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The Word Limit in Academic Writing (and How to Stick to It)

3-minute read

  • 24th September 2016

Even the phrase “word limit” can cause panic among students . For some it’s the challenge of writing enough, while others find it hard to stick within the limit given. In either case, it can lead to spending more time worrying about the length of your paper than the content!

And length isn't everything, right ladies? Ahem.

But why do college papers come with set word limits? And what should you do to ensure you don’t write too much or too little?

Why Have a Word Limit?

There are two main reasons that academic papers usually come with a word limit:

  • Fairness It’s impossible to grade two papers of vastly different lengths (e.g., 20,000 compared to 2,000 words) on the same scale. The word limit makes sure that everyone taking the same class knows what is expected of them.
  • Communication Skills As well as testing your knowledge, college papers are about communicating clearly and concisely. Setting a word limit forces you to consider what you’re saying more carefully, helping you to develop your writing skills.

Sticking to the word limit is, therefore, part of being a good academic, since being a long way over or under could suggest you’ve misjudged the scope of the essay topic or that you’re having trouble communicating your ideas.

How to Stick to the Word Limit

Although many colleges give you roughly 10% leeway on the word limit, you should aim for your finished paper to be as close to the suggested word count as possible. If you find yourself writing too much, you can reduce the word count by:

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  • Editing out repetition, redundant words and padding phrases
  • Cutting down long or unnecessary quotations
  • Reducing the number of examples or case studies used (if you’ve included several)
  • Using the active voice instead of the passive voice

More generally, you should re-read your work and eliminate anything that isn’t directly related to the question you’re answering. As well as helping you stick to the word limit, this will make your work more focused, which could boost your grades.

How to Increase Your Word Count

If you’re struggling to write enough, the temptation might be to add padding phrases like “in my opinion” or long block quotations until you hit the minimum word count. But this will simply detract from the clarity of your writing.

Instead, the answer is usually to go back over your work and look for things that could be improved with a little additional attention. This might involve:

  • Addressing anything from your essay question that you’ve overlooked
  • Adding illustrative examples to support a point
  • Considering different sources and views on the same issue
  • Using short quotations as evidence for your arguments

Moreover, whether you’ve written too much or too little, getting someone else to read your work and offer feedback is a fantastic idea (especially if you ask a professional for help). This will help you to identify areas that could be expanded or cut in the next draft, so eventually you should be able to get your essay to the required length.

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, the best college essay length: how long should it be.

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College Essays


Figuring out your college essay can be one of the most difficult parts of applying to college. Even once you've read the prompt and picked a topic, you might wonder: if you write too much or too little, will you blow your chance of admission? How long should a college essay be?

Whether you're a terse writer or a loquacious one, we can advise you on college essay length. In this guide, we'll cover what the standard college essay length is, how much word limits matter, and what to do if you aren't sure how long a specific essay should be.

How Long Is a College Essay? First, Check the Word Limit

You might be used to turning in your writing assignments on a page-limit basis (for example, a 10-page paper). While some colleges provide page limits for their college essays, most use a word limit instead. This makes sure there's a standard length for all the essays that a college receives, regardless of formatting or font.

In the simplest terms, your college essay should be pretty close to, but not exceeding, the word limit in length. Think within 50 words as the lower bound, with the word limit as the upper bound. So for a 500-word limit essay, try to get somewhere between 450-500 words. If they give you a range, stay within that range.

College essay prompts usually provide the word limit right in the prompt or in the instructions.

For example, the University of Illinois says :

"You'll answer two to three prompts as part of your application. The questions you'll answer will depend on whether you're applying to a major or to our undeclared program , and if you've selected a second choice . Each response should be approximately 150 words."

As exemplified by the University of Illinois, the shortest word limits for college essays are usually around 150 words (less than half a single-spaced page). Rarely will you see a word limit higher than around 650 words (over one single-spaced page). College essays are usually pretty short: between 150 and 650 words. Admissions officers have to read a lot of them, after all!


Weigh your words carefully, because they are limited!

How Flexible Is the Word Limit?

But how flexible is the word limit? What if your poignant anecdote is just 10 words too long—or 100 too short?

Can I Go Over the Word Limit?

If you are attaching a document and you need one or two extra words, you can probably get away with exceeding the word limit by such a small amount. Some colleges will actually tell you that exceeding the word limit by 1-2 words is fine. However, I advise against exceeding the word limit unless it's explicitly allowed for a few reasons:

First, you might not be able to. If you have to copy-paste it into a text box, your essay might get cut off and you'll have to trim it down anyway.

If you exceed the word limit in a noticeable way, the admissions counselor may just stop reading your essay past that point. This is not good for you.

Following directions is actually a very important part of the college application process. You need to follow directions to get your letters of recommendation, upload your essays, send supplemental materials, get your test scores sent, and so on and so forth. So it's just a good general rule to follow whatever instructions you've been given by the institution. Better safe than sorry!

Can I Go Under the Word Limit?

If you can truly get your point across well beneath the word limit, it's probably fine. Brevity is not necessarily a bad thing in writing just so long as you are clear, cogent, and communicate what you want to.

However, most college essays have pretty tight word limits anyways. So if you're writing 300 words for an essay with a 500-word limit, ask yourself: is there anything more you could say to elaborate on or support your points? Consult with a parent, friend, or teacher on where you could elaborate with more detail or expand your points.

Also, if the college gives you a word range, you absolutely need to at least hit the bottom end of the range. So if you get a range from the institution, like 400-500 words, you need to write at least 400 words. If you write less, it will come across like you have nothing to say, which is not an impression you want to give.


What If There Is No Word Limit?

Some colleges don't give you a word limit for one or more of your essay prompts. This can be a little stressful, but the prompts generally fall into a few categories:

Writing Sample

Some colleges don't provide a hard-and-fast word limit because they want a writing sample from one of your classes. In this case, a word limit would be very limiting to you in terms of which assignments you could select from.

For an example of this kind of prompt, check out essay Option B at Amherst :

"Submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence. You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay."

While there is usually no word limit per se, colleges sometimes provide a general page guideline for writing samples. In the FAQ for Option B , Amherst clarifies, "There is no hard-and-fast rule for official page limit. Typically, we anticipate a paper of 4-5 pages will provide adequate length to demonstrate your analytical abilities. Somewhat longer papers can also be submitted, but in most cases should not exceed 8-10 pages."

So even though there's no word limit, they'd like somewhere in the 4-10 pages range. High school students are not usually writing papers that are longer than 10 pages anyways, so that isn't very limiting.

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Implicit Length Guideline

Sometimes, while there's no word (or even page) limit, there's still an implicit length guideline. What do I mean by this?

See, for example, this Western Washington University prompt :

“Describe one or more activities you have been involved in that have been particularly meaningful. What does your involvement say about the communities, identities or causes that are important to you?”

While there’s no page or word limit listed here, further down on page the ‘essay tips’ section explains that “ most essay responses are about 500 words, ” though “this is only a recommendation, not a firm limit.” This gives you an idea of what’s reasonable. A little longer or shorter than 500 words would be appropriate here. That’s what I mean by an “implicit” word limit—there is a reasonable length you could go to within the boundaries of the prompt.


But what's the proper coffee-to-paragraph ratio?

Treasure Hunt

There is also the classic "treasure hunt" prompt. No, it's not a prompt about a treasure hunt. It's a prompt where there are no length guidelines given, but if you hunt around on the rest of the website you can find length guidelines.

For example, the University of Chicago provides seven "Extended Essay" prompts . You must write an essay in response to one prompt of your choosing, but nowhere on the page is there any guidance about word count or page limit.

However, many colleges provide additional details about their expectations for application materials, including essays, on FAQ pages, which is true of the University of Chicago. On the school’s admissions Frequently Asked Questions page , they provide the following length guidelines for the supplemental essays: 

“We suggest that you note any word limits for Coalition or Common Application essays; however, there are no strict word limits on the UChicago Supplement essays. For the extended essay (where you choose one of several prompts), we suggest that you aim for around 650 words. While we won't, as a rule, stop reading after 650 words, we're only human and cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention indefinitely. For the “Why UChicago?” essay, we suggest about 250-500 words. The ideas in your writing matter more than the exact number of words you use!”

So there you go! You want to be (loosely) in the realm of 650 for the extended essay, and 250-500 words for the “Why UChicago?” essay.

Help! There Really Is No Guidance on Length

If you really can't find any length guidelines anywhere on the admissions website and you're at a loss, I advise calling the admissions office. They may not be able to give you an exact number (in fact, they probably won't), but they will probably at least be able to tell you how long most of the essays they see are. (And keep you from writing a panicked, 20-page dissertation about your relationship with your dog).

In general, 500 words or so is pretty safe for a college essay. It's a fairly standard word limit length, in fact. (And if you're wondering, that's about a page and a half double-spaced.) 500 words is long enough to develop a basic idea while still getting a point across quickly—important when admissions counselors have thousands of essays to read!


"See? It says 500 words right there in tiny font!"

The Final Word: How Long Should a College Essay Be?

The best college essay length is usually pretty straightforward: you want to be right under or at the provided word limit. If you go substantially past the word limit, you risk having your essay cut off by an online application form or having the admissions officer just not finish it. And if you're too far under the word limit, you may not be elaborating enough.

What if there is no word limit? Then how long should a college essay be? In general, around 500 words is a pretty safe approximate word amount for a college essay—it's one of the most common word limits, after all!

Here's guidance for special cases and hunting down word limits:

If it's a writing sample of your graded academic work, the length either doesn't matter or there should be some loose page guidelines.

There also may be implicit length guidelines. For example, if a prompt says to write three paragraphs, you'll know that writing six sentences is definitely too short, and two single-spaced pages is definitely too long.

You might not be able to find length guidelines in the prompt, but you could still hunt them up elsewhere on the website. Try checking FAQs or googling your chosen school name with "admissions essay word limit."

If there really is no word limit, you can call the school to try to get some guidance.

With this advice, you can be sure you've got the right college essay length on lockdown!


Hey, writing about yourself can even be fun!

What's Next?

Need to ask a teacher or friend for help with your essay? See our do's and dont's to getting college essay advice .

If you're lacking in essay inspiration, see our guide to brainstorming college essay ideas . And here's our guide to starting out your essay perfectly!

Looking for college essay examples? See 11 places to find college essay examples and 145 essay examples with analysis !

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Academics and standardized testing, what is your minimum gpa or required sat or act score.

There is no minimum GPA or required test score. At UChicago, the admissions committee considers a candidate’s entire application—academic and extracurricular records, essays, letters of recommendation, and optional testing according to our no harm policy—and there’s no one piece of information that alone determines whether you would be a good fit for the College. You can learn more about this contextual review process here . 

What if my school does not report class rank or GPA?

If your school does not report class rank or have grade point averages, please leave that information blank. UChicago understands that many schools do not report class rank or compute averages as a matter of policy and not having these will not negatively impact your application. Please do not estimate or guess.

What does no harm testing mean?

Submitting an SAT or ACT is optional and not required for admission. In addition to being test-optional, UChicago practices a “No Harm” policy for application review when considering SAT or ACT scores. Any SAT or ACT score submitted will only be used in review if it will positively affect an applicant’s chance of admission. Test scores that may negatively impact an admission decision will not be considered in review. All applicants including domestic students, international students, and transfer students will be reviewed under this policy.

I was unable to take the SAT or ACT due to a test date cancellation. Can I still apply to UChicago?

Absolutely! UChicago is test-optional alongside the no harm test policy, which means that students are not required to share results of the SAT or ACT if you have been unable to test or prefer not to share your scores. This policy is open to all applicants. Further information about UChicago’s testing policy can be found here .

I've taken the SAT or ACT more than once. Should I send all my test scores?

If you have chosen to submit SAT or ACT test scores, UChicago recommends that you send all of your scores and welcomes you to self-report these scores. When multiple scores are submitted, UChicago will superscore both the SAT and ACT, meaning that if you take either test multiple times, your highest individual sub-scores will be combined to give you the highest overall score possible. Please note that UChicago requires an official score report if you are admitted and choose to enroll.

Is there a score cut off at which I should opt out of submitting my ACT or SAT?

UChicago’s no harm testing policy means that students do not need to worry about score cut-offs or other nuanced details of testing considerations. Your test score will only be considered if it benefits your application; that benefit will be based in part on your individual context and other details of your academic preparation. You do not need to worry about anticipating these details and can send in test scores with the confidence that they will not harm your application.

If I had SAT or ACT scores sent before applying, can my application be reviewed without considering these scores?

Yes. If you previously had SAT or ACT scores sent before applying, you can indicate in your application that you wish to have your application considered without SAT or ACT scores.

If UChicago practices a no harm testing policy, in what situation would I ever apply as a test-optional applicant?

Sending your standardized test score to UChicago is a personal choice. While all students are encouraged to submit testing if they have scores to share, you are welcome to apply without testing if it feels like the best course of action for you. The test-optional policy also allows students to apply to UChicago if they are unable to take the SAT or ACT.

Does UChicago not see a value in standardized testing?

Your transcript shows your academic record in the context of your school, but since each school can be very different from another, testing can be useful to see evidence of academic achievement that exists outside of that context.

Will you consider the new digital SAT differently than past SATs?

UChicago does not consider the digital SAT any differently than past versions of the SAT. Like any testing, your scores on the digital SAT will be considered in the context of your many other application materials and according to our no harm testing policy. UChicago will superscore across both variations of the exam.

Can I self-report my test scores or my transcript?

All applicants who choose to submit SAT or ACT scores may share either official or self-reported scores. These students will not be required to submit official score reports unless they are admitted and choose to enroll. Students can self-report test scores through the Questbridge, Coalition or Common Application, through their UChicago Account, or may share a transcript that includes test scores.

All applicants may also self-submit high school transcripts and will be required to submit an official transcript only if they are admitted and choose to enroll.

Do you grant credit for AP and IB scores? For college-level classes taken in high school?

Yes! UChicago accepts scores of 5 on most Advanced Placement (AP) exams and of 7 on certain International Baccalaureate (IB) higher level (HL) examinations for credit; other scores may be accepted in particular subjects. Learn more about accelerated course credit here .

While UChicago is unable to grant transfer credit to first-year students for college-level coursework taken prior to matriculation (including dual enrollment and early college programs), these courses can give students strong experience with rigorous work that prepares you well for the UChicago experience. UChicago also offers placement and accreditation tests to entering students in select subjects to ensure that students can start courses at a level that best suits their prior experience.

Essays, Recommendations, and Supplemental Materials

What types of supplemental materials can i submit.

The most effective supplements share a representative sample of work that is important to the applicant. One to two minutes of a recorded work, two or three high-quality prints of a work of art, the best paragraph or page of a creatively written work, or an abstract of original research are some types of supplemental materials you can consider adding to your application. None of these are required, and choosing not to send any supplemental materials will not disadvantage your application in any way.

What counts as an academic achievement of note in considering what to include in my application?

UChicago reviews every application within the context of a student’s school, environment, and opportunities. If you feel there is something that best highlights your skills, talents, and potential contributions to UChicago—and you have not already included it in your application—please feel free to share it!

Does UChicago require a counselor letter of recommendation?

While UChicago does not officially require a letter of recommendation from your counselor, many school counselors will still choose to submit one on your behalf. If they do, that letter will be considered as a part of the application review.

Can I submit supplemental letters of recommendation?

You may submit one additional letter of recommendation. The writer should know you personally and have worked closely with you in some capacity; this could include a coach, religious leader, group adviser, or employer, to name a few. Please only send an additional letter of recommendation if you feel it represents a unique perspective not shared elsewhere in your application.

Is there a word limit or suggested word limit for the supplemental essays?

Please note any word limits for Coalition or Common Application essays; however, there are no strict word limits on the UChicago supplemental essays. In general 500-700 words for the extended essay and 300-600 words for the “Why UChicago?” essay are good benchmarks, but these are rough guidelines and by no means requirements. The ideas in your writing matter more than the exact number of words you use!

How do I make sure that UChicago has received all of my required application documents?

A little while after the application deadline has passed, you will be able to check to see which application materials have been received and processed by logging in to your UChicago Account . Given the large volume of material submitted every year, there will be a reasonable amount of processing time between when you submit your documents and when they will appear in your account. If anything is missing, you will have ample time to submit or resubmit it without any penalty to your application.

Can I participate in an interview as part of my application?

If you would like to add your voice to your application, you have the option to submit a highly recommended two-minute video profile. Your recording does not need to be extensively rehearsed or polished, and the video does not need to be edited. UChicago does not offer on-campus or alumni interviews as part of the application process, but will accept Glimpse or InitialView interviews in lieu of the UChicago video profile.

Is the video profile required?

The video profile is not required but is highly recommended. A video profile is one more way for us to get to know you and hear your voice (literally!), but it is up to you whether to include one. Students who choose not to submit a video profile will not be penalized in any way. Applicants can upload their video to their UChicago Account under “Portfolio” with the title “Optional Video Profile.” You may upload your video to your UChicago Account at any time, but it is recommended to do so by November 6 th for Early Action and Early Decision I or January 10 th for Regular Decision and Early Decision II.

Does my video need to be produced/edited/scripted?

The option of submitting a video gives students who wish to do so a different medium for developing their voice and ideas. In reviewing these highly recommended video profiles, the focus will be on the content of the video rather than on production quality. Students who submit a video are encouraged to film in a quiet space that limits outside distractions (background noise, music, pet or sibling interference, etc.). While it’s okay to rehearse your message a bit so that you feel confident and ready, it’s helpful to hear these spoken in your normal, conversational voice. Memorizing a script or reading from prepared notes is not necessary and might detract from a sense of your genuine voice.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Do you offer financial aid.

