Write 500 Words, Get Into College: Common Application Sets Essay Length Limit

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Call it an exercise in brevity. The Common Application, widely used by high-school seniors in an effort to streamline the admissions process, set a new word limit for next year’s college applicants.

In just 250 to 500 words, students must sell themselves to college admissions departments nationwide. Officials for the Common App say the move was made in an effort to trim down those essays that drone on, but some school counselors have complained about the limit, saying students will not have enough space to make their point display their writing abilities.

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The counselors’ concern, however, seems to speak more to a lack of adequate writing instruction in high school — as seniors should probably be capable of writing a concise, effective essay in less than 500 words before they are issued a diploma (or admitted to college, for that matter).

In the essays, which are now accepted by 415 colleges and universities, students choose one of five prompts to write on. One of the prompts is, “Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.”

The remaining prompts and a full preview of the 2011-12 Common Application is here.

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