? Get professional help from PrepScholar.
Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We'll learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay that you'll proudly submit to your top choice colleges.
Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now :
Implicit Length Guideline
Sometimes, while there's no word (or even page) limit, there's still an implicit length guideline. What do I mean by this?
See, for example, this Wellesley supplemental essay prompt :
"When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the "Wellesley 100" is a good place to start. Visit The Wellesley 100 and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why. (Not-so-secret tip: The "why" matters to us.)"
There's no page or word limit here, but it does say to respond "in two well-developed paragraphs." This gives you an idea of what's reasonable. "Well-developed" certainly means the paragraphs can be long, but even two long paragraphs shouldn't exceed 500 words or so. That's what I mean by an "implicit" word limit—there is a reasonable length you could go to within the boundaries of the prompt.
But what's the proper coffee-to-paragraph ratio?
There is also the classic "treasure hunt" prompt. No, it's not a prompt about a treasure hunt. It's a prompt where there are no length guidelines given, but if you hunt around on the rest of the website you can find length guidelines.
For example, the University of Chicago provides six "Extended Essay" prompts . You must write an essay in response to one prompt of your choosing, but nowhere on the page is there any guidance about word count or page limit.
However, many colleges provide additional details about their expectations for application materials, including essays, on FAQ pages, which is true of the University of Chicago. On the school’s admissions Frequently Asked Questions page , they provide the following length guidelines for the supplemental essays:
“We suggest that you note any word limits for Coalition or Common Application essays; however, there are no strict word limits on the UChicago Supplement essays. For the extended essay (where you choose one of several prompts), we suggest that you aim for around 650 words. While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we're only human and cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention indefinitely. For the “Why UChicago?” essay, we suggest about 250-500 words. The ideas in your writing matter more than the exact number of words you use!”
So there you go! You want to be (loosely) in the realm of 650 for the extended essay, and 250-500 words for the “Why UChicago?” essay.
Help! There Really Is No Guidance on Length
If you really can't find any length guidelines anywhere on the admissions website and you're at a loss, I advise calling the admissions office. They may not be able to give you an exact number (in fact, they probably won't), but they will probably at least be able to tell you how long most of the essays they see are. (And keep you from writing a panicked, 20-page dissertation about your relationship with your dog).
In general, 500 words or so is pretty safe for a college essay. It's a fairly standard word limit length, in fact. (And if you're wondering, that's about a page and a half double-spaced.) 500 words is long enough to develop a basic idea while still getting a point across quickly—important when admissions counselors have thousands of essays to read!
"See? It says 500 words right there in tiny font!"
The Final Word: How Long Should a College Essay Be?
The best college essay length is usually pretty straightforward: you want to be right under or at the provided word limit. If you go substantially past the word limit, you risk having your essay cut off by an online application form or having the admissions officer just not finish it. And if you're too far under the word limit, you may not be elaborating enough.
What if there is no word limit? Then how long should a college essay be? In general, around 500 words is a pretty safe approximate word amount for a college essay—it's one of the most common word limits, after all!
Here's guidance for special cases and hunting down word limits:
If it's a writing sample of your graded academic work, the length either doesn't matter or there should be some loose page guidelines.
There also may be implicit length guidelines. For example, if a prompt says to write three paragraphs, you'll know that writing six sentences is definitely too short, and two single-spaced pages is definitely too long.
You might not be able to find length guidelines in the prompt, but you could still hunt them up elsewhere on the website. Try checking FAQs or googling your chosen school name with "admissions essay word limit."
If there really is no word limit, you can call the school to try to get some guidance.
With this advice, you can be sure you've got the right college essay length on lockdown!
Hey, writing about yourself can even be fun!
Need to ask a teacher or friend for help with your essay? See our do's and dont's to getting college essay advice .
If you're lacking in essay inspiration, see our guide to brainstorming college essay ideas . And here's our guide to starting out your essay perfectly!