Yes! UChicago meets the full demonstrated financial need of every admitted student through a need-based financial aid package that does not include a loan expectation. Each financial aid package is tailored to the student and family’s particular financial profile.

UChicago requires a few forms and documents in order to offer students an appropriate package. Although US citizens and permanent residents may apply for financial aid at any time, we recommend that they apply for aid at the same time as their application for admission in order to receive an aid decision in a timely manner. Applicants who are not US citizens or permanent residents must apply for financial aid during the application process.

UChicago does not charge an application fee to students who indicate that they intend to apply for financial aid. Learn more about applying for UChicago’s financial aid .

Do you offer merit awards or special scholarships?

Exemplary students are selected to receive University merit scholarships on the basis of outstanding academic achievement, extracurricular achievement, demonstrated leadership, and commitment to their communities. Merit awards are determined by committee on the basis of the application for admission without consideration of financial need.

Merit scholarships can be awarded for four years of undergraduate study or as funding for summer opportunities. UChicago also offers scholarships for first-generation college students, the children of police and firefighters, and the children of Chicago Public Schools educators. Each student admitted to the College will be automatically considered for merit scholarships; applicants do not need to fill out an additional application, with the exception of the Police and Fire Scholarship .

Special Circumstances

I had bad grades or a special circumstance that affected my performance in high school. does this mean i won’t get in.

No one’s record is perfect, and UChicago understands that sometimes students’ transcripts have grades that are not indicative of their academic capabilities when they apply to college. If you have made significant strides in your academic performance, or outside circumstances have caused bumps along the way, please make sure that comes across in your application. The Additional Information portion of the application is a great place to discuss this. UChicago truly embraces a contextual approach to reading applications, and this approach means seeing applicants as multi-faceted individuals rather than one-dimensional students.

I am taking the November SAT or October ACT as an Early Action or Early Decision I applicant, or the January SAT or February ACT as a Regular Decision or Early Decision II applicant. Will you consider these scores?

Yes! UChicago accepts October ACT and November SAT scores for Early Action and Early Decision I, December SAT and ACT scores for Early Decision II, and January SAT and February ACT scores for Regular Decision.

I am interested in participating in a varsity sport. How can I contact a coach?

Contact information for UChicago’s varsity coaches, as well as a survey for students interested in participating in varsity athletics, can be found here .

Does the University of Chicago grant second bachelor’s degrees?

UChicago does not offer second bachelor’s degrees. Please visit the website of the Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies for information on post-baccalaureate coursework and non-degree-program coursework.

Can I apply to UChicago for entry in the Winter or Spring Quarters?

Entering students may only begin study at UChicago in the Autumn Quarter.

My school experience was disrupted or changed significantly during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Will this negatively impact my application to UChicago?

UChicago understands that schools around the world made the difficult choice to close or engage in remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many students may have experienced different grading systems or an inability to engage in school in their typical way in the Spring of 2020. UChicago always reviews applicants in the context of their school’s environment and grading practices and will continue to give full consideration to all applicants regardless of the method of grading or assessment your school selected. UChicago is also aware that many students experienced a disruption to their typical level of involvement in extracurricular activities. Rest assured that these circumstances that were outside of your control will not negatively impact your application to UChicago.

I am not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, but have been living in the United States for some time or am in the process of obtaining a green card but have not yet received one. Am I considered an international student?

In UChicago’s contextual review, every student is reviewed specifically within the high school they attend, regardless of citizenship. The only time citizenship is considered in the application process is when it comes to financial aid. For financial aid purposes, you will be considered an international applicant until you receive permanent residency or U.S. citizenship. For further help and questions as they arise during this process, feel free to contact us at [email protected] .

Visiting Campus

Can i tour campus.

Yes! In-person tours and information sessions are available on most weekdays year-round and on Saturdays from March through November. You can explore the visit calendar here to sign up for a specific date and time. The full campus visit guide is available here .

Can I attend a class while visiting campus?

Faculty-led model classes are a great way to get a feel for UChicago classes! These are offered during our Fall and Spring Open Houses which are listed on our website here .

I’m unable to travel to Chicago. How can I learn more about UChicago without a physical visit to campus?

UChicago offers a variety of virtual opportunities to learn more about the University’s academic, extracurricular, and admissions processes here .

Can I choose to take a gap year after I’ve been admitted to UChicago?

UChicago will consider requests to take a one-year gap year from incoming first-year students before June 15. To be eligible for consideration, interested students should accept their offer of admission and place an enrollment deposit (or have a deposit fee waiver in place). Students must then apply for a gap year through their regional admissions counselor and will receive written confirmation from the Dean of Admissions if approved. Gap year requests should include a plan for a full year of structured programming, work, community involvement, or other exploration that could not be completed while enrolled in school. Students taking gap years will be asked to sign an agreement outlining expectations for conduct during their gap year. Second or two-year gap year requests are rarely approved except under unavoidable or well-defined national policies (typically including obligatory national/military service or other similar commitments).

Transfer Applications

Am i eligible to apply as a transfer student.

If you have already completed at least one term as a full-time student in a bachelor’s degree-seeking program at another college or university, you should apply as a transfer student. All other students, including high school students who have taken college-level classes through dual enrollment or early college programs, should apply using the first-year application.

When do transfer students start at UChicago?

All incoming students, including transfer students, will start in the College in the Autumn Quarter.

Can I apply as a student-at-large, and apply as a transfer student later after taking some courses?

If you would like to pursue your undergraduate degree at UChicago, you should apply as a transfer student. Students-at-large will not be eligible for transfer admission.

What classes should I take now that will transfer to UChicago?

To be eligible for transfer credit, courses at minimum must be from an accredited institution that grants bachelor’s degrees in liberal arts subjects similar to those offered in the College at UChicago and you must have received a grade of C or higher (or B or higher in some subjects). However, since many colleges look at transfer credit differently, UChicago encourages students to make curriculum choices based on what they believe is best for their own educational goals. A full description of UChicago’s transfer credit policy can be found here: http://collegecatalog.uchicago.edu/thecollege/transfercredit/

Can you tell me which of my classes will transfer to UChicago?

In most cases, courses taken at accredited institutions that meet the eligibility requirements described in the College Catalog and are equivalent in content and instruction to courses offered at the University of Chicago are likely candidates for transfer credit. As a prospective transfer applicant, you should familiarize yourself with programs of study and their class requirements in the College Catalog as well as our transfer credit policy online: http://collegecatalog.uchicago.edu/thecollege/transfercredit/transferstudents/

Admitted students will be provided an estimate of transfer credits; in the meantime, the College Catalog is a helpful resource to gain a sense of which of your classes are most likely to transfer credit and should give you a good sense of what your future path at UChicago might look like.

Is housing required for transfer students?

Yes, transfer students are required to live in college housing for their first academic year at UChicago and will complete the housing application alongside incoming first years in early summer.

I am having trouble getting in contact with former teachers. Who can I ask for letters of recommendation?

If you feel that you have not had satisfactory contact with professors at your college or university, you may ask a teaching assistant or lab instructor who may have had more experience working with you to provide a recommendation. A recommendation from a recent high school teacher is also acceptable for those who are in their first year of college, though UChicago recommends at least one of your recommendations come from someone who has worked with you in an academic context in college.

If you have been out of school for an extended period, you may ask a work supervisor or commanding officer (for veterans) to write your letters of recommendation.

I will have earned more than two years of college credit by the time I apply to UChicago. Can I still apply as a transfer?

UChicago does not have a minimum or maximum number of credits that you must earn to be an eligible transfer applicant. However, you should keep in mind that transfer students are required to spend at least two years at UChicago and complete the Core curriculum and at least half their major requirements while in residence. This means you might be spending more than a total of 12 academic quarters (the time ordinarily expected by the Dean of Students) to complete your undergraduate degree if you were to transfer to UChicago.

Can I double major as a transfer student?

You will be allotted a number of quarters that are necessary to complete your degree, taking into account your first-choice major. The number of quarters allotted will build in some cushion so that you can complete your major and all other graduation requirements at a reasonable pace.  This could allow for the completion of a second major or a minor, but this depends on the details. You can petition for an additional quarter of enrollment if it is necessary to complete your primary major or your other graduation requirements.

How much time will I have to complete my degree?

As part of the transfer credit evaluation process, you will be allotted a maximum number of quarters to complete your degree (note: summers do not count in this number). For non-transfer students, this number is 12. For transfer students, this number is discounted, depending upon how many quarters worth of credits are transferring in and how many quarters are needed to complete your degree. (Note: you must complete at least six quarters at UChicago).

What does UChicago offer for adult learners?

The Graham School offers an array of different programs for adult learners who want to access UChicago courses and faculty. You can visit the Graham School’s website and learn more about these opportunities here: https://graham.uchicago.edu/ .

What is the Mid-Term Report, and how do I submit it? What if I don’t yet have grades available for my current college coursework?

