The Common App 500 Word Limit: 21 MORE Colleges Weigh In

Female student writes
Photo Credit: Flickr user CollegeDegrees360
If you’re stressed about how strict or lenient the new 500-word limit is on the Common Application, read on!
Welcome to our second installment of colleges’ responses to the new 500 word limit for the main essay on the Common Application. For those of you just joining us, the Common App implemented this new limit last year, however, students still have the ability to upload a document of (technically) unlimited length. So the question becomes, will the colleges read over 500 words, or will they stop exactly at the 500-word limit? To ease students’ anxiety, we decided to ask the colleges. Read our summary of this research at the bottom of the article. To see even more responses check our previous blog: How Strict is the Common App’s 500 Word Limit? 20 Colleges Weigh In

Bucknell University: Lenient on the limit. Don’t want a book, but will read a thousand words if that’s how long the essay is. Tries to encourage the 500-word limit.
Carnegie Mellon University: Don’t have any strict written policy but it’s always best to be concise.
Emerson College: Going a little over is fine if it’s necessary.
Emory University:Not strict on the limit but asks that students please don’t send over 4-5 pages.
*Fordham University: It is completely fine if a student exceeds the 500-word count for their essay. More concerned about the quality of the writing than the quantity.
Harvard University:  Encourage applicants to read the application form’s directions and take them seriously.  “We are not rigid, but we do expect candidates for Harvard College to exercise good judgment.”
Lewis and Clark College: On the lenient side.Admissions officers read all essays and don’t count words by any means.
Pacific Lutheran University: Not incredibly strict on word limit so do not worry too much about how long the essay is.
Pepperdine University:  Stay within the limit given on the Common App because that guarantees that nothing will go wrong.
Rhodes College: No set limit but stay in the suggested framework. If you go over 500-1000 words there is a concern because the Common App asks for 500 words, so it is both an exercise in writing about oneself but also about being concise.
Rice University: Prefer that they stay within the 500 word limit because there is an additional supplement that admissions officers must read through as well.
Rochester Institute of Technology: It’s OK to go a little over but don’t want a book. Won’t stop reading the essay after 500 words, but it is suggested to keep the length to around 500.
Sarah Lawrence College: The 500 word limit is more of a guideline. Won’t stop reading, but would appreciate it if students stayed near that number because there are also supplements. Want the process to be feasible from a time standpoint.
St. Olaf College: Won’t penalize students for going over but they should stay as close to the 500 words as possible.
Syracuse University: 500 is recommended but admissions officers are looking mainly for content.
Trinity University, TX: Don’t require students to strictly adhere to the limit. Content is more important than the length.
University of Massachusetts at Amherst: Encourage kids to follow the guidelines but we do not count words.
University of Pennsylvania: Stick as close to the 500 limit as possible. Will read a little bit over but be mindful that admissions officers are reading thousands of essays.
University of Rochester: A little bit over is OK, but don’t go way over. You want an essay that grabs and holds the reader’s attention.
Vassar College: We are not strict, but do ask that students try to honor the 500 word limit.
Wake Forest University: It’s OK to go over a little, but as a general guideline try to keep it to less than two pages.  Use your best judgement, and have a teacher or counselor look it over first.
Yale University: Stick as closely as possible to the 500-word limit to respect the admissions officer and to be fair to other students; one or two sentences over is fine.
So, in summary, the team here at CollegeMapper learned that most colleges don’t mind if you go a few words or even a few precious sentences over the 500-word limit. The consensus seemed to be that if you keep it brief and make sure every word is necessary, then you have done a good job.
We recommend that you certainly keep your essay on one page single spaced or a page and a half double spaced because that’s what all of the others will look like and you don’t want to stand out for bad reasons. The principle here is to respect the limit because you are respecting the admissions’ officers time–they have thousands of essays to read, so cut yours down! The other principle which was mentioned by a couple of colleges is that you also want to be fair to other students; you make yourself look bad if you take up so much more space than others, so beware. 
The colleges did say, too, that if you have a special circumstance, be sure to include that (along with your resume) in the additional info section of the Common App’s Writing page.  So, use your best judgment, college applicants, and when in doubt, cut it out. As the Bard so rightly put it, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Colleges, please contact us or leave a comment below if you would like to be added to this list.  Happy application season, everyone!
*Late addition

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