How Strict is the Common App’s 500 Word Limit? 20 Colleges Weigh In

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Should I stop at the 500 word limit?
Last year the Common App changed the word limit on the main essay from no limit to “250-500 words.” While this set off a frenzy of anxiety in students, the colleges seemed to be interpreting this limit differently among admissions offices.  Some colleges abide by the limit strictly, some are lax with it, and some disregard it altogether. Kids, understandably, feel anxiety about this difference in opinion, so we decided to compile a list here to state clearly each college’s stance on the new 500 word limit to the main essay on the Common App.
Listed below are the first 20 colleges in this installment.  Check back for updates!  Colleges, please contact us to be included in this list. Yay, college!
Amherst College

  • It’s ok to go a little bit over if you have a very relevant reason

Chapman University

  • “We’re not extremely strict. We don’t mind kids going over around 100 words, but we won’t read a 2000 word essay.”

Gonzaga University

  • “We encourage students to follow the Common App guidelines with regard to essay length and number of recommendations.  Gonzaga will review an essay that goes over 500 words by a small margin, but extensive essays beyond the 500 world limit are discouraged.”

Haverford College

  • A little bit over is totally fine

University of Mary Washington

  • “We will read what you send, no limit.”

Pitzer College

  • A little over is fine, just stay on one page

Pomona College

  • 500 words max

University of Redlands

  • “We review applications holistically, and do not stop exactly at 500 words. We encourage students to try as best as possible to tell us in 500 words as much as they can about themselves.”

Reed College

  • “We’re not going to count every word. 501 or 502 is OK.  However, 500 is definitely ideal because the counselors have to read so many essays.”

Santa Clara University

  • “We do not penalize students, but if students want to finish the essay very strongly they should do that in the 500 words.”

Scripps College

  • “Scripps will not penalize a student for going over the 500 word limit.”

Seattle University

  • “We’re fairly lenient but want students to consider that we have a lot of essays to read, so try to keep it within 2 pages.”

Stanford University

  • “We prefer 1.5 to 2 pages double spaced for the main uploaded essay on the Common App.  We will read up to 2 pages, double spaced.”

Swarthmore College

  • A little over 500 is OK (500-550)

Tufts University

  •  “It is OK to exceed 500 words but it is recommended that students stay as close to 500 words as possible.”
University of Michigan
  • “We absolutely would never stop reading, but we do appreciate when students try and stay within the limit.”

University of Richmond

  • No limit.
  • “We will read what the student sends.”

University of San Francisco

  • “We recommend sticking within 500.  If they go a little over we will still read it. We won’t count the words but we won’t read 6 pages. It comes down to the essay and if the words are used well.”

Wellesley College

  • “We will read it, but the longer it gets, the less happy the deans can be because they’re reading so many applications.”
  • We would like kids to work on being concise.

Whitman College

  • “We would rather see 550 than 1,550. We never count the words. We trust the students to honor the intent of the approximate limit rather than try to stay exactly within the limit. We won’t ‘not read it’ because it’s 15 words over the limit.”

Colleges, please contact us if you would like to be included in this list.  Happy application season, everyone!


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