Looking for college essay examples? See 11 places to find college essay examples and 145 essay examples with analysis !
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.
Student and Parent Forum
Our new student and parent forum, at ExpertHub.PrepScholar.com , allow you to interact with your peers and the PrepScholar staff. See how other students and parents are navigating high school, college, and the college admissions process. Ask questions; get answers.
Ask a Question Below
Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!
Improve With Our Famous Guides
- For All Students
The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 160+ SAT Points
How to Get a Perfect 1600, by a Perfect Scorer
Series: How to Get 800 on Each SAT Section:
Score 800 on SAT Math
Score 800 on SAT Reading
Score 800 on SAT Writing
Series: How to Get to 600 on Each SAT Section:
Score 600 on SAT Math
Score 600 on SAT Reading
Score 600 on SAT Writing
Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests
What SAT Target Score Should You Be Aiming For?
15 Strategies to Improve Your SAT Essay
The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 4+ ACT Points
How to Get a Perfect 36 ACT, by a Perfect Scorer
Series: How to Get 36 on Each ACT Section:
36 on ACT English
36 on ACT Math
36 on ACT Reading
36 on ACT Science
Series: How to Get to 24 on Each ACT Section:
24 on ACT English
24 on ACT Math
24 on ACT Reading
24 on ACT Science
What ACT target score should you be aiming for?
ACT Vocabulary You Must Know
ACT Writing: 15 Tips to Raise Your Essay Score
How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League
How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA
How to Write an Amazing College Essay
What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?
Is the ACT easier than the SAT? A Comprehensive Guide
Should you retake your SAT or ACT?
When should you take the SAT or ACT?
Get the latest articles and test prep tips!
Looking for Graduate School Test Prep?
Check out our top-rated graduate blogs here:
GRE Online Prep Blog
GMAT Online Prep Blog
TOEFL Online Prep Blog
Holly R. "I am absolutely overjoyed and cannot thank you enough for helping me!”
What are your chances of acceptance?
Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.
Your chancing factors
How Long Should Your College Essay Be? What Is the Ideal Length?
What’s covered: , personal statement length vs. supplemental essay length, are college essay word limits hard, what if a college essay word count isn’t given, what if you need to submit a graded paper, where to get your essays edited.
Students often spend hours agonizing over the best topics for their college essays. While it’s natural to wonder whether your personal statement is original or compelling enough, there’s one aspect of the process that shouldn’t cause you undue stress—how many words should a college essay be? Fortunately, with a little research, you can uncover the ideal college essay length for all your applications.
Unlike high school assignments, which typically have a strict page requirement, most colleges provide a word limit or word range for their application essays. This practice helps ensure that essays are the same length regardless of font or formatting. A good guideline is that students should strive to get as close as possible to the upper limit of the word range without exceeding it. Keep reading to learn more about best practices for college essay length.
How many words should a college essay be? Personal statements are generally 500-650 words. For example, the Common Application , which can be used to apply to more than 800 colleges, requires an essay ranging from 250-650 words . Similarly, the Coalition Application , which has 150 member schools, features an essay with a recommended length of 500-650 words.
650 words is the most common limit for your personal statement, but some schools may ask students to write more or less. For example, ApplyTexas , a platform used to apply to Texas public universities and other select colleges, requests essays with requirements that vary by school. For example, students applying to UT Austin will need to submit an essay of 500-700 words, along with three short-answer questions of 250-300 words each.
On the other hand, the University of California (UC) application includes a Personal Insight section with eight prompts . Students are asked to respond to any four of these prompts, with each response topping out at 350 words.
Additionally, some schools request a few supplemental essays, which are typically shorter than a personal statement. These questions are designed to gain more information about a student’s interests and abilities, and may include topics like your reasons for wanting to attend their school, your desired major, or your favorite activity.
