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College Essays


Figuring out your college essay can be one of the most difficult parts of applying to college. Even once you've read the prompt and picked a topic, you might wonder: if you write too much or too little, will you blow your chance of admission? How long should a college essay be?

Whether you're a terse writer or a loquacious one, we can advise you on college essay length. In this guide, we'll cover what the standard college essay length is, how much word limits matter, and what to do if you aren't sure how long a specific essay should be.

How Long Is a College Essay? First, Check the Word Limit

You might be used to turning in your writing assignments on a page-limit basis (for example, a 10-page paper). While some colleges provide page limits for their college essays, most use a word limit instead. This makes sure there's a standard length for all the essays that a college receives, regardless of formatting or font.

In the simplest terms, your college essay should be pretty close to, but not exceeding, the word limit in length. Think within 50 words as the lower bound, with the word limit as the upper bound. So for a 500-word limit essay, try to get somewhere between 450-500 words. If they give you a range, stay within that range.

College essay prompts usually provide the word limit right in the prompt or in the instructions.

For example, the University of Illinois says :

"You'll answer two to three prompts as part of your application. The questions you'll answer will depend on whether you're applying to a major or to our undeclared program , and if you've selected a second choice . Each response should be approximately 150 words."

As exemplified by the University of Illinois, the shortest word limits for college essays are usually around 150 words (less than half a single-spaced page). Rarely will you see a word limit higher than around 650 words (over one single-spaced page). College essays are usually pretty short: between 150 and 650 words. Admissions officers have to read a lot of them, after all!


Weigh your words carefully, because they are limited!

How Flexible Is the Word Limit?

But how flexible is the word limit? What if your poignant anecdote is just 10 words too long—or 100 too short?

Can I Go Over the Word Limit?

If you are attaching a document and you need one or two extra words, you can probably get away with exceeding the word limit by such a small amount. Some colleges will actually tell you that exceeding the word limit by 1-2 words is fine. However, I advise against exceeding the word limit unless it's explicitly allowed for a few reasons:

First, you might not be able to. If you have to copy-paste it into a text box, your essay might get cut off and you'll have to trim it down anyway.

If you exceed the word limit in a noticeable way, the admissions counselor may just stop reading your essay past that point. This is not good for you.

Following directions is actually a very important part of the college application process. You need to follow directions to get your letters of recommendation, upload your essays, send supplemental materials, get your test scores sent, and so on and so forth. So it's just a good general rule to follow whatever instructions you've been given by the institution. Better safe than sorry!

Can I Go Under the Word Limit?

If you can truly get your point across well beneath the word limit, it's probably fine. Brevity is not necessarily a bad thing in writing just so long as you are clear, cogent, and communicate what you want to.

However, most college essays have pretty tight word limits anyways. So if you're writing 300 words for an essay with a 500-word limit, ask yourself: is there anything more you could say to elaborate on or support your points? Consult with a parent, friend, or teacher on where you could elaborate with more detail or expand your points.

Also, if the college gives you a word range, you absolutely need to at least hit the bottom end of the range. So if you get a range from the institution, like 400-500 words, you need to write at least 400 words. If you write less, it will come across like you have nothing to say, which is not an impression you want to give.


What If There Is No Word Limit?

Some colleges don't give you a word limit for one or more of your essay prompts. This can be a little stressful, but the prompts generally fall into a few categories:

Writing Sample

Some colleges don't provide a hard-and-fast word limit because they want a writing sample from one of your classes. In this case, a word limit would be very limiting to you in terms of which assignments you could select from.

For an example of this kind of prompt, check out essay Option B at Amherst :

"Submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence. You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay."

While there is usually no word limit per se, colleges sometimes provide a general page guideline for writing samples. In the FAQ for Option B , Amherst clarifies, "There is no hard-and-fast rule for official page limit. Typically, we anticipate a paper of 4-5 pages will provide adequate length to demonstrate your analytical abilities. Somewhat longer papers can also be submitted, but in most cases should not exceed 8-10 pages."

So even though there's no word limit, they'd like somewhere in the 4-10 pages range. High school students are not usually writing papers that are longer than 10 pages anyways, so that isn't very limiting.

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Implicit Length Guideline

Sometimes, while there's no word (or even page) limit, there's still an implicit length guideline. What do I mean by this?

See, for example, this Western Washington University prompt :

“Describe one or more activities you have been involved in that have been particularly meaningful. What does your involvement say about the communities, identities or causes that are important to you?”

While there’s no page or word limit listed here, further down on page the ‘essay tips’ section explains that “ most essay responses are about 500 words, ” though “this is only a recommendation, not a firm limit.” This gives you an idea of what’s reasonable. A little longer or shorter than 500 words would be appropriate here. That’s what I mean by an “implicit” word limit—there is a reasonable length you could go to within the boundaries of the prompt.


But what's the proper coffee-to-paragraph ratio?

Treasure Hunt

There is also the classic "treasure hunt" prompt. No, it's not a prompt about a treasure hunt. It's a prompt where there are no length guidelines given, but if you hunt around on the rest of the website you can find length guidelines.

For example, the University of Chicago provides seven "Extended Essay" prompts . You must write an essay in response to one prompt of your choosing, but nowhere on the page is there any guidance about word count or page limit.

However, many colleges provide additional details about their expectations for application materials, including essays, on FAQ pages, which is true of the University of Chicago. On the school’s admissions Frequently Asked Questions page , they provide the following length guidelines for the supplemental essays: 

“We suggest that you note any word limits for Coalition or Common Application essays; however, there are no strict word limits on the UChicago Supplement essays. For the extended essay (where you choose one of several prompts), we suggest that you aim for around 650 words. While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we're only human and cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention indefinitely. For the “Why UChicago?” essay, we suggest about 250-500 words. The ideas in your writing matter more than the exact number of words you use!”

So there you go! You want to be (loosely) in the realm of 650 for the extended essay, and 250-500 words for the “Why UChicago?” essay.

Help! There Really Is No Guidance on Length

If you really can't find any length guidelines anywhere on the admissions website and you're at a loss, I advise calling the admissions office. They may not be able to give you an exact number (in fact, they probably won't), but they will probably at least be able to tell you how long most of the essays they see are. (And keep you from writing a panicked, 20-page dissertation about your relationship with your dog).

In general, 500 words or so is pretty safe for a college essay. It's a fairly standard word limit length, in fact. (And if you're wondering, that's about a page and a half double-spaced.) 500 words is long enough to develop a basic idea while still getting a point across quickly—important when admissions counselors have thousands of essays to read!


"See? It says 500 words right there in tiny font!"

The Final Word: How Long Should a College Essay Be?

The best college essay length is usually pretty straightforward: you want to be right under or at the provided word limit. If you go substantially past the word limit, you risk having your essay cut off by an online application form or having the admissions officer just not finish it. And if you're too far under the word limit, you may not be elaborating enough.

What if there is no word limit? Then how long should a college essay be? In general, around 500 words is a pretty safe approximate word amount for a college essay—it's one of the most common word limits, after all!

Here's guidance for special cases and hunting down word limits:

If it's a writing sample of your graded academic work, the length either doesn't matter or there should be some loose page guidelines.

There also may be implicit length guidelines. For example, if a prompt says to write three paragraphs, you'll know that writing six sentences is definitely too short, and two single-spaced pages is definitely too long.

You might not be able to find length guidelines in the prompt, but you could still hunt them up elsewhere on the website. Try checking FAQs or googling your chosen school name with "admissions essay word limit."

If there really is no word limit, you can call the school to try to get some guidance.

With this advice, you can be sure you've got the right college essay length on lockdown!


Hey, writing about yourself can even be fun!

What's Next?

Need to ask a teacher or friend for help with your essay? See our do's and dont's to getting college essay advice .

If you're lacking in essay inspiration, see our guide to brainstorming college essay ideas . And here's our guide to starting out your essay perfectly!

Looking for college essay examples? See 11 places to find college essay examples and 145 essay examples with analysis !

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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Ideal College Application Essay Length

Can you go over the Common App length limit? How long should your essay be?

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The 2019-20 version of the  Common Application has an essay length limit of 650 words and a minimum length of 250 words. This limit has remained unchanged for the past several years. Learn how important this word limit is and how to make the most of your 650 words.

Key Takeaways: Common Application Essay Length

  • Your Common Application essay must be between 250 words and 650 words.
  • Don't assume shorter is better. A college requires an essay because they want to learn more about you.
  • Never go over the limit. Show that you can follow instructions and that you know how to edit.

How Strict Is the Limit?