The Mid-Term Report collects information about courses in which you are currently enrolled in the spring and can be found in the “Forms” section of your UChicago Account. If you do not plan to enroll in any coursework in the spring when you apply, you do not need to fill out a Mid-Term Report. Please wait to submit the Mid-Term Report until after March 1 so that you can include accurate course information and grades. If you do not yet have in-progress grades to share for some or all of your spring courses, you are welcome to write “NA” or “IP” where it asks for a grade in the Mid-Term Report. To ensure it is included in the review of your application, please submit the Mid-Term Report no later than March 22 for Transfer Early Decision, and no later than April 15 for Transfer Rolling Decision.

What is the College/Transfer Report, and when and how do I submit it?

Transfer students are required to submit a College/Transfer Report indicating their academic standing at their current or most recently attended college or university. The report should be completed and sent via email or fax to our admissions office by a dean, registrar, or academic adviser who has access to your disciplinary and academic records. If using the Common Application, you can download the College/Transfer Report in the “Supporting Documents” section. If using Apply Coalition, Powered by Scoir, you may use the University of Chicago College/Transfer Report .

My school has a policy against completing the College/Transfer Report. What should I do?

In this case, you should obtain an official document, often called a “Dean’s Certification” letter, from your school that verifies your student conduct and disciplinary record. This fulfills the same purpose as the transfer report and is perfectly acceptable as a substitute.

When should I submit my courses for credit evaluation as an applicant?

UChicago recommends that you submit your transfer credit materials when you apply for admission to receive an initial credit evaluation in a timely manner. Students applying in Transfer Early Decision should submit their transfer credit form and materials in their UChicago Account by March 15 and students in Transfer Rolling Decision should submit their form and materials by April 15. The form can be accessed in your UChicago Account after you submit your application.

What is the Transfer of Credit form? And where can I upload my course syllabi?

After submitting your application, you should submit the Transfer of Credit form in your UChicago Account to indicate all courses for which you would like to receive a credit evaluation. Students must include an official course description and upload a syllabus for every submitted course on the Transfer of Credit form. Syllabi should be submitted as “Transfer Credit Syllabi” in the Upload Materials section of their UChicago account. If not specified in the syllabus, students should include other information about the content and structure of the course (e.g., a list of required readings and assignments, lectures, exams, papers, etc.) along with the syllabus as a single PDF for each course.

I don’t yet have grades for my current coursework this spring. Should I still include them in the Transfer of Credit form?

Yes! You should submit all classes you wish to be evaluated for transfer credit, including classes in which you are currently enrolled or plan to take this spring. If you do not yet have grades to share for your current coursework, you are welcome to write “NA” or “IP” where it asks this information.

UChicago asks for a written evaluation from an instructor for any coursework that was taken pass/fail. What does this entail? And how should this be submitted?

If you received pass/fail marks for college or university courses instead of grades, please request that your instructors submit a short, written evaluation of your work to the admissions office. This can be sent from your instructor via email or fax to the admissions office and can simply be a note explaining what your grade would have been if you had received a quality grade, or a very brief summary of your academic performance in the class. This only applies to academic coursework and does not apply to non-credit or partial-credit classes (e.g., a one-credit college orientation class.)

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interview essay word limit

How Long Should Your College Essay Be? What Is the Ideal Length?

What’s covered: , personal statement length vs. supplemental essay length, are college essay word limits hard, what if a college essay word count isn’t given, what if you need to submit a graded paper, where to get your essays edited.

Students often spend hours agonizing over the best topics for their college essays. While it’s natural to wonder whether your personal statement is original or compelling enough, there’s one aspect of the process that shouldn’t cause you undue stress—how many words should a college essay be? Fortunately, with a little research, you can uncover the ideal college essay length for all your applications.

Unlike high school assignments, which typically have a strict page requirement, most colleges provide a word limit or word range for their application essays. This practice helps ensure that essays are the same length regardless of font or formatting. A good guideline is that students should strive to get as close as possible to the upper limit of the word range without exceeding it. Keep reading to learn more about best practices for college essay length.

How many words should a college essay be? Personal statements are generally 500-650 words. For example, the Common Application , which can be used to apply to more than 800 colleges, requires an essay ranging from 250-650 words . Similarly, the Coalition Application , which has 150 member schools, features an essay with a recommended length of 500-650 words.

650 words is the most common limit for your personal statement, but some schools may ask students to write more or less. For example, ApplyTexas , a platform used to apply to Texas public universities and other select colleges, requests essays with requirements that vary by school. For example, students applying to UT Austin will need to submit an essay of 500-700 words, along with three short-answer questions of 250-300 words each.

On the other hand, the University of California (UC) application includes a Personal Insight section with eight prompts . Students are asked to respond to any four of these prompts, with each response topping out at 350 words.

Additionally, some schools request a few supplemental essays, which are typically shorter than a personal statement. These questions are designed to gain more information about a student’s interests and abilities, and may include topics like your reasons for wanting to attend their school, your desired major, or your favorite activity.

Most schools require 1-3 supplemental essays, though some may require more or none at all (see our list of top colleges without supplemental essays ). These essays tend to be around 250 words, but some may be just as long as your main essay. For example, Cornell requires applicants to write a second supplemental essay (of 650 words max) that is specific to the program they’re applying to. The exception to this is the Cornell College of Engineering, for which applicants are required to compose two supplemental essays of 250 words max each.

For best results, keep your essays within the word range provided. While you don’t have to hit the count exactly, you should aim to stay within a 10% difference of the upper limit—without including fluff or filler. For example, if the school requests 500 words, try to ensure that your essay is between 450 and 500 words.

For the Common App, try to stay within 550-650 words, even though the given range is 250-650. Any submission shorter than 500 words will make it look as though you simply didn’t care enough to give your best effort. An essay shorter than 500 words won’t be long enough to truly share who you are and what matters to you.

Exceeding the word count isn’t an option—the application portal cuts off anything over the maximum number of allowed words. This is something you want to be particularly careful of if you’re drafting your essay in a Word or Google document and pasting it into the application.

Although most schools provide applicants with a specific word count, some offer more general guidelines. For example, a college may ask for a particular number of pages or paragraphs.

If you aren’t given a word count, try to adhere to the best practices and conventions of writing. Avoid writing especially short or overly long paragraphs—250 words per paragraph is generally a safe upper limit. If you’re asked to write a certain number of pages, single- or double-spaced, stick to a standard font and font size (like 12-point Times New Roman).

In the event that the college doesn’t offer any guidelines at all, aim for an essay length of around 500 words.

While essays are the most commonly requested writing sample, some colleges ask for additional pieces of content. For example, Princeton University requires students to submit a previously graded paper for evaluation .

Princeton offers guidelines that cover length, but if another school requests an old paper and doesn’t offer length requirements, a paper ranging from 3-5 pages should yield the best results. The goal is to select a paper long enough to showcase your writing skills and unique voice, but short enough that the admissions officer doesn’t get bored reading it.

Is your essay effective while staying within the required word count? It’s hard to evaluate your own writing, especially after rereading it numerous times. CollegeVine’s free Peer Essay Review provides an opportunity to have your essay reviewed by a fellow student, for free. Similarly, you can help other students by reviewing their essays—this is a great way to refine your own writing skills.

Expert advice is also available. CollegeVine’s advisors are prepared to help you perfect your personal statement and submit a successful application to your top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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interview essay word limit


Extended Essay Resources: Paper Formatting

  • Research Video Tutorials
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  • Supervisor Resources
  • Note Taking Templates
  • Paper Formatting
  • October EE orientation presentation
  • Extended Essay calendar
  • Submit your topic selection

How to format the EE

The extended essay should be written in a clear, correct and formal academic style, appropriate to the subject from which the topic is drawn. Given that the extended essay is a formally written research paper, it should strive to maintain a professional, academic look.

To help achieve this, the following formatting is suggested.

  • Arial 12 or Times New Roman 12
  • Double-spaced
  • page numbering
  • no candidate, supervisor, or school name on the title page, page headers, appendices or acknowledgment pages
  • the file size must not be more than 10 MB. (Note that the RPPF is uploaded separately and is not part of the overall file size of the essay.)

What's on the Title Page?

The title page should include the:

  • title of the essay
  • research question
  • if it is a language essay also state which category it falls into;
  • if a world studies essay also state the theme and the two subjects utilized)
  • word count.

DO NOT include any personal information like your name, the name of the school, or your candidate number. The IB wants each EE to be anonymous and assessed without bias. 

Images and Illustrations

From the mla style guide at purdue, labels, captions, and source information.

Illustrations appear directly embedded in the document. Each illustration must include a label, a number, a caption and/or source information.