Most schools require 1-3 supplemental essays, though some may require more or none at all (see our list of top colleges without supplemental essays ). These essays tend to be around 250 words, but some may be just as long as your main essay. For example, Cornell requires applicants to write a second supplemental essay (of 650 words max) that is specific to the program they’re applying to. The exception to this is the Cornell College of Engineering, for which applicants are required to compose two supplemental essays of 250 words max each.
For best results, keep your essays within the word range provided. While you don’t have to hit the count exactly, you should aim to stay within a 10% difference of the upper limit—without including fluff or filler. For example, if the school requests 500 words, try to ensure that your essay is between 450 and 500 words.
For the Common App, try to stay within 550-650 words, even though the given range is 250-650. Any submission shorter than 500 words will make it look as though you simply didn’t care enough to give your best effort. An essay shorter than 500 words won’t be long enough to truly share who you are and what matters to you.
Exceeding the word count isn’t an option—the application portal cuts off anything over the maximum number of allowed words. This is something you want to be particularly careful of if you’re drafting your essay in a Word or Google document and pasting it into the application.
Although most schools provide applicants with a specific word count, some offer more general guidelines. For example, a college may ask for a particular number of pages or paragraphs.
If you aren’t given a word count, try to adhere to the best practices and conventions of writing. Avoid writing especially short or overly long paragraphs—250 words per paragraph is generally a safe upper limit. If you’re asked to write a certain number of pages, single- or double-spaced, stick to a standard font and font size (like 12-point Times New Roman).
In the event that the college doesn’t offer any guidelines at all, aim for an essay length of around 500 words.
While essays are the most commonly requested writing sample, some colleges ask for additional pieces of content. For example, Princeton University requires students to submit a previously graded paper for evaluation .
Princeton offers guidelines that cover length, but if another school requests an old paper and doesn’t offer length requirements, a paper ranging from 3-5 pages should yield the best results. The goal is to select a paper long enough to showcase your writing skills and unique voice, but short enough that the admissions officer doesn’t get bored reading it.
Is your essay effective while staying within the required word count? It’s hard to evaluate your own writing, especially after rereading it numerous times. CollegeVine’s free Peer Essay Review provides an opportunity to have your essay reviewed by a fellow student, for free. Similarly, you can help other students by reviewing their essays—this is a great way to refine your own writing skills.
Expert advice is also available. CollegeVine’s advisors are prepared to help you perfect your personal statement and submit a successful application to your top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!
Related CollegeVine Blog Posts
Student Strategy Blog
Issues For College And Finding Success
How Much Writing Will You Do As A College Undergrad?
One element considered by the National Survey of Student Engagement , an annual survey done at 1,300 4-year colleges every year, looks at the type of work that college freshmen and seniors do.
The recent survey found that first-year students, on average, wrote 92 pages during the academic year, while seniors wrote 146 pages. For freshmen, the majority of these papers were around 5 to 10 pages, with some first-year students writing papers 20 pages or more. When considering majors, students in the social sciences, arts, and humanities wrote much more than other students, such as those majoring in physical or biological sciences.
The upside of all this writing? Students who wrote more were more achieved higher levels of deep learning, student-faculty interaction, and were otherwise more “engaged” in their own learning process. Student “engagement” is associated with higher levels of satisfaction as a student, and therefore increases a student’s odds of continuing his or her education.
From working with students directly for many years at large and small colleges, as well as public and private ones, I can give you a better idea of what to expect beyond the report.
College Writing is a universally required course at colleges in the U.S. Whether they call it Writing and Rhetoric, Freshman Writing, or College Composition, it’s all the same course. Some colleges require only a first level of college writing for all students, but some actually require two levels. You won’t make it through college in the U.S. without taking at least one college level writing course. Expect to write several smaller essays, 4 to 5 pages, or even one longer paper depending on how the Professor structures the course. Other English classes usually have writing, even literature classes, so expect to write analyses, critiques, responses, and in other formats.
