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College Essay Writing and Interview Skills

How to Succeed with the Common App Essay 500 Word Limit: pt 3 (Essay Samples)

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Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’re on your way to handling the Common App Essay’s 500 Word Limit.

In part 1 & part 2 of this series, I gave you 7 Important Tips to Remember, and told you how to Think Small And Still Tell a Big Story.

Here are 4 more writing tips, including before and after writing samples, so you can see how to pare down an essay without compromising your ideas:

1. Start In the Middle of Your Story. Begin right in the middle of things, where your action or conflict starts. You’ll not only save words, but also create excitement and immediately draw the reader into your story. Here are three examples of changing an opening line:

Example #1:

  • Before: “I spent my summer vacation interning in the emergency room of a hospital in Seattle.”
  • After: “The bloody gurney wheeled past me. I closed my eyes and prayed for the strength not to pass out.

Example #2:

  • Before: “I always wanted to climb a mountain, so that’s what I decided to do my freshman year.”
  • After: “‘Hurry up and get your rear in gear!’ my dad yelled, as I scrambled to collect myself for another day of mountain climbing.”

Example #3:

  • Before: “Last year was a rough time for me. My parents and I really didn’t get along.”
  • After: “I opened the letter, not knowing how angry my parents would be.”

Tip: If you’re not sure where your action should start, write your story from the beginning. You’ll probably find your action begins in the second or third paragraph.

2. Use Adjectives and Adverbs Wisely. Don’t be a word hog. If you’re over 500 words, start by eliminating some of your adjectives and adverbs. You probably won’t miss them.

Example #1:

  • Before: As he moved, his large legs made heavy, thumping sounds. He turned to stare at the amazing, dawning sunrise.
  • After: As he moved, his legs made heavy, thumping sounds, He turned to stare at the sunrise.
  • Why? 1. Size adjectives like “large” are often too general. Words like “heavy” and “thumping” are specific. 2. “Amazing” is an overused adjective. Try not to use it. 4. “Sunrise” is “dawn.” Look for these kinds of redundancies.

Example #2:

  • Before: “He walked convincingly.”
  • After: “He strode.” The writer condensed his words by choosing one word that conveyed the same idea.

3. Use Dialogue With Less Commentary. Dialogue works well in a college application essay. But when you need to pare down your words, go easy on the commentary — the words that explain the dialogue.

Example:
A father and son are climbing the face of a cliff.

  • Before:
    “I can’t reach it!” he yelled.
    “That’s okay, I’ve got you,” his father replied knowingly.
    “No, dad,” he said, scared.
    “You won’t fall, son,” his father coaxed. “Slide your hand up until you feel the ledge.”
    He stretched out his fingers and grasped the rock. “I’ve got it!”
  • After:
    “I can’t reach it!”
    “That’s okay, I’ve got you.”
    “No, dad.”
    “You won’t fall, son. Slide your hand up until you feel the ledge.”
    He stretched out his fingers and grasped the rock. “I’ve got it!”

Twelve words were cut. The dialogue is still effective (even better, actually, because the action is faster), and the commentary is minimal.

4. Have Someone Else Read Your College Application Essay. Sometimes, as writers, we’re just too close to our material, and it becomes difficult to know what to cut. Ask one or more people who know you to look at your essay and give suggestions.

Now you’re ready for part 4: Ideas that Work!

Read Time.com on the Common App Essay Word Limit

related posts:
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 4 (Ideas that Work)

Read Time.com 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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Author: Sharon Epstein

College consultant, teaching students how to write memorable college application essays, grad school and prep school essays, and succeed at job and college interviews.

7 thoughts on “How to Succeed with the Common App Essay 500 Word Limit: pt 3 (Essay Samples)

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