  • The illustration label and number should always appear in two places:  the document main text (e.g.  see fig. 1 ) and near the illustration itself ( Fig. 1 ).
  • Captions  provide titles or explanatory notes (e.g.,  Van Gogh’s The Starry Night)
  • Source information  documentation will always depend upon the medium of the source illustration. If you provide source information with all of your illustrations, you do not need to provide this information on the Works Cited page.
  • All visuals/illustrations that are not tables or musical score examples (e.g. maps, diagrams, charts, videos, podcasts, etc.) are labeled Figure or Fig.
  • Refer to the figure in-text and provide an Arabic numeral that corresponds to the figure. Do not capitalize figure or fig .
  • MLA does not specify alignment requirements for figures; thus, these images may be embedded as the reader sees fit. However, continue to follow basic MLA Style formatting (e.g. one-inch margins).
  • Below the figure, provide a label name and its corresponding arabic numeral (no bold or italics), followed by a period (e.g. Fig. 1.). Here, Figure and Fig .  are capitalized.
  • Beginning with the same line as the label and number, provide a title and/or caption as well as relevant source information in note form (see instructions and examples above). If you provide source information with your illustrations, you do not need to provide this information on the Works Cited page.
  • If full citation information is provided in the caption, use the same formatting as you would for your Works Cited page. However, names should be listed in  first name last name  format.

Figure Example

In-text reference:

Some readers found Harry’s final battle with Voldemort a disappointment, and recently, the podcast,  MuggleCast  debated the subject (see fig. 2).

Figure caption (below an embedded podcast file for a document to be viewed electronically):

Fig. 2. Harry Potter and Voldemort final battle debate from Andrew Sims et al.; “Show 166”;  MuggleCast ; MuggleNet.com, 19 Dec. 2008, www.mugglenet.com/2015/11/the-snape-debate-rowling-speaks-out.

Appendices are not an essential part of the extended essay and examiners will not read them, or use any information contained within them, in the assessment of the essay. Students must take care to ensure that all information with direct relevance to the analysis, discussion and evaluation of their essay is contained in the main body of it. Appendices should therefore be avoided except in the following instances:

  • an exemplar of a questionnaire or interview questions
  • an exemplar of permission letters
  • group 1, category 1 essays: copies of poems or short stories (of less than three pages)
  • group 1, category 3 essays: excerpts from newspapers, advertisements and transcripts of speeches
  • language acquisition, category 1 and 2: excerpts from newspapers, advertisements, transcripts of speeches, etc
  • language acquisition, category 3: excerpts or copies of poems or short stories (less than 3 pages)
  • an external mentor letter, where one has been used
  • raw data or statistical tables for experimental sciences (this should not include any analysis or conclusions).

Students should not continually refer to material presented in an appendix as this may disrupt the continuity of the essay and examiners are not required to refer to them.

The upper limit is 4,000 words for all extended essays.

Please note:  Examiners are instructed not to read or assess any material in excess of the word limit. This means that essays containing more than 4,000 words will be compromised across all assessment criteria. 

Please refer to the following guidance on what content should be included in the word count.

Please refer to the document entitled  Assessment principles and practices—Quality assessments in a digital age  for further clarification of word count requirements.

A note for students writing in Chinese, Korean and Japanese:

Students writing their extended essay in Japanese, Korean or Chinese should use the following conversions.

  • Japanese: 1 word = approximately 2 Japanese characters (upper limit 8,000 characters)
  • Korean: 1 word = 1 Korean character (upper limit 4,000 characters)
  • Chinese: 1 word = approximately 1.2 Chinese characters (upper limit 4,800 characters)

When typing in Chinese, Korean or Japanese word processing software is likely to include the number of characters  and  punctuation in the word count. Students are asked to  not  include punctuation in the word count for assessed work. The word count should only take into account the number of characters typed.

A note about acknowledgments and dedications:

An acknowledgment/dedications page may be included in the EE if this is important to the student, but it must contain no “identifiers”, for example, people should not be detailed in any way that makes the student’s school identifiable. An acknowledgment/dedications page is not a formal requirement of the EE, so it does not contribute to either the word count or assessment.

Header and Footnotes

Students may wish to use the header function for their research question, so that it appears on each page. This may help retain focus.

Footnotes and endnotes

Footnotes and endnotes may be used for referencing purposes and if this is the case will not be included in the word count of the essay. If information is contained in a footnote or endnote and is not a reference, this  must  be included in the word count. In order to avoid confusion and unwittingly exceed the word limit, students are advised to avoid using footnotes or endnotes other than for referencing purposes unless it is appropriate.

One appropriate use of footnotes is for the placement of the original quotation (where the original quotation is in a language other than the language of registration). This use of footnotes would not need to be included in the word count.

As footnotes and endnotes are not an essential part of the extended essay students must take care to ensure that all information with direct relevance to the analysis, discussion and evaluation of their essay is contained in the main body of it.

An essay that attempts to evade the word limit by including important material in footnotes or endnotes will be compromised across the assessment criteria. Please note that footnotes and endnotes are added to the word count as they are encountered.

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Working within word limits: A short guide

  • Short on word counts
  • Last minute panic scenario!
  • Further references on working within word count
  • Acknowledgements

In adhering to the word limit, it is always a good idea for you to roughly plan first how many sections or paragraphs you will need for the essay. From there, you will be able to estimate how much you have to write for each section or paragraph. 

The general rule of thumb is to allocate 10% of the word limit for the introduction and 10% for the conclusion. This rule will leave 80% for the body paragraphs or sections.

Here is the breakdown:

Introduction - 10%

Paragraph 1 - 20%

Paragraph 2 - 20%

Paragraph 3 - 20%

Paragraph 4 - 20%

Conclusion - 10%

In writing a dissertation, the allocation of word limit might differ slightly. The weightage depends on the depth of each chapter.  For example,

Literature review - 25%

Methodology - 15%

Findings - 20%

Discussion - 20%

Remember that normally the references and appendices are not included in the word count. 

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  • Last Updated: Nov 20, 2023 2:10 PM
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interview essay word limit

College Essay 500 Word Limit: 5 Simple Ways to Pare it Down

July 6, 2012 by Sharon Epstein 6 Comments


It can be tough to write an interesting, creative essay and keep it short, but if you know a few simple tips you can deliver an essay that will impress .

Here are 5 Ways to Succeed with the 500 Word Limit:

1.  Think Small Instead of Big . Don’t try to tackle a big topic like world peace or what you did for your entire summer vacation. Choose a shorter span of time and a topic that’s not too broad.

2.  Write About a Moment. A moment is a brief period of time when you learned something meaningful to you. Moments can make powerful essays.

Here’s an Example of a Moment:

  • A student working in a store noticed that a customer had dropped some change. It wasn’t a lot and he almost didn’t stop to pick it up, but then he did. The customer was extremely grateful and told him she was counting on that money. The student wrote about how he’d never forget that something insignificant to him could make such a big difference to someone else.

3. Begin in the Middle of Your Story, Where the Action or Conflict Starts. This technique will not only save you words but it’s also a great way to draw the reader into your story. Here are two examples of introductions that were changed to start with action:

Example #1: Before: “I spent my summer vacation interning in the emergency room of a hospital.” Changed: “The bloody gurney wheeled past me. I closed my eyes and prayed for the strength not to pass out.

Example #2: Before: “I always wanted to climb a mountain, so that’s what I decided to do my freshman year.” Changed: “Hurry up!” my dad yelled, as I scrambled to collect myself for another day of mountain climbing.

4 . Use Adjectives and Adverbs Wisely. If your essay is too long try to edit out some of your adjectives and adverbs. Here are two examples of edits and the reasons behind them:

Example #1: Before: As Andrew walked his large legs made heavy, thumping sounds. He turned to stare at the dawning sunrise. Changed: As Andrew walked his legs made heavy, thumping sounds. He turned to stare at the sunrise. Why the Change? 1. Size adjectives, like “large,” are often too general. “Heavy” and “thumping” are specific and convey the idea of being large. 2. “Sunrise” is dawn. Look for these kinds of redundancies.

Example #2: Before: “He walked convincingly . ” After: “He strode.” Why the Change? One word conveys the same idea.

5. Edit Your Essay . Here are 4 ways to eliminate words:

  • Eliminate any details or explanations that don’t move you toward your conclusion.
  • Don’t repeat your ideas.
  • Pare down adjectives and adverbs (see tip #4).
  • Ask someone else to read you essay. Sometimes, as writers, we get attached to our material and it becomes difficult to know what to cut. Ask one or more people who know you to give you suggestions.

Can you submit an essay that’s over the limit? Check with the admissions office at the college(s). They’ll be able to guide you.

related posts: How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 1 (7 Tips to Remember) How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 2 (Think Small and Still Tell a Big Story) How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 3 (Essay Samples ) How to Succeed with the Common App Essay Word Limit: Pt 4 (Ideas that Work)

Read Time.com on the Common App Essay Word Limit


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Author: Sharon Epstein

College consultant, teaching students how to write memorable college application essays, grad school and prep school essays, and succeed at job and college interviews.