Biology And Other Sciences
Biology, Chemistry, and other natural sciences typically have a lot of reading, homework, lab work, and problem sets yet very little writing. However, if you are taking a lab with the lecture, you may have to write lab reports or pre-lab/post-lab reports. This kind of writing is very concrete and specific, and usually will include writing about the methods or procedures used for an experiment, the results of various levels of lab testing, as well as to state the results of a lab experiment. Some lab reports may actually be in a lab notebook, so rather than typing them on the computer, you may need to hand write them if they are a worksheet.
Psychology And Behavioral Sciences
Formats for Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, and other behavioral sciences classes are usually straight forward. Readings, lecture, multiple choice exams, or even quizzes are the standard, but also common are research papers. Some Professors assign a classic “term paper,” which is due at the end of the term, that requires a student to delve deeply in to a subject. On average, expect these papers to be 10 to 15 pages, with 7-12 references needed, and due either near finals or during that week. The trick with these kinds of research papers is to ask about the details early since choosing a topic and finding academic journal references can take much longer than most think.
History, Philosophy, And Humanities Courses
In contrast to the science-based writing that natural and behavioral sciences may require, writing for the humanities may be somewhat “softer” in that they may require a more subtle interpretation of the material. Identifying themes, describing historical events, examining different theorists, or other tasks are common in writing for History, Philosophy, and similar classes. Expect to write compare and contrast essays, position papers, reaction papers, and in other formats for such classes.
Art History classes are usually wonderful, enjoyable classes to take, but they often surprise students by the huge volumes of information that come with them. What fits perfectly with such a class is a term paper, in which students delve deeply in to a topic (only in this case a non-science one). The architecture of the pyramids, Greek and Roman style use, or a timeline of the works of Picasso are all probable topics for a paper in Art History. Again, expect 10 to 15 pages long, with 5 to 10 references needed, and due at the end of the term.
Courses Without Writing
Thankfully, for those who do not like writing, there are courses that by design have no writing. Mathematics courses such as College Algebra, classes like Microeconomics or Macroeconomics, and Computer Science usually mean no writing. Unfortunately, Professors make up for this by assigning tons of homework, usually in the form of problem sets. Some of these classes may have end of term projects (vs. papers), especially Computer Science, so you won’t quite escape those end of term deadlines even though there is no writing.
Writing Intensive Requirements
Some colleges have a subset of their overall graduation requirements or curriculum that requires a number of writing intensive courses. While it is not universal for schools across the U.S., some will specify that the student must take two to four writing intensive classes before they can graduate. These need not be all English classes, and classes in humanities, behavioral science, or other areas may be designated as writing intensive. The school’s website or your Advisor can provide you with a list of these classes that are designated as writing intensive, and they are often indicated as such when you register for classes.
For students in the U.S. it’s hard to get away from doing writing if you want to go to college. The amount and types of writing can vary by class, and some majors should expect to do more writing than others. If you are an English, History, or Philosophy major, expect writing to be the core of what you do for classes, but certainly not if you choose Computer Science, Mathematics, or Economics. If you don’t like writing be thankful that you’re going to school in the U.S., since Canadian and European systems can have so much writing that they say they “wrote” their midterms and finals. Some students would rather take a good old fashioned quiz or test any day over that.
If you have questions feel free to use the contact form to ask us.
Jeffrey Ludovici, M.A., is a national-level higher education consultant based in Pittsburgh. He has worked with students, families, colleges, and other professionals for more than 10 years. He specializes in understanding why students can end up doing poorly in college, as well as what can be done to address the issues.
Deferred or Denied? Learn about Ivy Coach's PostMortem + Letter of Continued Interest
The Ivy Coach Daily
- College Admissions
- College Essays
- Early Decision / Early Action
- Extracurricular Activities
- Standardized Testing
- The Rankings
September 27, 2023
Word and Character Limits in College Essays
Previously Published on September 2, 2011:
With every college essay comes a word limit. Some essays are 35 words, others 650 words. Some are 100 characters, others two pages. But for each of these essays, irrespective of the word count, there is one guiding principle that college applicants should follow: stick to the word count — don’t write more, don’t write less.