Many wonder whether they can go over the limit, even if only by a few words. What if you feel that you need more space to communicate all of your ideas clearly?

650 words is not a lot of space in which to convey your personality, passions, and writing ability to the people in admissions offices—and the title and any explanatory notes are also included in this limit. The holistic admissions processes of most schools prove that colleges really do want to get to know the person behind your test scores and grades . Since the essay is one of the best places for showcasing who you are, is it worth it to go over?

Most experts recommend adhering to the limit. The Common Application will even prompt its applicants if they exceed the word count to prevent them from going over. Most admissions officers have stated that, while they will read all essays in their entirety, they are less inclined to feel that essays over 650 accomplish what they set out to do. In short: any of the prompts can and should be answered in 650 words or fewer.

Choosing the Right Length

If everything from 250 to 650 words is fair game, what length is best? Some counselors advise students to keep their essays on the shorter end, but not all colleges place the most value in succinctness.

The personal essay is the most powerful tool at your disposal for showing readers your personality without meeting them. If you've chosen a focus that reveals something meaningful about you, you're probably going to need more than 250 words to create a thoughtful, introspective, and effective essay. However, it isn't essential to hit the 650 mark, either.

From the Admissions Desk

"There is no need to meet the full word count [650] if the essay captures what the student would like to share. Visually, you want to make sure the essay looks complete and robust. As a general rule, I would suggest the essay be between 500-650 words."

–Valerie Marchand Welsh Director of College Counseling, The Baldwin School Former Associate Dean of Admissions, University of Pennsylvania

Each of the Common App essay prompts creates different writing challenges, but no matter which option you choose, your essay should be detailed and analytical, and it should provide a window into some important dimension of your interests, values, or personality. Ask yourself: Will the admissions officers know me better after reading my essay? Chances are, an essay in the 500- to 650-word range will accomplish this task better than a shorter essay

In general, the length of an essay does not determine its effectiveness. If you have answered the prompt in its entirety and feel proud of your work, there is no need to stress about any particular word count. Do not pad your essay with filler content and tautologies to stretch it out, and on the flip side, don't leave important sections out in the interest of keeping the essay brief.

Why You Shouldn't Go Over the Essay Length Limit

Some colleges will allow you to exceed the limit set by the Common Application, but you should avoid writing more than 650 words in all cases for the following reasons:

  • College students adhere to guidelines : If a professor assigns a five-page paper, they don't want a 10-page paper and you don't have 55 minutes to take 50-minute exams. The message that you send to a college when you write a powerful essay in 650 words or fewer, even when they accept longer submissions, is that you can succeed under any conditions.
  • Essays that are too long can leave a negative impression: Essays over 650 may make you appear over-confident. The word counts have been established by experts for a reason and writing more than you are allowed might make it seem like you think what you have to say is more important than other applicants, who have to follow the rules. Avoid seeming self-important by stopping yourself from going overboard.
  • Good writers know how to edit and cut : Any college writing professor would tell you that most essays become stronger when they are trimmed. There are almost always words, sentences, and even entire paragraphs that don't contribute to an essay and can be omitted. As you revise any essay you write, ask yourself which parts help you to make your point and which get in the way—everything else can go. Use these 9 style tips to tighten up your language.

College admissions officers will read essays that are too long but may consider them to be rambling, unfocused, or poorly-edited. Remember that your essay is one of many and your readers will wonder why yours is longer when it doesn't need to be.

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How Long Should a College Essay Be?


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How Long Should Your College Essays Be?

is it okay if my college essay is too long

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How Long Should Your College Essays Be?

For the most part, colleges tell you exactly how long your college essays should be, but what happens when they don’t? In this article, we will go over the reason behind word limits and what to do if a college you’re applying to does not provide a word limit.  

Why is there a word limit? 

Because most colleges receive such a large volume of essays, they don’t have time to read through multi page essays from every student.  If you’re having trouble staying within a given word limit, you might begin to feel frustrated. Maybe you are asking yourself, “why is there a word limit?” Rest assured that colleges don’t just come up with these word counts randomly. They know how long it should take for the average student to answer the given questions.    

Additionally, having a word count can be beneficial to you, even if you don’t initially realize it. Without a word limit, you might find yourself feeling anxious that you didn’t say enough or that you said too much. A word count can help you gauge how much detail you should go into and help reassure you that you said what you wanted to say within the guidelines. 

How to draft your essay with a word count 

Word count is a limitation to factor into your college applications, but it shouldn’t be what dictates how you answer essay questions. Write the first draft of your essay without a word limitation. Simply write down what it is you would like to convey and how. This will give you a good starting point from which you can tailor your essay to be either longer or shorter.  

You can use some of the questions below if you find that your essay is getting too long or too short.  

Is your essay too short? 

  • Did you mention all necessary details and clearly convey your message?  
  • Is there an added point that you would like to make that could strengthen the core of your essay? 
  • Is there another essay question that you could answer in addition to the one you just answered? 

Having an answer that you struggle to make long enough isn’t always a bad thing. If you can get your point across in fewer words, while not compromising the core of your essay, that’s okay. However, you should certainly check back through your answer a few times. The last thing you want to do is submit an answer that is too short and doesn’t fully answer the question asked.  

Don’t miss: How to end a scholarship essay

Avoid “fluffy filler”

You might feel tempted to use a lot of filler words in order to hit a certain word count, but this isn’t the best strategy. College admissions officers want to read engaging responses to get to know you. With such limited space to show off who you are, it’s important to take advantage of the space you have. If you’ve entirely answered the essay and are short on words, try incorporating an added point that ties well to your essay. 

Is your essay too long?  

  • Are there any details that could be omitted without changing the core of your essay?  
  • Is there anything you said that could be inferred and doesn’t need to be explicitly said? 
  • Did you use any filler words or is there wording that you could change to be more concise?  

Having an answer that is too long means you probably very thoroughly explained your answer, which is a good thing. But it also might mean that you went off track a bit and mentioned some things that weren’t necessary.  

Scan back through your article and try to be as concise as possible with your writing. If you can’t find anywhere to make cuts, have a family member or friend read through it for you and offer an outside perspective.  

Okay, but what happens if your essay really is too long, and you absolutely cannot cut it down… 

What happens if you exceed the word limit?  

If you exceed or come in just below the word limit by a few words and you’re sending your essay through a PDF or attached file, it’s not the worst thing. College admissions officers probably won’t notice that they had to read ten, or potentially even twenty extra words. The same goes for if you are below the word count.  

However, if you have to answer the essay question within a textbox, or a provided space, you may be unable to submit your answer unless it falls somewhere within the word count. So, keep that in mind as you move forward. You may not have any other choice but to revise your answer to make it fit the word count.  

Related: Tips for a successful college application

Additional resources

We have plenty of resources to help you with essay writing, so before you start writing. Learn some tips on writing 250 word essays as well as 500 word essays. Maybe you need help starting your essay? Learn how to  start a scholarship essay (with examples!)  One of the hardest things to do is write about one’s self. We can help you there too! Learn how to write an essay about yourself and wow whoever reads your essay! 

Key Takeaways

  • Word counts aren’t meant to be an added challenge to the college application process 
  • Before writing your essay, verify if you will be sending it via PDF, Word document, or if you will need to type it directly into a designated space 
  • Write the first draft of your essay without a word count in mind and then critique your essay from there 
  • If possible, give yourself a few different times to sit down and write various versions of your essay  

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5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Essays

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Jordan Sanchez in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.

What’s Covered:

Essay length, cohesive writing, reusing essays.

In this post, we discuss mistakes to avoid when writing your college essay . For more information, check out this post about how to write this year’s Common App essays . 

A common college essay mistake is writing an essay that’s too short. For example, the word limit for the Common App essay is 650 words, and you should try as hard as you can to reach that number. A 400-word essay is definitely too short. Make sure you’re using all the words available to you.

If you’re having difficulty meeting the word limit, your essay topic may be too specific. Also, you may not be including enough details or descriptive language. Conversely, if your essay is too long, you may have sections that could be simplified. Look for any areas where the writing may be repetitive or redundant. Consider whether your essay is too broad. Are you trying to cover multiple topics? It can be helpful to break down your essay paragraph by paragraph and ensure that everything you’ve written aligns with the goals of the essay.

Since supplemental essays tend to have low word limits, you can do more telling than showing when writing these. That said, while you don’t want to waste words, if there’s an opportunity to add a bit of personality to a supplemental essay, you should take it. 

Another common mistake is incohesive writing. Cohesive essays are easy and enjoyable to read. If an essay is jumping around and doesn’t have a clear narrative or connection between ideas, it can be distracting. The reader will be wondering what’s relevant and what they should be caring about, which takes attention away from the content and purpose of your essay.