6 thoughts on “ College Essay 500 Word Limit: 5 Simple Ways to Pare it Down ”

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As a private college counselor, I love the essay part of the college applications. I know for some students 500 words seems like so many, but for others it is not nearly enough. I do believe, however, whether a college allows you to use more words or not, 500 or fewer is about the right number. Admission counselors read a lot of essays and you don’t want them to lose their enthusiasm before they get to yours. These are some great ideas for keeping essays within the 500 word limit.

Susie Watts Denver, Colorado

Pingback: Common App 500 Word Limit: What Colleges Think « Applying To College

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I am taking placement test at college and I am not good writing at all because of my hard of hearing[deaf],do speak. I have to write essay and I have try to write but i can visuial [my head] good but not my writing. I really do push myself to hard! What advice do I need to do?wish me luck!

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It sounds like you’re working very hard. Getting extra help from a teacher might be an idea. But you should also know that when you fill out your applications for college you will have the chance to explain your situation. If your test scores don’t reflect what you’re capable of, you can explain that in the application and say why. Once the schools understand that it’s hard for you to write because of your hearing difficulty they will look extra hard at your grades and your teacher recommendations and pay a lot of attention to those. Good luck!

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Alright its hard for me to write or type what i’m thinking on paper or in microsoft word. I’ve been ou tof school for 8 years , i joined the military right after high school.Filling out the 500 word essay is really hard for me and i can use some advice on how to start this part.

If you’re having trouble starting your essay, try one or both of these methods: 1. Spend 15 or 20 minutes brainstorming. If you’re uncomfortable at the computer, use paper. Set a timer, and start writing about your idea(s). Let your thoughts flow and write them down. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or even if they’re sentences. If one idea leads to something that seems unrelated, that’s okay. Keep writing and don’t stop until your time is up, and above all don’t judge what you’re writing. Then, when you’re finished, go back and pick out the good parts to use to start your essay. You can do this exercise several times, until you find something you’re happy with. 2. Dictate your story. For some people talking through their story is much easier than writing it. Then transcribe the pieces that you like, and use them to start your essay. Good luck! Sharon

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Your Best College Essay

Maybe you love to write, or maybe you don’t. Either way, there’s a chance that the thought of writing your college essay is making you sweat. No need for nerves! We’re here to give you the important details on how to make the process as anxiety-free as possible.

student's hands typing on a laptop in class

What's the College Essay?

When we say “The College Essay” (capitalization for emphasis – say it out loud with the capitals and you’ll know what we mean) we’re talking about the 550-650 word essay required by most colleges and universities. Prompts for this essay can be found on the college’s website, the Common Application, or the Coalition Application. We’re not talking about the many smaller supplemental essays you might need to write in order to apply to college. Not all institutions require the essay, but most colleges and universities that are at least semi-selective do.

How do I get started?

Look for the prompts on whatever application you’re using to apply to schools (almost all of the time – with a few notable exceptions – this is the Common Application). If one of them calls out to you, awesome! You can jump right in and start to brainstorm. If none of them are giving you the right vibes, don’t worry. They’re so broad that almost anything you write can fit into one of the prompts after you’re done. Working backwards like this is totally fine and can be really useful!

What if I have writer's block?

You aren’t alone. Staring at a blank Google Doc and thinking about how this is the one chance to tell an admissions officer your story can make you freeze. Thinking about some of these questions might help you find the right topic:

  • What is something about you that people have pointed out as distinctive?
  • If you had to pick three words to describe yourself, what would they be? What are things you’ve done that demonstrate these qualities?
  • What’s something about you that has changed over your years in high school? How or why did it change?
  • What’s something you like most about yourself?
  • What’s something you love so much that you lose track of the rest of the world while you do it?

If you’re still stuck on a topic, ask your family members, friends, or other trusted adults: what’s something they always think about when they think about you? What’s something they think you should be proud of? They might help you find something about yourself that you wouldn’t have surfaced on your own.  

How do I grab my reader's attention?

It’s no secret that admissions officers are reading dozens – and sometimes hundreds – of essays every day. That can feel like a lot of pressure to stand out. But if you try to write the most unique essay in the world, it might end up seeming forced if it’s not genuinely you. So, what’s there to do? Our advice: start your essay with a story. Tell the reader about something you’ve done, complete with sensory details, and maybe even dialogue. Then, in the second paragraph, back up and tell us why this story is important and what it tells them about you and the theme of the essay.


Don’t! Don’t try to tell an admissions officer about everything you’ve loved and done since you were a child. Instead, pick one or two things about yourself that you’re hoping to get across and stick to those. They’ll see the rest on the activities section of your application.


If you can’t think of another way to end the essay, talk about how the qualities you’ve discussed in your essays have prepared you for college. Try to wrap up with a sentence that refers back to the story you told in your first paragraph, if you took that route.


YES, proofread the essay, and have a trusted adult proofread it as well. Know that any suggestions they give you are coming from a good place, but make sure they aren’t writing your essay for you or putting it into their own voice. Admissions officers want to hear the voice of you, the applicant. Before you submit your essay anywhere, our number one advice is to read it out loud to yourself. When you read out loud you’ll catch small errors you may not have noticed before, and hear sentences that aren’t quite right.


Be yourself. If you’re not a naturally serious person, don’t force formality. If you’re the comedian in your friend group, go ahead and be funny. But ultimately, write as your authentic (and grammatically correct) self and trust the process.

And remember, thousands of other students your age are faced with this same essay writing task, right now. You can do it!

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How to Avoid Going Over an Essay Word Limit

Last Updated: July 11, 2022 Approved

This article was co-authored by Diane Stubbs . Diane Stubbs is a Secondary English Teacher with over 22 years of experience teaching all high school grade levels and AP courses. She specializes in secondary education, classroom management, and educational technology. Diane earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware and a Master of Education from Wesley College. There are 9 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, 100% of readers who voted found the article helpful, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 259,576 times.

Many people have trouble writing an essay to a specified length. It can be hard to keep the length of an essay in mind when you are writing quickly and focusing on putting your ideas into words. However, with some organization and attention to editing, you should be able to keep any essay under its assigned word limit. This guide will help you keep the quality of your essay strong while still respecting the word limit you were given.

Writing to a Specific Length

Step 1 Develop a clear...

  • For example, if your teacher gives you the prompt of "What is the most important invention of the 19th century?" your thesis statement could be "The most important invention of the 19th century was the steam engine."
  • Having a clear thesis statement helps you to focus your writing. This allows you to minimize rambling and off-topic sections that could lengthen your essay unnecessarily.

Step 2 Outline...

  • The number of points you will need to support will depend on how long your essay is supposed to be. Plan on only having two or three paragraphs per page. If you are writing a 2 to 3 page paper, you will likely only need a handful of points. If you are writing a 10 to 12 page paper, you will need a lot more points in your outline. [3] X Research source
  • Consider adding bullet-pointed thoughts under each of your main supporting points. This can help you start to build the structure of each of your paragraphs as you outline.

Step 3 Stay on topic.

  • For example, remove anecdotes that increase word count. Don't follow up side points from an anecdote just because they're interesting. All of the content of the essay should be there because it directly supports your thesis statement.
  • If you do accidentally go off on a tangent or an aside, cut them later. If you begin cutting content while you are writing the rough draft, you'll have less to work with in the end.

Step 4 Keep track of your word count as you go.

  • In Microsoft Word, select the "Tools" submenu from the Toolbar and then select "Word Count." [4] X Research source
  • In other programs, you may need to look in different places. You can typically use your "Help" menu to find the word count feature.
  • Alternatively, an online word counting tool will automatically display the number of words and characters.
  • Handwritten pages typically average about 100 to 200 words per page. The number of words on your pages depends on how big your writing is. [5] X Research source

Step 5 Proofread

  • Try reading the essay out loud to make sure that its words flow.
  • Have a peer or friend check your work and help remove the unnecessary additions. A neutral set of eyes can often prove helpful in spotting repetition.

Step 6 Place additional information at the end of your essay.

  • However, most teachers and professors frown on attempts to hide additional information in footnotes. Footnotes are meant to reference and occasionally bolster points, not to provide additional information that you couldn't cram in anywhere else.

Step 7 Sleep on it.

Reducing Your Word Count

Step 1 Reduce your word count after you have drafted your essay.

  • If you trim the excess after you have written your essay, you're more likely to have a clear and concise essay in the end.
  • Write first and edit later. If you constantly worry about word limits, you will often end up discarding ideas that add to your paper.

Step 2 Replace phrases with single words.

  • Verbs such as "ask for" or "put up with" can often be replaced with single verbs like "request" or "tolerate."
  • Replace "at the same time" with "simultaneously" and "by the same token" with "similarly."
  • The adverb "immediately" can be used in lieu of phrases such as "right now" and "as soon as."
  • Replace full clauses such as "It is clear that" and "It should be obvious that" with single adverbs such as "clearly," "obviously," or "evidently."
  • A sentence with "the reason why... is that..." can be rewritten with just the conjunction "because." For example: "The reason why ice floats is that..." becomes simply: "Ice floats because..."

