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Articles / Applying to College / Is a 600-Word Common Application Essay Too Long?

Is a 600-Word Common Application Essay Too Long?

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Aug. 1, 2011

Question: My daughter's Common App essay is about 600 words. It's a good essay, very readable, thoughtful, and fun. But, the new essay rule is 250-500 words. I understand that this is to keep lengths down, because students were going on for pages and pages in an effort to impress. So I'm thinking that 600 words should be fine-- that it certainly would have been fine in the 2010-2011 cycle. But with this new guideline, will 600 words seem too much?

The Common App’s 250-500-word guideline really is just that … a guideline … and thus your daughter’s 600-word essay is still in the ballpark and need not be shortened. BUT … I should also add that I have rarely read a college application essay that couldn’t be improved by a little surgery. Granted, a full 100-word excision may not be required here. Even so, your daughter may want to let this essay molder for a few weeks, and then she can revisit it with a more critical eye or ask a respected “editor” (you, another family member, friend, teacher, etc.) to weigh in on what might be cut out. In my experience, teens can get a bit heavy-handed with adjectives and adverbs. However, if your daughter decides there’s nothing left to pare, then she’s fine with 600 words.

(posted 8/1/2011)

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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