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Monday, January 29, 2018
Length Matters in College Admissions Essays
This week Stanford University announced some minor changes to their essay prompts for the class of 2022. In an announcement in their own periodical, The Stanford Daily, these prompts are more aptly referred to as "supplemental application questions". To apply for a spot at Stanford, students must complete no less than eleven of these written responses.
To complicate matters, these responses are limited to between 50 and 250 words. By way of illustration, my opening paragraph above is 56 words. A full seven of Stanford's application questions are limited to 50 words. Most standard-length essays give students enough space to have a first paragraph that eases the narrative off the runway. Stanford's requirements scarcely give students the time to edge out of the driveway.
Since Stanford's admission rate is a whopping 4.65%, the discussion that better deserves to be aerated is the general challenge of the short essay. Most colleges require at least one essay of 500-650 words, meaning that admissions committees understand the importance of the thesis/body/conclusion essay model.
But fewer words should be easier, right? Not exactly. You're talking 2-3 sentences at most to answer a question like "What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?"
Some essay consultants even invite students to put a spin on these short responses by bulleting them or including separated sentences. In essence, the universities want two things: 1) a window into who you are and 2) brevity.
I realize I may be aging out of new composition standards. After all, even 280-character tweets wield a lot of influence these days. Yet for students, the key to short essays is to omit needless words; and then omit them again. Understand that you can't say everything, something that should feel more liberating than restrictive.
Put another way: get right to the point. The end.
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