Step 3 Take out words that do not change the meaning of your sentences.

  • In fact, taking extraneous words out makes your sentences stronger. For example, the statement "I am actually a great writer" sounds stronger when it is phrased simply as "I am a great writer."

Step 4 Avoid redundancies, also known as pleonasms.

  • Sentences such as "Where is she going to ?" and "Where is the house at ?" have unnecessary prepositions. They do not have to be overt if they aren't followed by the object in these constructions.

Step 5 Remove repetition.

  • Decide when you will make each of your points and only mention them there. If you find yourself mentioning a point repeatedly and it doesn't do anything to support that specific paragraph, then delete it.

Step 6 Avoid excessive hedging.

  • An example of too much hedging is: "There is a chance that the man might possibly come today." This sentence sounds better as: "There is a chance that the man will come today."
  • "I think that" is often an unnecessary form of hedging. Instead of writing, "I think that," give the reason why you think so. For example, just state that "Variable A will likely increase variable B because...."

Step 7 Try removing the first sentence from your paragraphs.

  • You can also work on combining the first and second sentences of your paragraphs. Sometimes you can combine them and reduce your word count, while still retaining the underlying meaning of both of them.

Step 8 Don't become overly attached to your writing.

  • Cut excess ideas but don't delete them completely if you think they have merit. Place them in a new document for another essay or for free writing inspiration.

Expert Q&A

Diane Stubbs

  • Many teachers place a word limit as a general guideline, not as an exact rule. If this is the case, then going over a little bit won't be a major problem. What teachers don't want are gigantic papers that have not been edited or well thought out. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
  • While passive voice has a place, particularly in the methods sections of scientific papers, you should generally avoid it. Even if it allows you to save a word here or there on the length of your paper, the passive voice tends to make your writing less clear and direct, and your tone more stilted and formal. Use sparingly if your aim is to write with clarity and concision. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

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  • ↑ http://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/thesis-statements/
  • ↑ https://essaysnark.com/2011/10/tips-on-cutting-it-down-to-size-overlimit-essays/
  • ↑ https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/606/02/
  • ↑ https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Show-the-word-count-and-more-3c9e6a11-a04d-43b4-977c-563a0e0d5da3
  • ↑ https://www.reference.com/education/many-handwritten-pages-equal-one-typed
  • ↑ http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ld/resources/writing/diagnostic/writingtoolong/writingtoolong-23b
  • ↑ https://targetstudy.com/one-word-substitution/
  • ↑ http://grammarist.com/redundancies/
  • ↑ https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/essay-editing-tips.html

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Is it ok to go over the essay word count?

We require applicants to follow the word limits provided on the application. Your information will not be saved if the responses are too long. You may have to “play” with your thoughts and sentences a bit to meet the limits.

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First-year application FAQs

Search results, what if i don’t have letter grades for some of my coursework or have chosen to take a class pass/fail, how can i explain the context of my grades/scores, and/or provide additional information, can i request that my scores not be considered after submitting my application, how does mit use my test scores, does my transcript count as official.

The MBA Admissions Studio

The MBA Admissions Studio

How strictly must i stick to the word limit on mba admissions essays.

Here’s a question I get a lot from clients: “How strictly do I have to stick to the essay word limit? How much can I go over? Does it matter if I’m under?”

To answer this, it is essential–as always–to think about it from the MBA AdCom’s point of view. Put yourself in their shoes. Why do they set a word limit? What are they trying to achieve? How does it help them?

So, what is AdCom trying to do with word limits? First, if there were no limits, applicants would be emailing and incessantly asking the equivalent of: “Please Miss, how long must it be?”

Second, some applicants would write the great American novel, which would waste both their time and the Committee’s.

Third, limits provide a way of getting essays from different applicants to be more directly comparable, being the same length.

But there is play in the system. The purpose of the essays is to get to know you via your writing, and everyone knows that writing is a creative process. Certainly nobody expects you to hit the word count on the nail.

Note: don’t fuss the word count until they have exactly the number asked for. This is not an engineering or accounting task. You get no credit for being exact. You only get credit for a meaningful essay, well told.

Anyway, application forms often talk about a word “guide” rather than word “limit.” So you can clearly go a bit over, but by how much?

My advice to clients is not to go more than +5% in any essay. This kind of margin is a natural “rounding error” in finishing up what you have to say and will not hurt you if your reader is a reasonable person, which we assume she is.

More than this will start to look like you are taking advantage and/or asking for an indulgence that your competitors are not getting.

However if you write a number of essays that are noticeably short it is fine to have one or two that are commensurately longer, so that the whole comes out more or less right.

Can you go under the limit? Similarly, I advise clients not to go less than -5% on any essay. In one sense, like all professional communicators, I believe in: “say what you have to say; say it once, strongly and clearly, then stop talking.”

This is the royal road to more powerful communications. Certainly there’s no merit in padding, waffling, or repeating yourself.

But admissions essays are relatively short pieces of writing, and — if you merit a place at a top b-school — you are a multifaceted, talented individual with a valuable track record.

So if you can’t find enough  to say to take up the word count, this in itself flags that you have not bothered to (or been able to) fully investigate your own motivations or present your merits.

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Insights and tools to gain admission to the world's elite MBA programs

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Application Guide 2023-2024

Thank you for taking the first step to join the yale som community..

Applying to MBA programs can be a daunting process. There are lots of tasks to prioritize, manage, and complete, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Our hope is that this Application Guide will provide useful insights and advice as you prepare for your Yale SOM application. Please use this Guide as a resource to help you think through the overall application process; specific instructions for each section of the application are found in the Yale SOM application itself. Between this Guide and the application instructions, you should have everything you need to complete the Yale SOM application. Good luck!

Bruce DelMonico  Assistant Dean for Admissions

Preview image for the video "Our Approach to the MBA Application".

How We View the Application Process

Before we dive into the Yale SOM application itself, it may help to step back and take a moment to share a little about how we as a school view the application process generally. We put a lot of thought into how our application is constructed. Our guiding principle is to be thoughtful and economical in the information we ask of you – to only ask questions that are relevant to evaluating your candidacy, while still giving you ample opportunity to share who you are and what matters to you.

We also very much subscribe to the idea of holistic review. We know that the admissions process is a partial and incomplete glimpse into who you are. No one can truly summarize themselves in such a succinct format—test scores alone don’t tell the whole story, nor do your transcript, work history, essay, recommendations, or extracurricular activities. We don’t believe that you can or should be defined by a limited set of reductive data points, which is why we look at all the information available to us across your entire application in a careful and nuanced way to get the best sense of your individual candidacy.

Finally, we work hard to make sure our application is not only thoughtful, economical, nuanced, and holistic, but also that it is structured to heighten consistency and reduce bias. You’ll notice, for example, that we limit the number of activities you can list in the Activities section of the application to two. We do this to level the playing field among applicants and limit the role “activity collecting” plays in the review process. This is one example of our attempts to create a fair and consistent application process.

We know that applying to MBA programs can be time-consuming and challenging. As you embark upon this process, we encourage you to approach it in the spirit of reflection and self-discovery, looking to know more about yourself at the end of the journey than you did when it began. This is the start of a lifelong process of personal and professional growth, and we’re excited to begin it with you!

Some Initial Considerations

We have three application deadlines (September 12, 2023; January 4, 2024; and April 9, 2024), and also accept applications through the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management and QuestBridge Graduate School Match, using their respective deadlines. So, your first question may well be: which round should I apply in?

If you were a QuestBridge Scholar in college or align with the mission of the Consortium, you may want to consider applying to us through those organizations. Regardless of whether you apply through QuestBridge, the Consortium, or directly to Yale SOM, the advice we invariably give is that you should apply when you feel you have your strongest application prepared. This means that if you need more time – for example, to take (or re-take) a standardized test, or gain more work experience, or secure your recommendations – you should take the time to do so. We model the application cycle so that the same application has a comparable chance of being admitted regardless of the round in which you apply. Obviously there can be benefits to applying early (for example, you’ll get your decision sooner), and if you’re ready to apply in time for an earlier round there’s no need to wait until a later one to do so. But don’t feel as though you need to rush to submit your application if you could make it materially stronger by taking the time to improve it in a meaningful way.

Once you’ve settled on an application round, your next question might be some variation of: OK, what’s next? Below are a few considerations to help you start to get a handle on the application process. Also, if you haven’t done so yet, consider signing up for our MBA newsletter , which includes our Inbox Application Insights – a series of application advice delivered to you as you need it in the weeks leading up to our application deadline.

1. Standardized Test – We accept both GMAT and GRE (current and future versions). Explore both options to see which is best for you, and then give yourself a few months before the application deadline for unrushed study and test-taking – you want to give yourself ample time to feel prepared, and also to be able to re-take the test before the deadline if desired.

