Is It Okay if my Common App Essay is More Than the Stated Word Limit?

In short: absolutely not. 

The reason that we say this is because odds are if you’re applying to college, you can read. You’ve learned to follow instructions and what you may or may not know is that the college application process tests that skill more than any other. The college application process is about following instructions and illustrating that you can read, act on the instruction, and complete the task at hand in an exceptional way. If you go over the word limit, then you’re showing that either a) you didn’t read, b) you can’t follow instructions, or c) both. Don’t do it.

More than that, not going over the word limit, or even hitting under the word limit can ultimately work to your advantage. Here’s why: restraint is impressive. The ability to edit one’s writing and express more with fewer words is a rare skill. We always advise our students that shorter is better—there is truly nothing worse than a rant instead of an essay. It’s easy to become impassioned in your writing when you are discussing an interest or an extracurricular that you’ve spent a significant amount of time on. That said, students who are able to express their sentiments in a controlled, intentional format end up coming across as more mature and articulate.

College essays are never a time to get on your soapbox, and we find that there is a higher likelihood of the soapbox effect when essays have higher word allowances. Take note of the word count on any of the essays that you’re completing, including your supplements. Always aim to hit ~20-30 words below the allowance unless it’s very short (0-250 words) to begin with.  Trust us, less is more. Editing your own work is a great exercise to get familiar with before you enter college.

If you need any guidance on how long you think any given essay that you’re working on should be, let us know. We’d be happy to look it over and have a team of editors on standby.