Dear Estelle. I have just written my 15th college essay for a large midwestern university and can’t reduce it to the required 400 words. It’s almost 550 words and reads so well I detest the thought of cutting it. Should I leave it the way it is or will I be penalized for exceeding the word limit. It’s impossible to shorten it without ruining it.
RE, Cherry Creek HS
We frequently fall in love with our writing but you have to cut it or it will be cut automatically by the colleges when they receive it. Don’t take chances. I advise clients to stay within the colleges’ word and character guidelines so they won’t lose the endings to their wonderful essays. Some admissions readers state that the limits are strictly enforced, while others say a “few” words won’t matter. Just recently I received an email from a website by the name of “WOW” and they suggested some simple ways to cut the excess.
- Circle the adverbs such as very, really, and completely and take them out.
- Look at short phrases or a word, followed by a comma, like in fact, first, and in conclusion. Read the sentence without them. If they don’t improve your story, eliminate them.
- Delete helping words. Example: Replace “is going to be playing” by “will play.”
- Replace “to be” verbs like is, and are. Instead of saying “I am a hard worker” try “I work hard.”
- Turn some nouns into verbs. “I concluded” is better than “I came to the conclusion.”
It’s amazing how you can reduce your word count and enhance your writing using these simple tools.
A few more suggestions regarding your essay:
Don’t try to tell your whole life story in your “long” essay. Find an idea that tells about you and expand on it. Make it fun and interesting. Start out with a strong first sentence that grabs the reader and conclude with an ending that has a tie-in with the beginning. The college essay becomes a difficult task because most 17 and18 year olds have difficulty talking about themselves, either verbally or on paper.
Brainstorm your ideas with your family and friends. They can help you identify an interesting story which will be easy to write once you’ve found the topic. Focus on an aspect that changed your perspective. Use simplicity. Change paragraphs frequently. Long paragraphs tire the reader. Remember, they are reading hundreds of essays. Don’t let yours be the one they gloss over because of difficult readability. Minimize the frequent use of the word “I”. Work on your draft in a word document. Lastly, continue improving your essay until it’s as good as it gets. Craft an excellent personal essay which incorporates your values, creativity, vulnerability, and insight. Show your uniqueness.
If you plan to use the Common Application for schools with numerous supplements plus apply to several universities, I have a terrific tool for my clients which minimizes the amount of required writing. There’s no need to create 15 essays!