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The Perfect College Essay Length

You pass a class – your grades are sent in. You take the ACT/SAT – your scores are sent in. You ask a few teachers – and recommendations are submitted. You write your college essay… and you are the only one who can determine if it is done. Is your essay complete at 400 words? 500? Are 2,000 words too long? Colleges generally do not specify word limits for college essays, but is there a perfect number? How can you tell if you’ve written enough? What is the perfect college essay length?

Many college prep books recommend a 500-word essay – but other college preparatory programs often recommend 600-900 words.

Guess what? They are both wrong.

You cannot put an exact number on the perfect college essay. (Sorry.) The best essay length is determined not by word count, but by these three criteria.

1. Did you fully answer the question or complete your argument?

If you are answering a specific prompt, make sure you answer all parts of the prompt! If you set up your own situation or argument to explain, write completely. A well-written 500-word essay is useless if you do not finish defending your thesis or reasoning. Admission counselors might groan if they see a long essay on the top of their pile, but if everything you have written is essential – and if everything goes together well – it shouldn’t be a problem. (That said, if your essay is long, check for redundancy and trim it down!)

2. Does the amount you’ve written achieve flow and cohesiveness?

A good rule to follow when writing college essays is “ABC” – Always Be Concise. That said, you need to write enough so that the readers (admission counselors) can see your skill as a writer and thinker. If you think you have written too much, check for repetition and eliminate it. If your essay sounds stilted, maybe you have cut too many words out. Try reading the essay aloud and check if it sounds natural and whole.

3. Do you demonstrate unique qualities that will contribute to the college’s community?

Admission counselors want to see how you present yourself in your essay. They are looking at how you might be a part of their institution in some way – as a future student, and as a future alumnus/a. Don’t cut yourself short by creating a lengthy manifesto that wanders and causes readers to lose interest. But give yourself the time to set yourself apart from other applicants.


Students have written 400-word essays and gotten into good colleges – and some have written 2,000 words. Generally students write between 500-700 words. But the point of finding your perfect length is that word count is not the benchmark used. When it’s time to write your college essay, instead of hitting “word count,” read it aloud and remember the above three criteria.


This post is titled “The Perfect College Essay Length.” It was written by Marta Casey, a writer on Top Test Prep’s team.

For more information about Top Test Prep’s programs, call (800) 501-Prep or visit TopTestPrep.com.

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