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College Talk Blog

Stranded at the Essay Stoplight?

Students stop dead in their tracks at the essay portion of college applications. Many are dismayed to see that there is an essay but are happy when the length is shorter than average (500 words). The good news for students is that the 250-300 word essay is gaining in popularity with colleges. The bad news is that this length allows students to express less information and requires more concise writing skills.

Conciseness is not in the repertoire of many students with whom I work. They say they are used to having to stretch ideas to meet a lengthy word count set by teachers. So, in their case, they are unlearning their stretch technique and adapting to a concise idea communication strategy.

My suggestion to students is to write their hearts out and not worry about the length of their essay in the beginning. The goal at the first writing is generating thoughts and ideas. Yes, I said first writing. Essays that will pass college admission scrutiny are written several times and edited many times after that. Meeting the word count, large or small, comes in the editing phase of the essay.

Why re-write? Students are writing the equivalent of a interesting magazine or blog article about themselves. It can't be boring. It must inform. More interestingly, it better entertain. Admissions readers are complaining about two things: boring essays that do not inform about the student and sad essays. Give your admissions reader a break, give them a chuckle. 

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