Essays Are Real Estate for Applicants to Make Their Case
Each essay — no matter its length — offers applicants real estate to make their case for admission. Some schools, of course, offer more real estate than others. For the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle, for example, Harvard University has five 250-word essays . Meanwhile, Brown University has three essays and four short answers: 200-250 words for the three essays, three words for the first short answer, 100 words for two short answers, and 50 words for the final short answer.
Applicants Should Write to the Maximum Word Count in Essays
So, when a school asks applicants to write a 200-250-word essay, how many words should they write? That’s an easy one: 250. When a school offers students the chance to write optional essays, should they write them? You bet ! No optional essay in highly selective college admissions should ever be considered optional. Instead, it’s a chance for students to make their case. And applicants should always write to the maximum word count in all college essays .
A Word Count Test
To conclude, we’ve got a test for this year’s applicants. Applicants to Duke University ‘s Class of 2028 are required to answer one 250-word essay, and they’re given five optional essay options of which they can write up to two. So, how many essays should this year’s Duke applicants write? You guessed it — three! And how long should each of their essays be? You guessed it again — 250 words! Not more, not less.
Ivy Coach’s Assistance with College Essays
If you’re interested in optimizing your case for admission by submitting the most powerful essays possible, fill out Ivy Coach ‘s free consultation form , and we’ll be in touch to outline our college admissions counseling services.
You are permitted to use www.ivycoach.com (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.
Using A.I. to Write College Admission Essays
October 13, 2023
What English Teachers Get Wrong About Writing College Essays
Bragging in College Essays: Is It Ever Okay?
September 26, 2023
What Not to Write: 3 College Essay Topics to Avoid
September 24, 2023
2023-2024 Caltech Supplemental Essay Prompts
September 14, 2023
2023-2024 University of Virginia Supplemental Essay Prompts
Toward the conquest of admission.
If you’re interested in Ivy Coach’s college counseling, fill out our free consultation form and we’ll be in touch.
Fill out our short form for a 20-minute consultation to learn about Ivy Coach’s services.
Internet Explorer Detected!
Caution! You are using a browser we do not support (IE). Please upgrade to a modern browser (Firefox, Chrome, Edge, etc.) to avoid interface bugs or double-posting. The decision is on your own, you can continue navigating through the site accepting the bugs it might bring.
Edit your affiliations
What language would you like to translate to?
Share a link to this question
How long is a good college essay.
I need to start writing mine and I'm feeling lost #college-admissions #writing #editing
Flag question, follow discussion.
Enter your phone number and/or email and we’ll send you a message when there’s an update to this question!
Share a link to this answer, khalia’s answer, delete answer, convert answer to comment, flag answer.
As a current undergrad student myself who applied to college just two years ago, I know how you're feeling right now! Hopefully some of the steps I took to write my own essay can help you too.
- Relax and Take a Breath
When thinking back to my own essay writing experience, I immediately recall how stressful and worrisome the whole application process can be! That being said, the first step to writing a great college essay is to try to relax, take a deep breath, and acknowledge that you're eventually going to write an amazing essay. It might take one, two, or even ten drafts, but you're eventually going to emerge with an amazing piece of work that communicates your individual character to the admissions officers who read your application. Seeing as though you're already starting to think about college essays (and it's only August), you're leaving yourself an ample amount of time (a few months) to draft, re-draft, and draft some more!
Writing a good essay is a very emotional process and unwanted stress will only add difficulty to what is already a tough task.
- Think About Personal Experiences that Make You Who You Are
College admissions officers read essays because they want to get to know YOU better. Your essay is, for all intents and purposes, the only opportunity you have to express who you are to admissions reps throughout the course of the application (besides maybe a teacher recommendation). Depending on the school's specific prompt (if it's a common app school the prompts encourage this), you should attempt to incorporate a personal experience that you feel defines you within your essay (this can be anything from the time you hit the winning shot at the big game in high school, anecdotes about your culture/family, anything really that YOU find important). When writing your essay, always ask yourself the question; if someone I had never met read this essay, do I think they would know and understand who I consider myself to be? In this manner, you can almost consider the college essay to be a story of sorts, the story of YOU.
