500 Words, No Problem: 5 Tips for Staying Within the Admissions Essay Word Limit
Follow Kizzy's advice for a great college admissions essay.
By Kizzy Preston
November 02, 2011
The college admissions essay is a part of the application process that often gives students the most anxiety. In the essay, applicants work hard to really let the admissions counselors get to know them beyond their test scores and grades. After writing what they feel is a nearly perfect essay the student finds out that their 800-word essay is longer than the 500-word maximum allowed.
According to the New York Times article, “College Application Essay as Haiku? For Some, 500 Words Aren’t Enough,” students fret over the idea of having to chop all of the emotion and substance from their essays in order to stay within the word count.
Here are 5 easy tips to help you get the word count down on your admissions essay and still make a great first impression.
1. Free write — Without censoring yourself, write the first draft of your essay. If it goes on for 1,000 words, that’s fine. The goal here is to write down everything you want to say. It is better to have a lot of words to chop, rearrange, or rewrite than to be staring at a blank page with an application deadline looming.
2. Read Aloud — Read what you have written out loud. This may feel a little bit silly at first, but it works. When you read aloud you are able to hear when sentences do not make sense, are run-ons, or are just plain bad. You want to read your essay aloud a few times. The first time you read just to get a feel of what is working and what is not. The second time, go through and mark places that need to be edited.
3. Rewrite — Go back to the sections you marked for editing. Break up run-on sentences. Either make two new sentences, or see if you can say the same thing in a simpler way. Be sure to vary sentence length using longer and shorter sentences. An essay full of all short sentences will sound choppy and elementary.
4. Move Forward — Remove all words, sentences, and paragraphs that do not add to the story you are telling, or move it forward. Just because your limit is 500 words doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong introduction, body, and conclusion. Be sure that you are using strong active verbs. For example:
Passive: Mom was cooking.
Active: Mom cooked.
Passive: We were jumping rope.
Active: We jumped rope.
Passive: Dad was laughing.
Active: Dad laughed.
Removing unnecessary words:
Wordy: Mr. Smith, who was my doctor, said that I needed surgery.
Better: My doctor said that I needed surgery.
Wordy: The thing that I am most proud of from my high school career is my participation in the debate team.
Better: I am most proud of participating in the debate team.
5. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread — After you are done rewriting your essay, read it aloud again slowly. Look out for any misspelled words, missing words, problems with punctuation, or the use of one word when you really mean to use another one such as: their, there, and they’re. What you say in your college admissions essay is important, but how you say it may be even more so.
Writing a polished 500-word essay does not have to be difficult, or leave you feeling like you didn’t have the space to shine. Follow these tips and a 500-word admissions essay limit should be no problem.