Incohesive writing happens in two major ways. The first is when a writer doesn’t use effective transitions. These show the reader how different ideas are related, and without them, an essay can be disorganized and difficult to understand. Transitions can be as short as one or two sentences or as long as a whole paragraph.

Incohesive writing can also happen when the writer is inconsistent. Your essay should maintain the same tense, point of view, and writing style from beginning to end. Don’t use extremely complicated vocabulary in one paragraph and incredibly simple language in the next. Write in your natural style and voice, and you’ll never go wrong. 

To check the cohesion of your writing, go over your first or second draft and answer the following questions: “What is the main idea of this paragraph? Does it align with the central theme of the essay? How does this relate to the previous paragraph? Do I illustrate the connection here or later in the essay? What point of view is this written in? What about tense? Is it narrative or creative? Distant or close and engaging? Informative or persuasive?” Your answers should be the same or similar for each paragraph. 

It’s crucial to write your essay in the correct form. The Common App essay is similar to a narrative or memoir in that it’s a short personal story. Many students have little to no experience writing in this form, and if you’re one of them, that’s okay, you’re not alone.

Keep in mind that this is not a five-paragraph essay. You won’t have an introduction or conclusion in the traditional sense. Your introduction will be the hook of your essay, whether it comes in the form of dialogue, descriptive language, or imagery. The conclusion will be a short wrap-up, perhaps a few sentences in length. 

The essay isn’t a thought piece either. You shouldn’t be writing something speculative. You want to include specific personal details from your life. This will ground the essay so it doesn’t feel lofty, and it will help the reader get to know you better. 

Not sounding like yourself is a big issue in college essays. The admissions committee is not expecting the most beautiful prose or intelligent language. They want to read an essay by you and about you, so be sure to write your essay in your own voice.

Don’t include words in your essay that you don’t use regularly. You don’t need big, fancy words to impress admissions officers. Your character and your story will impress them for you. In the same vein, your essay should center around who you are today. It’s okay to write about something that happened in the distant past, but the bulk of your essay should be about events that occurred between 10th and 12th grade. Don’t talk too much about your past without connecting it back to who you are today. 

Throughout the college application process, you’ll write several essays, including personal statements and supplements. A few of these essays can be used in applications for several schools, but be careful not to reuse the wrong ones.

Admissions officers can tell when you’re reusing an essay that you shouldn’t. It shows carelessness and a lack of interest in the school and can lower your chances of admission. To avoid this mistake, before writing any of your supplemental essays, copy and paste all the prompts into a single document, and take inventory of how many you’ll actually have to write and how many you can reuse.

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Must I Cut My Too-Long College Essay? If So, How?

Sally Rubenstone

I am working on my Common App essay and I've cut it down significantly, but can't get it below 650 words. I had someone else work on it and they got it below 650, but some key elements were missing and after I added them back in, it was above 650 again. Will colleges accept a longer essay? If not, what tips do you have on cutting?

“The Dean" has read hundreds of college application essays (can you see that permanent glaze over my eyes?) and only rarely have I found a draft that benefited from exceeding the length limit. As I writer myself, I do appreciate how tough it can be to part with even a single well-chosen word, especially if the final product is pleasing. But when it comes to college essays, it's a mistake to ignore the rules. Why?

For starters, depending on which applications you're using, your precious extra words may never reach the intended audience. Sometimes they won't fit in the text box you were provided, which at least makes it easy to know that you'll need to chop. In other instances, however, the box might accept the entire essay but then the “Submit" function won't work at the end. Occasionally, too, the essay may seem to fit and even to “Submit," but then the admission folks receive only a truncated version.

Second, when an essay is just a handful of words over the limit, it's often possible to sneak it by the system, but any writing that is clearly much longer than expected is apt to irk admission officials who will know at a glance that you ignored the instructions. And speaking of instructions, take them literally. The Common Application, for instance, insists that you must, “ ... write an essay of no more than 650 words." Don't mess with that! Yet, you may find that other applications offer a limit that's tempered with “approximately" or “about" next to the word count, and this gives you license to go a little longer (but anything beyond 100 additional words is not “a little.")

So what should you do with your current excessively long draft? Here are some suggestions on how to make it shorter while not throwing out the baby with the bath water:

Don't clear your throat

Many of the essays I've reviewed begin with an unnecessary introduction -- a paragraph or more of what I call “throat-clearing." Often you can lop off the entire first paragraph and discover that what you'd thought would be your second one actually makes a better beginning .

Use contractions

Students are sometimes told that contractions have no place in a college essay but, in fact, an essay without them usually sounds overly formal and even stilted . And every time you change “Did not" to “didn't" or “it is' to it's," you shave down your total word count.

Select more descriptive words

For instance, instead of saying, “He was quite angry," try, “He was infuriated." You saved a word there! Or if you didn't “walk quickly toward the large opening between the huge rocks," you “raced toward the gorge," that'll save you six! Go through your entire essay and see how often you used words like “very," “really," and “quite." You can probably eliminate all of them by choosing stronger synonyms for the words they're modifying (e.g., “massive" in lieu of “very big"). Many adjectives, too, can be eliminated by selecting more specific (and often more interesting) nouns. A “high fence" can be a “barricade;" a “small, decrepit house" might be a “shanty."

Add hyphens occasionally

One student in my orbit ended her Common Application essay by saying: This time, as the final credits roll, my mother is dancing with me. Then she discovered her essay was two words over the limit. Ouch! So she rewrote that final sentence like this: This time--as the final credits roll--my mother is dancing with me. And by using those hyphens, she tricked the Common App into reducing her final tally by two all-important words because the software counted “time--as" and “roll--my" as single words! The entire essay shouldn't be peppered with hyphens everywhere, but a few judicious ones can go a long way toward making the final (and often most difficult) cuts.

Don't repeat yourself over and over (and over)

Whenever I edit student essays, I almost always find unnecessary repetition. Even if the language is different, the meaning is the same. For instance, if you've proclaimed at the start of your essay that you're petrified of heights, then you don't have to explain later on why you wouldn't climb the fire tower on the fifth-grade field trip. Trust your readers to understand without beating them over their heads. Even experienced writers can have trouble with this concept, and I bet if you go through your essay, you'll find at least one redundancy that you can strike.

Eliminate Excessive Examples

You've probably been told that a good college essay will “show and not just tell" and you've dutifully provided examples accordingly. But perhaps you've offered too many examples? Even if you've got tons of anecdotes about how you helped your elderly neighbors during the big power outage last summer, one or two of them might suffice when you're trying to keep your word count down.

Scratch the superfluous details

Whether you're writing a college essay or The Great American Novel, don't include details that aren't critical to your “story." Not only will they torpedo your word count, but the reader may wonder why they're there in the first place. Let's say that your essay begins like this: When I was four, Cara moved into the house next door, along with her brothers Sam, Ben, and Isaac and their English Pointer, Raisins, and practically since that first day, she's been my best friend. While all those names may add some flavor to your prose, unless the brothers — or the pooch — are an essential part of your relationship to Cara, then you can save 13 words by deleting them.

Use “Additional Information" when you truly do have additional information

Some of the longest college essays I've seen were written to explain personal circumstances that affected the author's grades, test scores, course choices, activity choices, living situations, etc. Most commonly, these essays were about physical or mental health problems or about challenging domestic situations. If your essay is extra long because you want admission officials to understand the atypical obstacles you've surmounted, and if you're convinced that you can't do this in 650 words, then consider disclosing these issues in the “Additional Information" section of your application or in a separate, unsolicited essay or letter. Then you can write your primary essay on an unrelated interest or experience. By approaching the essay assignment this way, you're sending a message that suggests, “Sure, I've had this problem all of my life, but it still doesn't define who I am."

Ask for Outside Opinions

I know you've already sought a second opinion and weren't happy with the results. But it's important to respect the 650-word maximum, so ask someone else (an English teacher? A family friend?) to read this list of suggestions above and point out places where your essay could be shortened. Then you can make the changes yourself. Alternatively, bring in a ringer from a professional college essay editing firm.

Of course, it can be frustrating to write an essay that you're proud of and then to realize that it needs major surgery to meet the colleges' requirements. So don't delete a draft you love. File it away for safe keeping. There may come a day later on when you can recycle it in its entirety. But, for now, stick to the application limits. Otherwise, even a great essay may do you little good.

If you'd like to submit a question to College Confidential, please send it along here .

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

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Writing an essay for college admission gives you a chance to use your authentic voice and show your personality. It's an excellent opportunity to personalize your application beyond your academic credentials, and a well-written essay can have a positive influence come decision time.

Want to know how to draft an essay for your college application ? Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing.

Tips for Essay Writing

A typical college application essay, also known as a personal statement, is 400-600 words. Although that may seem short, writing about yourself can be challenging. It's not something you want to rush or put off at the last moment. Think of it as a critical piece of the application process. Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor.

1. Start Early.

Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school. That way, you have ample time to think about the prompt and craft the best personal statement possible.

You don't have to work on your essay every day, but you'll want to give yourself time to revise and edit. You may discover that you want to change your topic or think of a better way to frame it. Either way, the sooner you start, the better.

2. Understand the Prompt and Instructions.

Before you begin the writing process, take time to understand what the college wants from you. The worst thing you can do is skim through the instructions and submit a piece that doesn't even fit the bare minimum requirements or address the essay topic. Look at the prompt, consider the required word count, and note any unique details each school wants.

3. Create a Strong Opener.

Students seeking help for their application essays often have trouble getting things started. It's a challenging writing process. Finding the right words to start can be the hardest part.

Spending more time working on your opener is always a good idea. The opening sentence sets the stage for the rest of your piece. The introductory paragraph is what piques the interest of the reader, and it can immediately set your essay apart from the others.

4. Stay on Topic.

One of the most important things to remember is to keep to the essay topic. If you're applying to 10 or more colleges, it's easy to veer off course with so many application essays.

A common mistake many students make is trying to fit previously written essays into the mold of another college's requirements. This seems like a time-saving way to avoid writing new pieces entirely, but it often backfires. The result is usually a final piece that's generic, unfocused, or confusing. Always write a new essay for every application, no matter how long it takes.

5. Think About Your Response.

Don't try to guess what the admissions officials want to read. Your essay will be easier to write─and more exciting to read─if you’re genuinely enthusiastic about your subject. Here’s an example: If all your friends are writing application essays about covid-19, it may be a good idea to avoid that topic, unless during the pandemic you had a vivid, life-changing experience you're burning to share. Whatever topic you choose, avoid canned responses. Be creative.

6. Focus on You.

Essay prompts typically give you plenty of latitude, but panel members expect you to focus on a subject that is personal (although not overly intimate) and particular to you. Admissions counselors say the best essays help them learn something about the candidate that they would never know from reading the rest of the application.

7. Stay True to Your Voice.

Use your usual vocabulary. Avoid fancy language you wouldn't use in real life. Imagine yourself reading this essay aloud to a classroom full of people who have never met you. Keep a confident tone. Be wary of words and phrases that undercut that tone.

8. Be Specific and Factual.

Capitalize on real-life experiences. Your essay may give you the time and space to explain why a particular achievement meant so much to you. But resist the urge to exaggerate and embellish. Admissions counselors read thousands of essays each year. They can easily spot a fake.

9. Edit and Proofread.

When you finish the final draft, run it through the spell checker on your computer. Then don’t read your essay for a few days. You'll be more apt to spot typos and awkward grammar when you reread it. After that, ask a teacher, parent, or college student (preferably an English or communications major) to give it a quick read. While you're at it, double-check your word count.

Writing essays for college admission can be daunting, but it doesn't have to be. A well-crafted essay could be the deciding factor─in your favor. Keep these tips in mind, and you'll have no problem creating memorable pieces for every application.

What is the format of a college application essay?

Generally, essays for college admission follow a simple format that includes an opening paragraph, a lengthier body section, and a closing paragraph. You don't need to include a title, which will only take up extra space. Keep in mind that the exact format can vary from one college application to the next. Read the instructions and prompt for more guidance.

Most online applications will include a text box for your essay. If you're attaching it as a document, however, be sure to use a standard, 12-point font and use 1.5-spaced or double-spaced lines, unless the application specifies different font and spacing.

How do you start an essay?

The goal here is to use an attention grabber. Think of it as a way to reel the reader in and interest an admissions officer in what you have to say. There's no trick on how to start a college application essay. The best way you can approach this task is to flex your creative muscles and think outside the box.

You can start with openers such as relevant quotes, exciting anecdotes, or questions. Either way, the first sentence should be unique and intrigue the reader.

What should an essay include?

Every application essay you write should include details about yourself and past experiences. It's another opportunity to make yourself look like a fantastic applicant. Leverage your experiences. Tell a riveting story that fulfills the prompt.

What shouldn’t be included in an essay?

When writing a college application essay, it's usually best to avoid overly personal details and controversial topics. Although these topics might make for an intriguing essay, they can be tricky to express well. If you’re unsure if a topic is appropriate for your essay, check with your school counselor. An essay for college admission shouldn't include a list of achievements or academic accolades either. Your essay isn’t meant to be a rehashing of information the admissions panel can find elsewhere in your application.

How can you make your essay personal and interesting?

The best way to make your essay interesting is to write about something genuinely important to you. That could be an experience that changed your life or a valuable lesson that had an enormous impact on you. Whatever the case, speak from the heart, and be honest.

Is it OK to discuss mental health in an essay?

Mental health struggles can create challenges you must overcome during your education and could be an opportunity for you to show how you’ve handled challenges and overcome obstacles. If you’re considering writing your essay for college admission on this topic, consider talking to your school counselor or with an English teacher on how to frame the essay.

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July 8, 2023

College Essay Length: Go to the Maximum Word Count

This is McNutt Hall, Dartmouth's admissions office.

Previously Published on September 24, 2017:

College applicants should use the real estate offered in college essays to make their case — all of it! If the maximum word count for a college admissions essay is 650 words, applicants should not write 500 words. They should write 650 words — or pretty close to it.

When you’re a real estate developer in Manhattan, and you’re allowed to build twenty-five stories, you don’t construct ten stories and dedicate the rest of the space for the native pigeons of Manhattan. You build up —twenty-five levels. The pigeons have the skies.

And yet even though it seems only logical that college applicants should use all of the allotted real estate to make their case in essays, to tell their stories, to distinguish themselves in super competitive applicant pools, it never ceases to amaze us how many students write essays that don’t come anywhere near the maximum word count. Instead, they leave the space on the table to the disservice of their candidacies.

Students Should Go to the Word Limit in Every College Essay

It’s not as though students only make the mistake of leaving words on the table in their Common Application Personal Statement . They also often do so in their equally as critical supplemental essays.

If Brown University asks applicants to write a 200-250-word essay on how students would take advantage of the Open Curriculum, as the Ivy League school does on its 2022-2023 application, students should not offer them 200 words. College applicants are not interior designers — blank space does not look lovely. They should submit 250-word essays. 

When Brown admissions officers come across an essay that doesn’t come close to the school’s maximum word count, they’re likely to think, “This student doesn’t love our school enough to put in the work to write an essay just for us. She probably wants to go elsewhere.”

And if that thought crosses the mind of an admissions officer, the odds are strong that the same admissions officer is unlikely to offer that student a spot in the incoming class. And, of course, this doesn’t just apply to Brown — it applies to every highly selective institution in America.

Students Should Use the Maximum Word or Character Count in Short Answers Too

We can’t stress enough the importance of taking advantage of the real estate an applicant is afforded in essays to make their case. But don’t be fooled that an essay only means boxes on The Common Application that allow students to include 100 words or more.

After all, many top schools pose short answer questions too. Maybe they’re called short-takes. On the 2022-2023 application, the University of Southern California , for instance, asks applicants to name their favorite movie of all time, their dream job, favorite trip, and favorite snack, among others.

Students should go up to the maximum character count in these opportunities too — and  opportunities  is the apropos word because they’re opportunities to wow admissions officers, present a window into a student’s world and distinguish themselves from other talented applicants. In short, students should not just name their favorite movie — they should say why concisely.

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, how long does it usually take to write a good college essay.

Hey guys, I'm starting to feel a bit stressed about writing my college essay. I want it to be really good, but I'm not sure how much time I should budget for it. Can anyone share how long it took them to write their essay? I'd really appreciate it!

Hi there! It's completely normal to feel stressed about writing your college essay, but don't worry, you're not alone in this. The time it takes to write a good college essay can vary from person to person, and it really depends on how well you know the topic you're writing about and how comfortable you are with writing in general.

For my child, it took about a month to brainstorm, write, and edit their essay. They started by brainstorming different topics and ideas for a couple of weeks, then spent another week or so writing the first draft. The editing process was spread out over another week or two, with multiple revisions and feedback from friends, teachers, and family members.

It's important to give yourself enough time to think through your essay and make revisions as needed, so I'd recommend starting early and setting aside at least a month to work on it. Remember that a great essay takes time, patience, and lots of editing, so don't be too hard on yourself during the process. Good luck!

About CollegeVine’s Expert FAQ

CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

Your Best College Essay

Maybe you love to write, or maybe you don’t. Either way, there’s a chance that the thought of writing your college essay is making you sweat. No need for nerves! We’re here to give you the important details on how to make the process as anxiety-free as possible.

student's hands typing on a laptop in class

What's the College Essay?

When we say “The College Essay” (capitalization for emphasis – say it out loud with the capitals and you’ll know what we mean) we’re talking about the 550-650 word essay required by most colleges and universities. Prompts for this essay can be found on the college’s website, the Common Application, or the Coalition Application. We’re not talking about the many smaller supplemental essays you might need to write in order to apply to college. Not all institutions require the essay, but most colleges and universities that are at least semi-selective do.

How do I get started?

Look for the prompts on whatever application you’re using to apply to schools (almost all of the time – with a few notable exceptions – this is the Common Application). If one of them calls out to you, awesome! You can jump right in and start to brainstorm. If none of them are giving you the right vibes, don’t worry. They’re so broad that almost anything you write can fit into one of the prompts after you’re done. Working backwards like this is totally fine and can be really useful!

What if I have writer's block?

You aren’t alone. Staring at a blank Google Doc and thinking about how this is the one chance to tell an admissions officer your story can make you freeze. Thinking about some of these questions might help you find the right topic:

  • What is something about you that people have pointed out as distinctive?
  • If you had to pick three words to describe yourself, what would they be? What are things you’ve done that demonstrate these qualities?
  • What’s something about you that has changed over your years in high school? How or why did it change?
  • What’s something you like most about yourself?
  • What’s something you love so much that you lose track of the rest of the world while you do it?

If you’re still stuck on a topic, ask your family members, friends, or other trusted adults: what’s something they always think about when they think about you? What’s something they think you should be proud of? They might help you find something about yourself that you wouldn’t have surfaced on your own.  

How do I grab my reader's attention?

It’s no secret that admissions officers are reading dozens – and sometimes hundreds – of essays every day. That can feel like a lot of pressure to stand out. But if you try to write the most unique essay in the world, it might end up seeming forced if it’s not genuinely you. So, what’s there to do? Our advice: start your essay with a story. Tell the reader about something you’ve done, complete with sensory details, and maybe even dialogue. Then, in the second paragraph, back up and tell us why this story is important and what it tells them about you and the theme of the essay.


Don’t! Don’t try to tell an admissions officer about everything you’ve loved and done since you were a child. Instead, pick one or two things about yourself that you’re hoping to get across and stick to those. They’ll see the rest on the activities section of your application.


If you can’t think of another way to end the essay, talk about how the qualities you’ve discussed in your essays have prepared you for college. Try to wrap up with a sentence that refers back to the story you told in your first paragraph, if you took that route.


YES, proofread the essay, and have a trusted adult proofread it as well. Know that any suggestions they give you are coming from a good place, but make sure they aren’t writing your essay for you or putting it into their own voice. Admissions officers want to hear the voice of you, the applicant. Before you submit your essay anywhere, our number one advice is to read it out loud to yourself. When you read out loud you’ll catch small errors you may not have noticed before, and hear sentences that aren’t quite right.


Be yourself. If you’re not a naturally serious person, don’t force formality. If you’re the comedian in your friend group, go ahead and be funny. But ultimately, write as your authentic (and grammatically correct) self and trust the process.

And remember, thousands of other students your age are faced with this same essay writing task, right now. You can do it!

Here’s Harrison Butker’s Controversial Commencement Speech In Full

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Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker is facing backlash over his commencement speech to the Class of 2024 at the Benedictine College, a Catholic school in Kansas, where he criticized President Joe Biden, suggested women focus on being mothers and wives instead of pursuing careers and took a swipe at Pride Month. (Update: Benedictine’s nuns are joining the criticism .)

FILE - Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker speaks to the media during NFL football Super Bowl ... [+] 58 opening night Monday, Feb. 5, 2024, in Las Vegas. Butker railed against Pride month along with President Biden’s leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic and his stance on abortion during a commencement address at Benedictine College last weekend. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

Butker bemoaned an erosion of traditional Catholic values in daily life, claiming that things like “abortion, IVF, surrogacy, euthanasia as well as a growing support for degenerate cultural values and media” come from “the pervasiveness of disorder.”

He criticized Biden for proclaiming his Catholic faith while being “delusional enough to make the sign of the cross during a pro-abortion rally,” accusing the president of making it appear “that you can be both Catholic and pro-choice.”

Butker told the women in the class that they’d been told “diabolical lies” about pursuing careers, and that his and his family’s success is a result of his wife’s focus on being a wife and mother, claiming that “her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.”

He accused world leaders of “pushing dangerous gender ideologies onto the youth of America,” and praised the students at Benedictine for embracing their religion with pride, but “not the deadly sin sort of pride that has an entire month dedicated to it.”

He also criticized the Catholic church and bishops and priests for “misleading their flocks” by prioritizing familiarity with their parishioners instead of being teachers, quoting Taylor Swift—girlfriend of teammate Travis Kelce—by saying “familiarity breeds contempt.”

The speech was largely criticized on social media and prompted a petition calling for him to be released from the Chiefs.

Here’s The Full Speech

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2024, I would like to start off by congratulating all of you for successfully making it to this achievement today. I'm sure your high school graduation was not what you had imagined and most likely neither was your first couple years of college.

By making it to this moment through all the adversity thrown your way from COVID, I hope you learned the important lessons that suffering in this life is only temporary. As a group you witnessed firsthand how bad leaders who don't stay in their lane can have a negative impact on society. It is through this lens that I want to take stock of how we got to where we are and where we want to go as citizens, and yes, as Catholics.

One last thing before I begin I want to be sure to thank president Minns and the board for their invitation to speak. When President Minnis first reached out a couple of months ago I had originally said no. You see, last year I gave the commencement address at my Alma moer Georgia Tech and I felt that one graduation speech was more than enough, especially for someone who isn't a professional speaker. But of course president Minnis used his gift of persuasion and spoke to the many challenges you all faced throughout the COVID fiasco and how you missed out on so many milestones the rest of us older people have taken for granted.

While COVID might have played a large role throughout your formative years it is not unique. Bad policies and poor leadership have negatively impacted major life issues. Things like abortion, IVF, surrogacy, euthanasia as well as a growing support for degenerate cultural values and media all stem from the pervasiveness of disorder. Our own nation is led by a man who publicly and proudly proclaims his Catholic faith but at the same time is delusional enough to make the sign of the cross during a pro-abortion rally. He has been so vocal in his support for the murder of innocent babies that I'm sure to many people it appears that you can be both Catholic and pro-choice. He is not alone. From the man behind the COVID lockdowns to the people pushing dangerous gender ideologies onto the youth of America, they all have a glaring thing in common: They are Catholic. This is an important reminder that being Catholic alone doesn't cut it.

These are the sorts of things we are told in polite society to not bring up. You know, the difficult and unpleasant things. But if we are going to be men and women for this time in history we need to stop pretending that the “Church of nice” is a winning proposition. We must always speak and act in charity but never mistake charity for cowardice. It is safe to say that over the past few years I've gained quite the reputation for speaking my mind. I never envisioned myself nor wanted to have this sort of a platform but God has given it to me so I have no other choice but to embrace it and preach more hard truths about accepting your lane and staying in it.

As members of the church founded by Jesus Christ, it is our duty and ultimately privilege to be authentically and unapologetically Catholic. Don't be mistaken: even within the church, people in polite Catholic circles will try to persuade you to remain silent. There even was an award-winning film called “Silence” made by a fellow Catholic wherein one of the main characters, a Jesuit priest, abandoned the church, and as an apostate, when he died is seen grasping a crucifix quiet and unknown to anyone but God. As a friend of Benedictine College, his Excellency Bishop Robert Barron said in his review of the film it was exactly what the cultural elite want to see in Christianity: Private, hidden away and harmless.

Our Catholic faith has always been countercultural. Our Lord along with countless followers were all put to death for their adherence to her teachings. The world around us says that we should keep our beliefs to ourselves whenever they go against the tyranny of diversity, equity and inclusion. We fear speaking truth because now unfortunately truth is in the minority. Congress just passed a bill where stating something as basic as the Biblical teaching of who killed Jesus could land you in jail.

But make no mistake, before we even attempt to fix any of the issues plaguing society we must first get our own house in order, and it starts with our leaders. The bishops and priests appointed by God as our spiritual fathers must be rightly ordered. There is not enough time today for me to list all the stories of priests and bishops misleading their flocks, but none of us can blame ignorance anymore and just blindly proclaim that that's what father said. Because sadly many priests we are looking to for leadership are the same ones who prioritize their hobbies or even photos with their dogs in matching outfits for the parish directory. It’s easy for us lay men and women to think that in order for us to be holy, that we must be active in our parish and try to fix it. Yes, we absolutely should be involved in supporting our parishes, but we cannot be the source for our parish priests to lean on to help with their problems just as we look at the relationship between a father and his son, so too should we look at the relationship between a priest and his people. It would not be appropriate for me to always be looking to my son for help when it is my job as his father to lead him.

St Josemaria Escriva states that priests are ordained to serve and should not yield to temptation to imitate lay people but to be priests, through and through. Tragically, so many priests revolve much of their happiness from the adulation they receive from their parishioners, and in searching for this, they let their guard down and become overly familiar. This undue familiarity will prove to be problematic every time, because as my teammate’s girlfriend says “familiarity breeds contempt.” St Josemaria continues that some want to see the priest as just another man. That is not so they want to find in the priests those virtues proper to every Christian and indeed every honorable man: understanding, justice, a life of work, priestly work in this instance, and good manners. It is not prudent as the laity for us to consume ourselves in becoming amateur theologians so that we can decipher this or that theological teaching unless of course you are a theology major. We must be intentional with our focus on our state in life and our own vocation, and for most of us, that's as married men and women.

Still we have so many great resources at our fingertips that it doesn't take long to find traditional and timeless teachings that haven't been ambiguously rewarded for our times. Plus, there are still many good and holy priests and it's up to us to seek them out. The chaos of the world is unfortunately reflected in the chaos in our parishes and sadly in our cathedrals, too. As we saw during the pandemic, too many Bishops were not leaders at all. They were motivated by fear: fear of being sued, fear of being removed, fear of being disliked. They showed by their actions, intentional or unintentional, that the sacraments don't actually matter. Because of this countless people died alone, without access to the sacraments, and it's a tragedy we must never forget.

As Catholics, we can look to so many examples of heroic shepherds who gave their lives for their people, and ultimately, the church. We cannot buy into the lie that the things we experienced during COVID were appropriate. Over the centuries there have been great wars, great famines, and yes, even great diseases, all that came with a level of lethality and danger. But in each of those examples, church leaders leaned into their vocations, and ensured that their people received the sacraments. Great saints like St. Damien of Molokai, who knew the dangers of his ministry, stayed for 11 years as a spiritual leader to the leper colonies of Hawaii. His heroism is looked at today as something set apart and unique, when ideally, it should not be unique at all. For as a father loves his child, so a shepherd should love his spiritual children, too.

That goes even more so for our bishops. These men who are present day apostles, our bishops once had adoring crowds of people kissing their rings and taking in their every word, but now relegate themselves to a position of inconsequential existence. Now, when a bishop of a diocese or the Bishops Conference as a whole puts out an important document on this matter, nobody even takes a moment to read it, let alone follow it. No. Today, our shepherds are far more concerned with keeping the doors open to the Chancery than they are saying that difficult stuff out loud. It seems that the only time you hear from your bishops is when it’s time for the annual appeal. Whereas we need our bishops to be vocal about the teachings of the Church, setting aside their own personal comfort and embracing their cross. Our bishops are not politicians, but shepherds. So instead of fitting in the world by going along to get along, they too need to stay in their lane and lead.

I say all of this not from a place of anger as we get the leaders we deserve. But this does make me reflect on staying in my lane and focusing on my own vocation, and how I can be a better father and husband and live in the world, but not be of it. Focusing on my vocation while praying and fasting for these men will do more for the church than me complaining about our leaders. Because there seems to be so much confusion coming from our leaders. There needs to be concrete examples for people to look to, and places like Benedictine, a little Kansas college built high on a bluff above the Missouri River, are showing the world how an ordered Christ-centered existence is the recipe for success. You need to look no further than the examples all around this campus, where over the past 20 years enrollment has doubled, and construction and revitalization are a constant part of life and people, the students, the faculty and staff are thriving. This didn’t happen by chance. In a deliberate movement to embrace traditional Catholic values, Benedictine has gone from just another liberal arts school with nothing to set it apart to a thriving beacon of light and a reminder to us all that when you embrace tradition, success, worldly and spiritual will follow. I am certain the reporters at the AP could not have imagined that their attempt to rebuke and embarrass places and people like those here at Benedictine wouldn’t be met with anger, but instead with excitement and pride. Not the deadly sin sort of pride that has an entire month dedicated to it. But the true God-centered pride that is cooperating with the Holy Ghost to glorify Him.

Reading that article now shared all over the world, we see that in the complete surrender of self and a turning towards Christ, you will find happiness. Right here in a little town in Kansas, we find many inspiring lay people using their talents. President Minnis, Dr. Swofford and Dr. Zimmer are a few great examples right here on this very campus that will keep the light of Christ burning bright for generations to come. Being locked in with your vocation and staying in your lane is going to be the surest way for you to find true happiness and peace in this life. It is essential that we focus on our own state in life, whether that be as a layperson or priests, or religious.

Ladies and gentlemen of the class of 2024, you are sitting at the edge of the rest of your lives. Each of you has the potential to leave a legacy that transcends yourselves and this era of human existence. In the small ways by living out your vocation, you will ensure that God’s Church continues and the world is enlightened by your example. For the ladies present today, congratulations on an amazing accomplishment. You should be proud of all that you have achieved to this point in your young lives. I want to speak directly to you briefly because I think it is you, the women, who have had the most diabolical lies told to you, how many of you are sitting here now about to cross the stage, and are thinking about all the promotions and titles you’re going to get in your career. Some of you may go on to lead successful careers in the world. But I would venture to guess that the majority of you are most excited about your marriage and the children you will bring into this world. I can tell you that my beautiful wife Isabelle would be the first to say that her life truly started when she began living her vocation as a wife and as a mother.

I’m on this stage today and able to be the man I am because I have a wife who leans into her vocation. I’m beyond blessed with the many talents God has given me. But it cannot be overstated, that all of my success is made possible because a girl I met in band class back in middle school would convert to the faith, become my wife and embrace one of the most important titles of all: homemaker. She’s a primary educator to our children. She’s the one who ensures I never let football or my business become a distraction from that of a husband and father. She is the person that knows me best at my core. And it is through our marriage that Lord willing, we will both attain salvation. I say all of this to you because I’ve seen it firsthand how much happier someone can be when they disregard the outside noise and move closer and closer to God’s will in their life. Isabelle’s dream of having a career might not have come true. But if you ask her today, if she has any regrets on her decision, she would laugh out loud without hesitation and say, “heck no.”

As a man who gets a lot of praise and has been given a platform to speak to audiences like this one today, I pray that I always use my voice for God and not for myself. Everything I am saying to you is not from a place of wisdom, but rather a place of experience. I am hopeful that these words will be seen as those from a man not much older than you who feels it is imperative that this class, this generation, and this time in our society must stop pretending that the things we see around us are normal. Heterodox ideas abound, even within Catholic circles. Let’s be honest, there is nothing good about playing God with having children, whether that be your ideal number or the perfect time to conceive. No matter how you spin it, there is nothing natural about Catholic birth control. It is only in the past few years that I have grown encouraged to speak more boldly and directly, because as I mentioned earlier, I have leaned into my vocation as a husband and father and as a man.

To the gentleman here today, part of what plagues our society is this lie that has been told to you that men are not necessary in the home or in our communities. As men, we set the tone of the culture. And when that is absent disorder, dysfunction and chaos set in this absence of men in the home is what plays a large role in the violence we see all around the nation. Other countries do not have nearly the same absentee father rates as we find here in the US. And a correlation can be made in their drastically lower violence rates as well. Be unapologetic in your masculinity. Fight against the cultural emasculation of men. Do hard things. Never settle for what is easy. You might have a talent that you don’t necessarily enjoy. But if it glorifies God, maybe you should lean into that over something that you might think suits you better. I speak from experience as an introvert who now finds myself as an amateur public speaker, and an entrepreneur, something I never thought I’d be when I received my industrial engineering degree.