Working off the point I listed above, brainstorm all the personal experiences/facets of your individual character that you think could be good to write about and WRITE THEM DOWN! Even if you feel like an idea may be "dumb" or ridiculous, write it down anyway and begin brainstorming ways that you could write an essay working off it. In the college essay writing process, the most important thing is to get your juices flowing! It's true that some topics are better to write about than others, but writing down all your ideas will ensure that you don't miss out on the story you should be writing about!
- Show Other People Your Work
Remember to have someone you trust (friend, family member) proofread your work and offer suggestions on the topic that you choose. It's really difficult to edit your own work for grammar and style, and allowing someone else the opportunity to help you out will ensure that your essay is the best that it can be!
Sorry that this is so long!
With regard to your original question, essay length depends on the prompt given (common application limits essays to 750 words). Definitely stay within the word limit (don't go over 750), but don't be afraid to be under it (for example, 700 words would be fine). It's all about how many words/how much time you need to tell YOUR story. My own essay was only 650 words! Less is more!
Hope this helps! Let me know if you have any follow up questions/or if I could help in any way!
To write a proper essay one needs to have structure of thought, imagination, and creativity. An examiner can tell a lot about a student by looking at the way a student writes his essays. Thus, essays have become an inseparable part of academics. The two most important parts of an essay are structure and content. The structure is the format and the content is whatever you write adhering to the essay format.
Margins, Spacing, and Font Size
First and foremost you should leave a marginal space of 1 inch from the top, bottom, left and right sides of the page. You can easily leave a margin space of one inches in Word by doing the following tasks:
Go to the page layout option and click the margins tab. Click on the normal option, which is default to 1 inch space from all the sides. Each and every line of the paragraph should be double-spaced. Proper line spacing can be achieved in MS Word through the following steps:
Select the paragraph. Right click on the selected portion. Go to Paragraph. In the Indents and Spacing tab: go-to ‘line spacing’ option and select ‘Double’. Make sure that you use the Times New Roman font with size 12 to write your essay. This is a universal font acceptable in all academic papers. Don’t try to use a larger font to write less!
The heading should start with the top left corner of the page. Make sure that you have set the indentation to left-justified. The left justified option can be easily enabled in your MS Word software.
The heading of the essay should follow a format which is:
Write your name on the first line of the heading. Write your instructor name below your name. Write the name of the subject and the subject code below the instructor’s name. Write the date of submission below the subject name. An example heading could be:
Marc Stevens Dr. Thomas Daniels Math 1005 4 March 2014
One of the most ignored but the most important parts in essay formatting is the header. The first page of the header should contain only the page number. From the second page and further, the header should contain your last name and page number, both should be right indented.
Header formatting steps for first page:
Go to the insert option. Click on the header tab. Check the different first page option. Click on the page number tab in the design tab. Inside the top of page option select the right indented page number. Header formatting steps for second page and further.
Go to the insert option and click the headers tab. Uncheck the different first page option. Click on the page number tab in the design tab. Choose the right indented page number style. Write your last name before the page number. The MLA rule book says that the paragraphs should start by leaving a half-inch space at the beginning. To keep it simple, you can start your paragraphs after pressing the tab button. Make sure that each and every paragraph that you write should follow this format.
The title should come after the heading and should be center aligned. After writing the title, make sure that you press enter twice before starting with the paragraph. You can use the formatting symbol (¶) option and check that there are two formatting symbols between the title and the paragraph. You can start writing the first paragraph after the title. Keep the text left aligned every time you start with a new line. These are simple college essay formatting guidelines that every student should follow in his academic age. The format makes the essay easy to read and comprehend for the reader.
