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09/04/2019

Is it okay to go over the word limit for a college essay?

QUESTION
Is it okay to go over the word limit for a college essay?
The college I am applying to has a 250 – 500 word requirement, but my essay has 630 words and I can’t shorten it without making it sound bad.

ANSWER
I think you better work on your editing skills.

On an electronic form, you won’t have any leeway. The extra words will get chopped off, whether you’re over by 1 or 100, and that will look and sound a lot worse than almost any editing you could do.

If it’s not on a form, you can get away with more, but I wouldn’t recommend going more than 20 words over. 130 words might not sound like a lot, but it IS noticeable (if you don’t believe me, copy your essay into a new file and delete 100 words, then compare the length of that piece to the original — you will see a difference). College class essays always have some sort of limit, whether it’s a specific number of words or a specific number of pages, and some professors are much more picky about that number than others. You want to get used to working within length limits NOW. Plus, if you follow the college’s directions, it will look a lot better than if you just ignore the directions and write your paper however you want. Obviously that’s not what you’re doing — if you didn’t care you wouldn’t have asked the question — but if anyone notices that you’ve gone over they won’t be able to tell the difference between genuine concern over the essay sounding bad and you deciding the rules don’t apply to you because you’re special/different/above rules/whatever.