College Essay 500 Word Limit: 5 Simple Ways to Pare it Down
Many college essays, including the essay for The Common Application, limit you to 500 words.
It can be tough to write an interesting, creative essay and keep it short, but if you know a few simple tips you can deliver an essay that will impress.
Here are 5 Ways to Succeed with the 500 Word Limit:
1. Think Small Instead of Big. Don’t try to tackle a big topic like world peace or what you did for your entire summer vacation. Choose a shorter span of time and a topic that’s not too broad.
2. Write About a Moment. A moment is a brief period of time when you learned something meaningful to you. Moments can make powerful essays.
Here’s an Example of a Moment:
- A student working in a store noticed that a customer had dropped some change. It wasn’t a lot and he almost didn’t stop to pick it up, but then he did. The customer was extremely grateful and told him she was counting on that money. The student wrote about how he’d never forget that something insignificant to him could make such a big difference to someone else.
3. Begin in the Middle of Your Story, Where the Action or Conflict Starts. This technique will not only save you words but it’s also a great way to draw the reader into your story. Here are two examples of introductions that were changed to start with action:
Before: “I spent my summer vacation interning in the emergency room of a hospital.”
Changed: “The bloody gurney wheeled past me. I closed my eyes and prayed for the strength not to pass out.
Before: “I always wanted to climb a mountain, so that’s what I decided to do my freshman year.”
Changed: “Hurry up!” my dad yelled, as I scrambled to collect myself for another day of mountain climbing.
4. Use Adjectives and Adverbs Wisely. If your essay is too long try to edit out some of your adjectives and adverbs. Here are two examples of edits and the reasons behind them:
Before: As Andrew walked his large legs made heavy, thumping sounds. He turned to stare at the dawning sunrise.
Changed: As Andrew walked his legs made heavy, thumping sounds. He turned to stare at the sunrise.
Why the Change? 1. Size adjectives, like “large,” are often too general. “Heavy” and “thumping” are specific and convey the idea of being large. 2. “Sunrise” is dawn. Look for these kinds of redundancies.
Before: “He walked convincingly.”
After: “He strode.”
Why the Change? One word conveys the same idea.
5. Edit Your Essay. Here are 4 ways to eliminate words:
- Eliminate any details or explanations that don’t move you toward your conclusion.
- Don’t repeat your ideas.
- Pare down adjectives and adverbs (see tip #4).
- Ask someone else to read you essay. Sometimes, as writers, we get attached to our material and it becomes difficult to know what to cut. Ask one or more people who know you to give you suggestions.
Can you submit an essay that’s over the limit? Check with the admissions office at the college(s). They’ll be able to guide you.
How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 1 (7 Tips to Remember)
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)
Read Time.com on the Common App Essay Word Limit
Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting, and is the recipient of a Writers Guild Award and two Emmy nominations for her work in television. I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Connect with me on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest: