Applying To College

College Essay Writing and Interview Skills


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Common App 500 Word Limit: What Colleges Think

The Common Application sets a 500 word limit on its personal statement (the long essay). Except there’s no limit on the number of words you can upload.

Confused? You’re not alone.

So I asked four college admissions officers for help, and it turns out that while there are different degrees of flexibility, none of them set the limit at 500 words.

What can you learn? Going a little over is okay (50-100 words), but be careful of being too wordy. And, as always, if you aren’t sure contact the schools – they’ll have your best, and safest, answer.

Here’s what the admissions officers said:

uconn husky

Nathan Fuerst, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, University of Connecticut:

A: We do have some amount of flexibility. We want students to express themselves as best they can. If that means that they go a few words over — about 100 — that’s okay. But we also want the student to be cognizant of the Common Application’s 500 word limit because some students can carry on for a while.  I’d say to students write your college application essay as briefly and succinctly as you can, but don’t feel like you need to leave out any major pieces, either.

sacred heart pioneers

Ken Higgins, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Sacred Heart University:

A: Students will often inquire about the word limit for the College Essay, and how they should approach it.  My best suggestion to them is to use enough words to get your point across, and tell your story thoroughly, but yet succinctly.  It may sound counter-intuitive, but those 500 words run out relatively quickly, so typing a good draft that may go FAR over the limit, and then “trimming” could be useful.  Generally speaking, I do not worry too much about the word limit of the essay (I’ve never actually counted), however if it is exceedingly long (or too short), it may raise a (slight) red flag during the application review process.  If it takes 650 words to get the core of the story in, then so be it, just as long as it’s not 6,500 words.

Quinnipiac Unversity logo

Joanne Robertson, Assistant Director of Admissions and Transcript Evaluator, Quinnipiac University:

A: What we usually tell students is to write as many words as it takes to tell the story.  It is important that they have it reviewed by an English teacher if possible for grammar and composition.  If not, then read it out loud to a parent or older sibling.  If they find that it is too wordy or doesn’t make sense, go back and revise. It’s fine to go over if you need more words to give us a complete picture of how an event or person impacted  your life.  Just don’t embellish too much, use words just because you can or the worst thing of all, send the wrong essay to the wrong school.  And, spell check is not fool-proof, use a dictionary if you are unsure of a spelling or meaning.

ithaca bombers logo

Ithaca College Director of Admission, Gerard Turbide:

A: I would advise students to start by writing a first draft without thinking about length.  Choose a topic you care about, and write with your own “voice”.  Once you have your ideas assembled, you can refine and edit.  For each applicant, I’m interested in reading a compelling statement that effectively conveys something about that studentI’ve never counted the words used.

related posts
Common App Essay 500 Word Limit: 5 Simple Ways to Pare it Down
How To Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit pt.1
How To Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit pt.2
How To Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit pt.3
How To Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit pt.4

links
Collegemapper: How strict is the Common App’s 500 word limit 20 colleges weigh in
Collegemapper: The Common App 500 word limit 21 more colleges weigh in

Gelblog: 500 Words

sharon-epstein-college-essay-writing-and-interview-skills..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting and is the recipient of a Writers Guild Award and two Emmy nominations for her writing.
Need help? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone and by computer. Visit her website for more info.  Connect with Sharon on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest:

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest

Leave a comment — let me know what you think!


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College Admissions Information: University of Connecticut

uconn husky

Welcome to an Ongoing Series on College Admissions

If you’re starting the college admissions process you’ve probably discovered that it’s not always easy to find answers to your college admissions questions. That’s why I created a place where you can hear directly from college admission counselors about applying to college, interviewing for college, writing the college application essay and financial aid.

I developed these questions with help from families who’ve recently been through the college application process. Because each school answers the same questions you’ll be able to compare information with other schools.

I hope you find this a valuable resource for college admissions information. Who knows? You might even find yourself considering options you hadn’t thought of before.

UConn logo

With the introduction out of the way, let’s find out about the University of Connecticut.

Founded in 1881 and set in the beautiful unspoiled forests of the northeast, the University of Connecticut is located in Storrs. There are 5 regional campuses: Avery Point, Greater Hartford, Stamford, Torrington, and Waterbury.

UConn is one of the premier national public universities in the country, recently ranking in the Top 20 Public Universities by U.S. News & World Report. It offers world-class faculty and academics, as well as vibrant activities and NCAA Athletics, including recent national championships in Men’s and Women’s Basketball.

UConn students come from diverse backgrounds: More than a quarter of students represent ethnic minorities, and the student body is selected from countries and cultures around the globe. The school’s proximity to Boston and New York City affords students easy access to internships or simply a weekend escape.

This post focuses on UConn’s main campus at Storrs. Look for information on the regional campuses in a later post.

Facts about UConn/Storrs Campus

  • Undergraduate enrollment: 17,815 (2011)
  • Entering freshmen enrollment: 3,327 (2011)
  • Connecticut residents: 75% of undergrads
  • Undergraduate costs 2012-13: In State: $22,382 (Tuition & Fees: $11,242; Room & Board: $11,140) Out of State: $40,214 (Tuition & Fees: $29,074; Room & Board: $11,140)
  • Average SAT score: 1216
  • Students receiving financial aid: Over 75 percent
  • Athletics: NCAA Division I


ADMISSIONS QUESTIONS

Nathan Fuerst, Director of Undergraduate Admissions, answered the following questions during a recent interview:

Q: What percentage of applicants does UConn admit?

A: Approximately 45% of applicants are successful in gaining admission to UConn’s Storrs campus.

Applying to UConn

Q: Does applying early decision/action improve a student’s chances for admission?

A: For the Fall 2013 term, UConn will no longer facilitate an early action/decision program.

Q: How important are extracurricular activities in admissions decisions?

A: Involvement beyond academics is important and is considered.  We encourage students to focus on investing themselves heavily in a limited number of activities and demonstrate the impact from their activity on both the community as well as their development as young adults.

Q: How important is taking advanced, accelerated, or honors courses?

A: It’s important that students take the appropriate opportunities to challenge themselves academically.  Therefore, we do consider advanced and honors courses.  However, it’s just as important for students to remain in course levels that are appropriate for their level of skill and aptitude for the particular subject.

Q: Which teachers should write a recommendation?

A: Recommendations that make the most impact come across as authentic and personal.  Students should approach teachers with whom they have strong relationships.  Teachers who contribute beyond just academic performance provide the most revealing and helpful information in the recommendation letters. 

Q: Do you look for what is not said in a recommendation?

A: We avoid drawing conclusions or speculating on what may or may not be omitted from a recommendation.  However, it is often apparent when there is inconsistency in message between the recommendations that we receive.

Q: Is the quality of an applicant’s high school taken into consideration?

A: The application review is a holistic one that allows us to take any and all factors in to consideration.  Strength of school is something that could be considered in the context of how the student has performed given the educational opportunities and challenges that are available within a particular school. 

Q: What is the relative importance of grades versus board scores?

A: Both factors are critical pieces in our review of applicants for admission for different reasons.  Therefore, it is difficult to cast one against the other.  Grades provide great insight on a student’s capacity for academic success, but using board scores remains the only reliable method of comparing applicant performance that transcends an individual school. 

Interviewing

Q: Does UConn offer interviews with admissions counselors?

A: Given the size of our applicant pool and staff, we are unable to offer interviews.

Essay Writing

Q: What qualities do you look for in a well-written essay?

A: We challenge students to write on a unique subject that has either defined who they are as a person or demonstrates the impact of their contributions through their activity in their environment.

Q: Is there a type of essay you would recommend against?

A: Applicants should consider their subject matter more globally and how it sets them apart from other students in the applicant pool.  For example, when writing on a life event, consider what makes this a unique life event compared to other applicants.

Q: Can an essay make or break an admission?

A: Yes.  I recall an applicant whose subject and style was so profound and unique that I felt honored to offer such a talented author admission.  Another example included a student who wrote about community contributions that had incredible global impact.  The subject of this essay was driven by extremely hard work that impacted the lives of students in villages in India and Africa.  It was very inspiring!

Q: Should a student discuss or explain a poor grade or marking period(s)?

A: When a grade is out of character, it may justify the student addressing this.  However, we encourage students to use their personal statements as an opportunity to present their unique qualities, contributions and achievements.  A single grade should not be made the focus of an application.

Q: Where do you stand on the 500 word limit on the Common Application’s personal statement? Can a student go over the Common Application’s 500 word limit?

A: We do have some amount of flexibility. We want students to express themselves as best they can. If that means that they go a few words over — about 100 — that’s okay. But we also want the student to be cognizant of the Common Application’s 500 word limit because some students can carry on for a while.  I’d say to students write your college application essay as briefly and succinctly as you can, but don’t feel like you need to leave out any major pieces, either.

Financial Aid at UConn

Q: How has the economic climate affected the admissions process and the availability of financial aid at UConn?

A: This year (2012)  seems to be an improvement over the past several years.  When the economy struggles, it forces families to take a closer look at finances and seriously consider their educational options based on cost of attendance.  Over the past several years, there has been an increase in the number of students submitting the FAFSA to us. UConn has a priority of providing as much financial assistance as possible to students who demonstrate financial need.

Q: What part of the admissions process is most misunderstood?

A: I think the financial piece of going to college is most misunderstood, as it can vary dramatically from one institution to the next. Eligibility for scholarships varies widely from school to school. Different schools have different policies, different requirements and different ways to apply, and that can make the scholarship process difficult to understand. If students or families need help understanding the scholarship opportunities at UConn, they should visit our undergraduate admissions page, student financial aid web page, or contact the Office of Student Financial Aid Services at (860) 486-2819.

Connect with UConn

Q: How can people connect with UConn?

A: Students can connect with us via Facebook and our YouTube channel. We also have a Twitter account and student bloggers.  Students who connect with UConn via these channels get regular updates on deadlines as well as updates on relevant activity at UConn.

Finally…

Q: Please ask and answer a question that you’d like students and families to know about UConn.
Question: What is the retention rate of first year students returning in their second year?

A: Ninety-three percent of first year students and 92% of students of color return for their sophomore year, exceeding the national average of 72.9%.

To Contact the University of Connecticut:

Office of Undergraduate Admissions
2131 Hillside Road, Unit 3088
Storrs, CT 06269-3088
Phone: (860) 486-3137
www.admissions.uconn.edu

other posts in this series:

Housatonic Community College
Ithaca College
Quinnipiac University
Sacred Heart University
University of Bridgeport

Sharon Epstein, FIrst Impressions College Consulting..Sharon Epstein is owner of First Impressions College Consulting
Need help? I work with students everywhere: in-person, over the phone, and by computer. Visit my website for more info.
Connect with me on Google+, Twitter and Pinterest:

follow Sharon Epstein on Twitterfollow Sharon Epstein on pinterest

Leave a comment — let me know what you think!