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Articles / Applying to College / Oops ... Application Essay Snafu: I Wrote 500 Characters, Not 500 Words

Oops ... Application Essay Snafu: I Wrote 500 Characters, Not 500 Words

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Nov. 10, 2010

Question: I have all of the requirements to get into Boston University but I mistakenly messed up my application that I already sent. I just realized that one of the supplemental essays was to be no more than 500 words but I read it as 500 CHARACTERS. Thus, my essay is only 75 words in length. This is my top choice school and I am very concerned that this will greatly hinder my chances of getting in. Please give your honest opinion on what you think my fate will be. Do you think it will matter that much to the point where they will not accept me? Thank you.

Oops! :-(

Usually when seniors write to me with some post-submission application snafu, it's much ado about nothing. ("I put 'here' when I meant 'hear'" or "I said I volunteered for the Special Olympics in 9th grade, but I just realized I was already in 10th.") In most instances, I suggest that a follow-up message to colleges is not warranted.

But, in your case, it's certainly possible that the B.U. admission folks might wonder why you only submitted a few sentences instead of the entire essay they expected. So, I do recommend that you set the record straight, and you can even approach it in a humorous way.


Send an email to the admission rep at BU who oversees applicants from your high school. (If you don't have that person's name and contact info, call B.U. and ask.)

Your Subject Line can be "Less is More???"

Explain your mistake, just as you did to me, and attach a re-written, full-length essay.

In your explanation, you can also mention that B.U. is your top-choice college and attribute your mistake to "a 'Senior Moment'" :)

If you don't get a reply from your admissions rep, print out a hard copy of your message and new essay and snail-mail everything to the B.U. office of admission. On the front of the envelope write:

“Important information for [YOUR NAME], Candidate to the Class of 2015."

Good luck and don't worry. If you make this right with B.U., it won't have any negative impact on your admissions verdict.

Meanwhile, you can read about other application bloopers that admission officers have encountered over the eons and which were far worse than yours. See:


(posted 11/10/10)

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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