The road ahead is bright, things are changing, society is shifting, and people young and old are embracing tradition. Not only has it been my vocation that has helped me and those closest to me, but not surprising to many of you should be my outspoken embrace of the traditional Latin Mass. I’ve been very vocal in my love and devotion to the TLM and its necessity for our lives. But what I think gets misunderstood is that people who attend the TLM do so out of pride or preference. I can speak to my own experience. But for most people I have come across within these communities. This simply is not true. I do not attend the TLM because I think I’m better than others, or for the smells and bells, or even for the love of Latin. I attend TLM because I believe just as the God of the Old Testament was pretty particular and how he wanted to be worshiped, the same holds true for us today. It is through the TLM that I encountered order and began to pursue it in my own life. Aside from the TLM itself, too many of our sacred traditions have been relegated to things of the past. When in my parish, things such as Ember Days — days when we fast and pray for vocations and for our priests — are still adhered to. The TLM is so essential that I would challenge each of you to pick a place to move where it is readily available. A lot of people have complaints about the parish or the community, but we should not sacrifice the mass for community. I prioritize the TLM even if the parish isn’t beautiful, the priest isn’t great, or the community isn’t amazing. I still go to the TLM because I believe the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is more important than anything else. I say this knowing full well that when each of you rekindle your knowledge and adherence to many of the church’s greatest traditions, you will see how much more colorful and alive your life can and should be. As you move on from this place and enter into the world, know that you will face many challenges.

Sadly, I’m sure many of you know of the countless stories of good and active members of this community who after graduation and moving away from the Benedictine Bubble have ended up moving in with their boyfriend or girlfriend prior to marriage. Some even leave the church and abandon God. It is always heartbreaking to hear these stories, and there’s a desire to know what happened and what went wrong. What you must remember is that life is about doing the small things well. So setting yourself up for success and surrounding yourself with people who continually push you to be the best version of you. I say this all the time, that iron sharpens iron. It’s a great reminder that those closest to us should be making us better. If you’re dating someone who doesn’t even share your faith, how do you expect that person to help you become a saint? If your friend group is filled with people who only think about what you’re doing next weekend, and are not willing to have those difficult conversations, how can they help sharpen you? As you prepare to enter into the workforce, it is extremely important that you actually think about the places you are moving to. Who is the bishop? What kind of parishes are there? Do they offer the TLM and have priests who embrace their priestly vocation? Cost of living must not be the only arbiter of your choices. For a life without God is not a life at all. And the cost of salvation is worth more than any career.

I’m excited for the future. And I pray that something I’ve said will resonate as you move on to the next chapter of your life. Never be afraid to profess the one holy, Catholic and apostolic Church. For this is the Church that Jesus Christ established, through which we receive sanctifying grace. I know that my message today had a little less fluff than is expected for these speeches. But I believe that this audience and this venue is the best place to speak openly and honestly, about who we are and where we all want to go, which is heaven. I thank God for Benedictine College, and for the example it provides to the world. I thank God for men like President Minnis who are doing their part for the Kingdom. Come to find out you can have an authentically Catholic College and a thriving football program. Make no mistake, you’re entering into mission territory in a post-God world. But you were made for this and with God by your side and a constant striving for virtue within your vocation, you too can be a saint. Christ is King to the heights.

James Farrell

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Ronald E. Riggio Ph.D.

Why Recent College Graduates Can Feel Let Down

Post-graduation letdown is quite common. why.

Posted May 12, 2024 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader

  • What Is Depression?
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  • The rush of emotion and adrenaline associated with a graduation can lead to a post-event drop in mood.
  • Often, graduates have unrealistic goal expectations that a graduation will lead to instant transformation.
  • Considering next steps and having a series of goals to accomplish can help prevent issues.

At this time of year, we see lots of happy, eager, and sometimes hard-partying college graduates. Yet, once the commencement ceremonies and parties are over, many college and high school graduates can experience sadness or depression . It can be a troubled state. I call this the “is-that-all-there-is?" feeling.

Here are three key psychological reasons that so many graduates feel let down.

  • Post-Event Emotional Decline. In the run-up to graduation, students are excited—experiencing a mix of feelings of anticipation, excitation, and a sense of “light at the end of a long tunnel.” Finishing final exams, planning and rehearsing for the graduation ceremony, and parties and celebrations all serve to keep the graduates running at full speed, with a combination of adrenaline and anticipation. After the graduation, there is a sudden drop in energy and excitement, and the new graduate may experience a sudden letdown that can feel like sadness or depression.
  • Unrealistic Goal Expectations . When it comes to planned, major life events, our eyes are on the eventual goal—that long-desired diploma. However, many people have unrealistic and “romantic” expectations that attaining a major life goal will make us feel “transformed” in some way. The problem is that the day after graduation, nothing seems to change. The next day is just like any other, and this can bring you down.
  • Neglecting to Consider “What’s Next.” All too often, young graduates fail to set post-graduation plans and goals . People tend to place a laser-like focus on a milestone life goal, such as the completion of a degree, and they don’t set specific, and meaningful, future goals. The inability to look beyond the graduation goal can lead to a sense of emptiness—the is-that-all-there-is effect.

Graduates need to think beyond the immediate goal of degree completion and have an exciting and engaging plan of next steps. Some graduates already have secured jobs, and that anticipation of the challenges of a new career can help fend off post-graduation letdown. Those who are not so fortunate need to turn the uncomfortable sense of insecurity (“What do I do now?”) into a life challenge and create a course of action (as one recent graduate told me enthusiastically “I’m going to move to New York City, couch surf with friends there, and find a great job!”).

It is also important to realize that achieving a major goal, such as completing a college education , and the accompanying sense of excitement and accomplishment may naturally lead to an emotional letdown. Bearing in mind, however, that it will be a temporary state (particularly as sights are set on the next chapter in one’s life) can help one cope effectively.

Ronald E. Riggio Ph.D.

Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D. , is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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At any moment, someone’s aggravating behavior or our own bad luck can set us off on an emotional spiral that threatens to derail our entire day. Here’s how we can face our triggers with less reactivity so that we can get on with our lives.

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‘It Feels Like I Am Screaming Into the Void With Each Application’

An illustration depicting the orange silhouette of a person sitting down, their arms around their knees as if dejected, wearing a blue mortarboard.

By Peter Coy

Opinion Writer

When I asked new college graduates last month to tell me about their job searches, I got back a ton of heartache. Unanswered applications. Lowered expectations. For some, a sense that college was a waste of time and money.

John York wrote that he was about to earn a master’s degree in mathematics from New York University. “I have submitted close to 400 applications. I have heard back from less than 40, all rejections,” he wrote. “I essentially cannot get any job, because there are no entry-level positions anywhere at all.” He has a patent, he passed the first-level exam for Chartered Financial Analysts and he’s getting his Series 3 license, another financial credential. Nevertheless, he wrote, “It is just so silent, it feels like I am screaming into the void with each application I am filling out.”

Mauricio Naranjo, who is seeking work as a graphic designer, wrote, “Over the past year, I have submitted more than 400 applications and consistently receive a response that appears to be A.I.-generated, stating that unfortunately, they have moved forward with another candidate who better fits their expectations. This is the exact phrasing every time. Very few respond, as most do not reply at all.”

“Exhausting. Utterly demoralizing,” wrote Beth Donnelly, who is graduating this month with a major in linguistics and minors in German and teaching English as a second language. “I’ve been searching since early August for full-time, part-time or internship positions after I graduate. I’ve started putting my ‘desired salary’ at $35,000 in hope that just one person will think, ‘Oh, I won’t have to pay this person a large wage, so they get a leg up in the hiring process.’”

I got some positive responses, too. Lucinda Warnke, who landed a job in journalism as a general assignment reporter, wrote: “I am optimistic and excited! I feel confident in my career trajectory and my ability to build a stable, satisfying career. The job I got out of school comes with a livable wage and benefits, so I can build savings in the event that I am laid off or have some other financially demanding emergency. I feel like I made a good investment in my education because I went to a school that was affordable and studied subjects that balanced my interests with my professional needs.”

A majority of responses were grim, though. That’s not too surprising, given that half of college graduates are underemployed a year after graduation, meaning that they are working in jobs that don’t require the degrees they earned, as I wrote in my April 29 newsletter.

There’s clearly something wrong when young graduates can’t find jobs at the same time that employers complain of not being able to find qualified workers. As of March, there were still fewer unemployed people than job openings, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In April the unemployment rate remained below average at 3.9 percent.

The responses I got aren’t a representative sample of all college graduates. It’s possible that unhappy people were more likely to write in. (I had to leave out some of the angriest and most dejected people because they didn’t want their names to appear.) Separately, my informal impression is that the people who wrote — happy or sad — were more likely to have attended a highly ranked school and to have graduated without student loans than the general student population.

