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How to Succeed with the Common Application Essay 500 Word Limit: pt 1 (7 Tips to Remember)

June 20, 2011

Welcome! This is the first of a 4 part series on how to succeed with the Common Application Essay’s 500 Word Limit.

In April 2011 the Common Application changed the word limit for the personal essay. The Common App essay word limit is now 500 words.

Why the switch? According to Common Application Executive Director Rob Killion, allowing students to write essays of unlimited length “led to essays that were far too long, less well-written, and…often skimmed rather than read by admission officers.

Are there drawbacks? Yes. Some students will have trouble saying everything they want to say in 500 words or less. You may be one of them. But don’t be discouraged, you can write a great 500 word Common App essay.

Here are 7 Important Writing Tips to Help You Stay Under 500 Words:

1. Be Focused. Know what you want to discuss and make sure each sentence helps you get there.

2. Be Succinct. Choose your words wisely.

3. Be Specific. Create interesting imagery.

4. Be Clear. The introduction should flow clearly into the body of your essay. The body of your essay should transition into a clear conclusion.

5. Make Your Point. What do you want the college admission reader to know about you by the end of your essay? Make sure you achieve this goal.

6. Keep Count. Count your words. Don’t wait until you’re finished — you might have to rework your entire essay.

7. Edit.  Editing is essential with a 500 word essay. If you’re using three words where one will do, toss the extra words. If you have a sentence that gets your essay a bit off point, leave it on the cutting room floor. Be brave! Your essay will read better and come within the word count.

These are the important basics for writing a good essay. Print them out and check that you’re doing them as you write and you’ll be on your way.

Now you’re ready for part 2: How to Think Small and Still Tell a Big Story

related posts:
How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 2 (Think small and still tell a big story)
How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 3 (Essay samples)
How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 4 (Ideas that work)
for more info: read on the Common App Essay Word Limit

Sharon Epstein, FIrst Impressions College Consulting..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
Need help? Get in touch! I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website for more info.

Leave a comment — I’d like to know what you think.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. unfair permalink
    December 23, 2011 2:12 am

    this is stupid. its our only chance to individualize ourselves to the admission of the college we want to go to. our dream college. and to live you dream make sure your essays 500 words or less..

    • December 23, 2011 2:38 am

      Having worked with a lot of students this year, I know that keeping the personal essay to 500 words can be tough. Try to choose a subject that’s not too big. Don’t write about your entire summer vacation, or an event that takes a lot of explaining. Make sure to leave time to edit. If you need help, ask an adult who has good writing skills to give you suggestions. Essays actually get stronger when they’re edited well. Yes, this is tough. But you can definitely impress the readers at your dream college with 500 well-chosen words. Good luck!

  2. willamatthews permalink
    January 19, 2012 7:16 am

    Ya, its really tough to make personal essay up to 500 words.Select your interested topic and try to enlarge it.For assistance you can contact any good writing services. Thank you.

    • January 19, 2012 1:12 pm

      I like your comment, “Select your interested topic and try to enlarge it.” But if you’re considering writing services that charge a fee to write essays for you — that’s definitely NOT the way to go.


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