Tuesday Q&A: How Do I Balance Word Count and Content in My Essay?

Question:

Is it better to dive deep into one example, or ensure the AdCom gets a full picture of your impact by talking about multiple stories? Do you have any rules of thumb when making a tradeoff between convincing essay and word count? How do I balance word count and content in my essay?

Answer:

There is no rule of thumb, other than this: Every single paragraph, every single sentence, every single word in your essay needs to help your case. Material doing anything other than that is fat to be trimmed, and you can cut that stuff out of your essays faster than Mario Batali preparing to grill some delicious pork chops.

Think of your word count for your essay like a literary bank account. You only have so much money to spend, so you’re not gonna go spending it on a pair of jet skis when you need to buy tomatoes and cheese—the essentials. (At least for people who need a caprese salad daily.) Use your economy of words wisely. If you think about it, how you write this essay can reflect how smart you are in business, too. If you’re sharp, you can maximize your product (write an awesome essay) by using less to start with (being as precise and focused as you can be.)

But in general, you are much better off presenting ONE story/situation/example and using the space wisely to really SHOW the AdCom what you want to say, rather than to take a shallow dive at a variety of things. This is your chance to invite the adcom to experience who you are and what you’ve done. So dig deep and really SHOW them something, rather than tell them a bunch of stuff that feels stitched together haphazardly. The danger in giving too glossed over a view of your experience is that it could come across as lazy if you repeat everything on your CV. Boring. Definitely not spending your word bank account wisely. (You don’t need to buy TWO pineapples right now. One will be just fine.)

Being conscious of your economy of words doesn’t mean you get rid of anything personal or descriptive and just stick to dry facts. QUITE the opposite. You choose to spend words on description and personal reflection because they add richness and flavor to your essay. Would you rather spend money on two really plain, soggy slices of pizza, or on one slice of pizza that had all your favorite toppings on it, really fresh cheese, thick crust, was basically a work of art in your mouth? Yeah. That’s what we’re going for here. (Also, I’m hungry.)

Beyond that, you have to see what works on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes giving two examples is the right decision if they complement each other, but you gotta ask yourself, “Is this necessary?” “Is this needed?” “If this was not in my essay, would they still get the point?” Good questions to keep in mind as you’re writing the thing.

But we don’t really see any “tradeoff” between convincing essay and word count, because for the word count you have no choice. The school defines it and you follow….with a convincing essay. That’s the school’s economy of words, and you gotta show them you can work with that.

–Jon Frank, Admissionado Founder

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