Many students wrote that the jobs they were seeking or secured didn’t draw on what they learned in the classroom. “I will be using the skills I picked up in my data science minor, but nothing from my major (international relations),” Rain Orsi, a 2024 graduate, wrote. “A lot of the educational stuff could’ve been condensed to a 20-page PDF and I probably would be at the same knowledge level,” another student wrote. Jackeline Arcara wrote that if she had it to do over again, “I wouldn’t go to a four-year, fancy-pants school. I would take classes at a local college part-time and see where that takes me.”

Some students said that classroom learning was only part of what made college worthwhile to them. “College gives you four years to grow up — I have the maturity now to handle a full-time job. Before college, not so much,” wrote Caroline Lidz, who got a job in public relations after graduating in December with a degree in media studies and communications and a minor in art history.

Several said internships matter, a lot. “I wish I interned for a company outside of the school instead of being a research/lab assistant,” wrote Roger Vitek, who is graduating in June with a degree in product design and is still job hunting.

Economists have found that what you study in college is at least as important as where you study. As I wrote in my April 29 piece, there’s relatively strong demand for computer science, engineering, mathematics and math-intensive business fields such as finance and accounting.

But as I found out from the people who wrote in, that’s not always the case. Robert Vermeulen, a computer science major, wrote, “Out of the ~155 applications I haven’t had a reference on, I have gotten zero interviews.” Morgan Steckler wrote that he is looking for a software engineering or I.T. administration role paying at least $70,000 a year, but has had no luck so far. He said he’s thinking of bartending while continuing to send out applications. On the positive side, there are people like Warnke, who got a job as a reporter — not exactly a fast-growing profession.

As I read students’ responses, I had to remind myself that this is actually a relatively good year for finding a job. To a lot of members of the class of ’24, it doesn’t feel that way. Julia Brukx, who is graduating with a degree in history and art history, wrote, “I think I hit a new low just this morning when asked to write a cover letter for a retail position.”

Donnelly, the woman who described her job search as demoralizing, wrote: “I was told that if I was involved, active, kind, ready to learn, driven and intelligent, I would end up with a job out of college. This is evidently not true, and few older people seem to understand this.” She added, “I don’t have a backup plan besides working in the service industry.”

Elsewhere: Caps, Not Bans, for Short-Term Rentals

New York City’s Local Law 18, which was passed with the support of the hotel industry, tightens the rules on renting out rooms for less than 30 days. Supporters say renting rooms to tourists raises rents for New Yorkers. But an article published in Harvard Business Review by three scholars — one of whom used to work for Airbnb — calculates that Airbnb caused only about 1 percent of the aggregate increase in rents over the past decade or so. Hosts, guests and the businesses that serve them benefit. To keep certain neighborhoods from being overwhelmed by tourists, the authors recommend caps on how many nights per year a place may be rented out.

Quote of the Day

“The hedonistic conception of man is that of a lightning calculator of pleasures and pains who oscillates like a homogeneous globule of desire of happiness under the impulse of stimuli that shift him about the area, but leave him intact. He has neither antecedent nor consequent.”

— Thorstein Veblen, “Why Is Economics Not an Evolutionary Science?” (1898)

Peter Coy is a writer for the Opinion section of The Times, covering economics and business. Email him at [email protected] . @ petercoy


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    I consider 500 the "sweet spot," but don't stress if you write an essay closer to 430 or 620 that you're honestly proud of. Many colleges also ask for short answer responses, sometimes called supplemental prompts or personal insight questions, in the range of 150, 250, or 350 words; in this case, aim for the suggested length and be ...

  8. How long should a college essay be?

    Too negative (e.g. an in-depth look at your flaws, put-downs of others, criticizing the need for a college essay) Too boring (e.g. a resume of your academic achievements and extracurriculars) Inappropriate for a college essay (e.g. illegal activities, offensive humor, false accounts of yourself, bragging about privilege)

  9. How long should my essay be?

    The average length of a personal essay for college is 400─600 words. Always read the prompt. Follow the instructions provided in the application. BigFuture. Explore Careers. Explore Home; Career Search ... How long should my essay be? The average length of a personal essay for college is 400─600 words. Always read the prompt.

  10. PDF Strategies for Essay Writing

    Harvard College Writing Center 8 Thesis Your thesis is the central claim in your essay—your main insight or idea about your source or topic. Your thesis should appear early in an academic essay, followed by a logically constructed argument that supports this central claim. A strong thesis is

  11. How Long Should Your College Essays Be?

    Write the first draft of your essay without a word limitation. Simply write down what it is you would like to convey and how. This will give you a good starting point from which you can tailor your essay to be either longer or shorter. You can use some of the questions below if you find that your essay is getting too long or too short.

  12. How Long is an Essay? Guidelines for Different Types of Essay

    Essay length guidelines. Type of essay. Average word count range. Essay content. High school essay. 300-1000 words. In high school you are often asked to write a 5-paragraph essay, composed of an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. College admission essay. 200-650 words.

  13. 5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Essays

    A common college essay mistake is writing an essay that's too short. For example, the word limit for the Common App essay is 650 words, and you should try as hard as you can to reach that number. A 400-word essay is definitely too short. Make sure you're using all the words available to you. If you're having difficulty meeting the word ...

  14. Ideal college essay length?

    The optimal length for a college essay is one that allows you to fully and concisely convey your story without any fluff or filler. Admissions officers have to read thousands of essays, so clarity and brevity are appreciated. The common advice is to stay within 10% of the word limit either way. If the limit is 650 words (like the Common App personal statement), aim for no fewer than 585 words ...

  15. Must I Cut My Too-Long College Essay? If So, How?

    Some of the longest college essays I've seen were written to explain personal circumstances that affected the author's grades, test scores, course choices, activity choices, living situations, etc. Most commonly, these essays were about physical or mental health problems or about challenging domestic situations.

  16. Tips for Writing an Effective Application Essay

    Follow these tips to write an impactful essay that can work in your favor. 1. Start Early. Few people write well under pressure. Try to complete your first draft a few weeks before you have to turn it in. Many advisers recommend starting as early as the summer before your senior year in high school.

  17. Ideal word count for a college essay?

    As a general guideline, aim to write an essay between 500 to 650 words. An essay that's too short might not provide enough depth, while an excessively long essay can be tough to engage with. It's important to strike a balance, conveying your unique story or perspective in a focused and engaging way. Remember, quality often trumps quantity.

  18. 5 College Essay Writing Mistakes to Avoid

    That's the tone to aim for in your essay. 4. Trying Too Hard to Impress. As mentioned above, the college essay is supposed to give the reader a glimpse of who you are - not necessarily a list of what you've achieved. Don't approach this part of your application as you would a cover letter for a job.

  19. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    If Brown University asks applicants to write a 200-250-word essay on how students would take advantage of the Open Curriculum, as the Ivy League school does on its 2022-2023 application, students should not offer them 200 words. College applicants are not interior designers — blank space does not look lovely. They should submit 250-word essays.

  20. How long does it usually take to write a good college essay?

    Hi there! It's completely normal to feel stressed about writing your college essay, but don't worry, you're not alone in this. The time it takes to write a good college essay can vary from person to person, and it really depends on how well you know the topic you're writing about and how comfortable you are with writing in general. For my child, it took about a month to brainstorm, write, and ...

  21. Your Best College Essay

    When we say "The College Essay" (capitalization for emphasis - say it out loud with the capitals and you'll know what we mean) we're talking about the 550-650 word essay required by most colleges and universities. Prompts for this essay can be found on the college's website, the Common Application, or the Coalition Application.

  22. Most College Essays Are Not Very Good : r/ApplyingToCollege

    r/ApplyingToCollege is the premier forum for college admissions questions, advice, and discussions, from college essays and scholarships to college list help and application advice, career guidance, and more. 763 votes, 56 comments. I want to share with you a secret: Most college applications are not very good.

  23. Here's Harrison Butker's Controversial Commencement Speech ...

    Let's be honest, there is nothing good about playing God with having children, whether that be your ideal number or the perfect time to conceive. No matter how you spin it, there is nothing ...

  24. Why Recent College Graduates Can Feel Let Down

    feeling. Here are three key psychological reasons that so many graduates feel let down. Post-Event Emotional Decline. In the run-up to graduation, students are excited—experiencing a mix of ...

  25. Opinion

    Peter Coy is a writer for the Opinion section of The Times, covering economics and business. Email him at [email protected]. @ petercoy. 259. 259. For many new college graduates, the job ...

  26. Spring Commencement 2024

    Join us for this afternoon's commencement exercises for our graduating class of 2024. #ForeverToThee24