Don’t beat around the bush! Keep your sentences short and simple. Also make use of the active voice as much as you can. The active voice will make your sentences impactful and also allow you to communicate more effectively.
Understand the topic! When writing essays, it is easy to drift away from the topic and go offbeat. So, when you are writing your essays you need to be connected to the topic at hand- in some way. Please do not talk about ‘birds’ when the topic is about dog food (Though dogs may love to eat birds!). To keep yourself on track, go back to the title after every paragraph you write. Ask yourself,” Is the next paragraph that I am about to write connected to the title in anyway?” If the answer to this question is ‘Yes’, then you may move forward.
Show connection and fluidity in your writing! There should be a connection between a sentence and the sentences following it. If you are not able to make that connection- it’s poor writing! So all you need to do is start with an idea, expand that idea and give a proper conclusion to it. That’s it! And your essay is already in the top notches.
Follow a structure! You should have a plan, a set structure, when you are writing an essay. Don’t go about writing your essays in a haphazard way without any goal. Plan an outline, plan each and every paragraph before you start to write. And most importantly plan the conclusion. The conclusion should summarize your essay in the most succinct form and should be able to make an impact on the reader.
It’s all about a killer title and an intriguing head start! One of the most difficult things in writing essays is coming up with a good title. The title should not only sell your essay in a few words but also give an idea about the most important point that you are about to make through the essay. So before giving a title, ask yourself- What impact do you want to make? Is your title relevant to the essay? And when you have the answers, go forth and give that killer title.
Students have written 400-word essays and gotten into good colleges – and some have written 2,000 words. Generally students write between 500-700 words.
Hope this calrifies most of your doubts around essay writing process.
Do well, all the best.
Regards, Archana Jain
Susan E. Oser
Susan e.’s answer.
First of all what are the requirements of the college essay you're writing on? Usually you are given so many words and the "good" is very subjective. It depends on what your teacher requires of you and what the topic is about.
What is your favorite type of writing to edit, and why is it your favorite #editing #publishing #writing, what personality traits make successful editors and publishers, i'm a brutally honest person. a lot of people don't like that but i have a feeling it will come in handy in a career in editing or publishing. #editing #publishing, need help on writing, high school student here not yet sure about their major. i'm not sure if i want to go a major in writing, but i sometimes do like writing random things. and it's really fun just getting ideas out of your head and on to paper. and so i wondered what do i do with those writings can i upload them online for people to see and maybe get some profit out of it and i was wondering if anyone knew how to find editors who can read my writing and basically help me become a better writer #writing #editing.
Ideal College Application Essay Length
Can you go over the Common App length limit? How long should your essay be?
- Essay Samples & Tips
- College Admissions Process
- College Profiles
- College Rankings
- Choosing A College
- Application Tips
- Testing Graphs
- College Financial Aid
- Advanced Placement
- Homework Help
- Private School
- College Life
- Graduate School
- Business School
- Distance Learning
- Ph.D., English, University of Pennsylvania
- M.A., English, University of Pennsylvania
- B.S., Materials Science & Engineering and Literature, MIT
The 2019-20 version of the Common Application has an essay length limit of 650 words and a minimum length of 250 words. This limit has remained unchanged for the past several years. Learn how important this word limit is and how to make the most of your 650 words.
Key Takeaways: Common Application Essay Length
- Your Common Application essay must be between 250 words and 650 words.
- Don't assume shorter is better. A college requires an essay because they want to learn more about you.
- Never go over the limit. Show that you can follow instructions and that you know how to edit.
How Strict Is the Limit?
Many wonder whether they can go over the limit, even if only by a few words. What if you feel that you need more space to communicate all of your ideas clearly?
650 words is not a lot of space in which to convey your personality, passions, and writing ability to the people in admissions offices—and the title and any explanatory notes are also included in this limit. The holistic admissions processes of most schools prove that colleges really do want to get to know the person behind your test scores and grades . Since the essay is one of the best places for showcasing who you are, is it worth it to go over?
Most experts recommend adhering to the limit. The Common Application will even prompt its applicants if they exceed the word count to prevent them from going over. Most admissions officers have stated that, while they will read all essays in their entirety, they are less inclined to feel that essays over 650 accomplish what they set out to do. In short: any of the prompts can and should be answered in 650 words or fewer.
Choosing the Right Length
If everything from 250 to 650 words is fair game, what length is best? Some counselors advise students to keep their essays on the shorter end, but not all colleges place the most value in succinctness.
The personal essay is the most powerful tool at your disposal for showing readers your personality without meeting them. If you've chosen a focus that reveals something meaningful about you, you're probably going to need more than 250 words to create a thoughtful, introspective, and effective essay. However, it isn't essential to hit the 650 mark, either.
From the Admissions Desk
"There is no need to meet the full word count  if the essay captures what the student would like to share. Visually, you want to make sure the essay looks complete and robust. As a general rule, I would suggest the essay be between 500-650 words."
–Valerie Marchand Welsh Director of College Counseling, The Baldwin School Former Associate Dean of Admissions, University of Pennsylvania
Each of the Common App essay prompts creates different writing challenges, but no matter which option you choose, your essay should be detailed and analytical, and it should provide a window into some important dimension of your interests, values, or personality. Ask yourself: Will the admissions officers know me better after reading my essay? Chances are, an essay in the 500- to 650-word range will accomplish this task better than a shorter essay
In general, the length of an essay does not determine its effectiveness. If you have answered the prompt in its entirety and feel proud of your work, there is no need to stress about any particular word count. Do not pad your essay with filler content and tautologies to stretch it out, and on the flip side, don't leave important sections out in the interest of keeping the essay brief.
Why You Shouldn't Go Over the Essay Length Limit
Some colleges will allow you to exceed the limit set by the Common Application, but you should avoid writing more than 650 words in all cases for the following reasons:
- College students adhere to guidelines : If a professor assigns a five-page paper, they don't want a 10-page paper and you don't have 55 minutes to take 50-minute exams. The message that you send to a college when you write a powerful essay in 650 words or fewer, even when they accept longer submissions, is that you can succeed under any conditions.
- Essays that are too long can leave a negative impression: Essays over 650 may make you appear over-confident. The word counts have been established by experts for a reason and writing more than you are allowed might make it seem like you think what you have to say is more important than other applicants, who have to follow the rules. Avoid seeming self-important by stopping yourself from going overboard.
- Good writers know how to edit and cut : Any college writing professor would tell you that most essays become stronger when they are trimmed. There are almost always words, sentences, and even entire paragraphs that don't contribute to an essay and can be omitted. As you revise any essay you write, ask yourself which parts help you to make your point and which get in the way—everything else can go. Use these 9 style tips to tighten up your language.
College admissions officers will read essays that are too long but may consider them to be rambling, unfocused, or poorly-edited. Remember that your essay is one of many and your readers will wonder why yours is longer when it doesn't need to be.
- The Length Requirements for the Common Application Essay in 2020-21
- How Long Should Your Common Application Short Answer Essay Be?
- The 2021-22 Common Application Essay Prompts
- Private School Application Essay Tips
- Common Application Essay on a Meaningful Place
- Common Application Short Answer Tips
- "Grandpa's Rubik's Cube"—Sample Common Application Essay, Option #4
- Common Supplemental Essay Mistakes
- 2020-21 Common Application Essay Option 4—Solving a Problem
- Tips for Writing a Winning College Application Essay
- 5 Tips for a College Admissions Essay on an Important Issue
- Common Application Essay, Option 1: Share Your Story
- Common Application Essay Option 2 Tips: Learning from Failure
- Addressing Diversity in a College Application Essay
- How to Write a Great College Application Essay Title
- Should an Application Essay Be Single-Spaced or Double-Spaced?
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.
How long should my essay be?
The average length of a personal essay for college is 400─600 words. Always read the prompt. Follow the instructions provided in the application.