2. Transcripts – We don’t require official academic transcripts when you apply (only if you’re admitted and enroll), so you just need to make sure you have unofficial copies of all of your undergraduate and, as relevant, graduate transcripts (including transfer credits, summer school, study abroad, and others) that you can upload to your application.

3. Recommendations – We require two professional recommendations (for current college seniors who apply through the Silver Scholars Program it’s one professional and one academic recommendation). Your recommenders are usually busy people with many competing priorities, so be sure to give them time to write your recommendation. Ideally, you should identify who you want to write your recommendations and ask them to do so at least a month before the application deadline, so that they have plenty of time to get their recommendations to us.

4. Resume – In connection with securing your recommendations, you may want to work on updating your resume with an eye toward MBA applications. Your resume is a valuable summation of your academic and professional backgrounds and achievements. You’ll want to make sure it’s updated and captures your key accomplishments, and it can be helpful to do that at the same time you’re speaking to your recommenders about their recommendations. And even though we recommend you not share any of your written application materials (such as your essays) with your recommenders, you may want to show them your resume to help remind them of those accomplishments as they write on your behalf.

5. Essay – The essay may be one of the last things you complete before submitting your application. That’s OK, but be sure to spend time thinking about what you’ll write and working through the writing process far enough in advance of the deadline that you’re not scrambling to put your ideas into words as the deadline’s approaching. This isn’t a creative writing program, so you don’t need to spend an excessive amount of time stressing over the finer points of every linguistic turn of phrase, but as with the other elements of the application, you don’t want to feel rushed.

One final question you may have as you explore your MBA options is: how can I learn more? There are lots of ways to get more information from many different sources. We’ve put together a range of resources ourselves to you to help you learn more about Yale SOM and also navigate the MBA application process. We have a host of in-person and online events , Student Ambassadors , a blog series, and even the opportunity to visit campus should you find yourself in the Northeast United States. And, as noted above, our MBA newsletter contains lots of information about the school as well as a just-in-time series of tips and advice for you as you’re preparing your MBA application. And of course, if you still have questions, you can always contact us directly.

Inside the Application Itself

Your academic record, in combination with other elements of your application, helps us understand your preparation to thrive in the MBA classroom. But you’re more than just your GPA; we seek to understand all aspects of your academic path, from the courses you took to the ways in which your performance may have changed over the trajectory of your education. Although we ask some questions to understand your exposure to quantitative coursework, we welcome students from all academic backgrounds and disciplines; quantitative coursework is not a prerequisite for the program.

At this point, unless you’re a college senior applying to our Silver Scholars Program, your academic record is likely complete and your focus now is on sharing your transcripts with us as part of your application. The application instructions have more detailed information on the process for uploading your transcripts, but it’s worth noting a few things now as you start gathering materials:

First, we don’t need your official university transcripts at this point. To apply, you can submit either a copy of a physical transcript or a comprehensive electronic transcript; we’ll require your official transcript only when you enroll.

Second, in addition to your degree-granting institution’s transcript, we require transcripts for every course you took for degree credit – study abroad, transfer credits, community college courses, summer courses, etc. – at other institutions (unless those courses and grades are reflected in your degree-granting institution’s transcript). Missing and incomplete transcripts are the number one reason for delays in application review once we begin reading your file, so it makes sense to gather together all your transcripts now to make sure they’re complete and ready to upload when you apply.

Of note, although your academic record is largely fixed by now, sometimes applicants will take a one or more quantitative courses to help demonstrate their quantitative exposure and preparation if they didn’t have those courses as an undergraduate and their test scores do not give sufficient evidence of quantitative preparation. So, for example, if you didn’t have any quantitative exposure as an undergraduate and your standardized test quantitative subsection score does not sufficiently showcase your quantitative abilities (for example, it’s outside of our mid-80% range), you may want to take statistics or microeconomics (or both) to give more confidence about your quantitative preparation for the program. (Those courses are also worth taking if you haven’t done so before, even independent of the admissions process, because they are very helpful foundations for your MBA coursework.)

As with your entire application, we are very interested in the whole picture. What was the progression? Did you have an opportunity to take courses outside of your major? Were you working a job in undergrad to pay for your education? There are so many other factors that provide context and nuance to your academic record, and we very much want to understand that contextual information as we review your academics.

—Kate Botelho, Senior Associate Director of Admissions  

MBA applicants tend to put a lot of emphasis on test scores, but remember that they’re just one piece of a larger picture, and they’re used for a limited purpose: to give us some sense of your level of preparation for the core curriculum, which is all they’re validated to predict. And even for this limited purpose, they’re only one of several indicators – including your academic history and your Behavioral Assessment – that helps us determine your classroom readiness. We consider all parts of your application when considering your candidacy.

We accept both the GMAT and the GRE, including the online and newer, shorter versions of the exams. The Admissions Committee has no preference between the exams, and we’re well versed in evaluating scores from each. As you consider which one to take, it may make sense to try practice questions from each (or even an entire test!) to see which one resonates more with you. Much like the SAT and ACT for those of you who decided between those two tests when applying for college, the GMAT and GRE have some similarities and some differences, so you may feel more comfortable taking one over the other.

Once you decide which exam to take, give yourself time to study. Even in their shorter and more streamlined versions, these are exams that take time to prepare for. Usually you’ll want to spend two to three months studying and preparing, depending on the number of hours available to you each week. And you should try if possible to take the exam far enough in advance of the application deadline to be able to re-take it if necessary – it’s not uncommon for applicants to take the test more than once, although of course there’s no need to do so if you achieved a score you’re happy with on the first try! (If you do end up retaking a test after the application deadline, get your new score to us as soon as you can so that we can try to incorporate it into our review – you’ll be able to enter the new score on your applicant status page.)

In thinking about your test score and whether to re-take the exam, know that we look not just at your overall score but the subsections as well. We also consider your scores not just in isolation but in the context of your academic and professional backgrounds. In other words, a test score has no fixed weight within our application review, but is considered relative to other relevant aspects of your application in assessing your academic preparation. We don’t have any baseline or minimum scores – either for the total score or subsections – below which we won’t consider an applicant, but we do want to make sure the subsections aren’t too far out of alignment; that is, you should show some degree of competency in each subsection, even if your overall score is competitive (for example, a score in the 99th percentile in one subsection doesn’t counterbalance a score in the 9th percentile in another).

Importantly, as with your academic transcripts, you don’t need to submit official test scores when you apply to us. We accept self-reported scores when you apply and will only require official scores after you enroll.

Also, note that we do not require non-native English speakers to submit an English language test such as the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE. One of the reasons we introduced our video questions component years ago was to eliminate the English testing requirement and make the process simpler and less expensive for applicants.

When we say we have no preference between the GMAT and GRE, we really mean it. Take whatever exam you feel most comfortable with. I also recommend being a bit strategic. If you know you’ll want to apply for a joint degree, maybe the GRE would be best for you since you can likely use that score to apply to both programs. If you’ve tried taking one of the exams a couple of times and aren’t attaining the score you’re hoping for, maybe it would be a good idea to try the other exam to see if that’s a better test for you.

—Amy Voth, Senior Associate Director of Admissions  

In evaluating your candidacy for Yale SOM, we look at not just your potential to perform academically, but also your potential for professional success and impact. Your past professional experience – as evidenced through the Work Experience section of the application and your resume – is a way to highlight the positive impact you’ve had in your career so far, and in turn the likelihood that you’ll continue to have meaningful impact after Yale SOM.

Your resume is an opportunity to give us a concise overview of your professional experience, academic background, and any volunteer work, activities, or other interests that help to tell your story. Unless you have more than ten years of work experience, your resume should be limited to one page. (If you do have more than ten years of work experience, feel free to take the additional space needed to cover all of your individual experiences, even the ones that took place at the start of your career.) You’re welcome to use any resume format of your choosing, or you can use the Yale SOM resume template that’s provided in our application, which is what our students use when applying for internships and post-MBA jobs.

In the past, you may have used a resume designed to highlight your essential job functions and key responsibilities. The most helpful resume for your MBA application will mirror the type of resume you’ll use for applying to jobs coming out an MBA program: one that focuses on your accomplishments, achievements, and the value you add. In other words, this is not the time to be modest (although you’ll want to avoid exaggeration)! When describing your experiences, begin bullets with active verbs such as “led” or “created,” highlighting the impact and results you drove in each of your roles. In particular, you may want to highlight leadership experience, quantitative experience, and evidence of strategic thinking.

Speaking of quantitative, when possible, resume bullets should quantify results; be specific in highlighting the percentage sales increase, dollar cost savings, increased operational efficiency, and other quantifiable metrics. But when you can’t quantify, qualify. For example, sharing that you “Championed a quarterly learning seminar that increased collaboration between sales, marketing and finance” or “Developed a proposal to refocus traditional media spend on a social media strategy; recommendation was supported by senior leadership” give the Admissions Committee a clear sense of results that can’t necessarily be described in numbers.

If you work for a small company, a company that may not be well known outside of your region, or have started your own company, it’s helpful to include a brief description of that company on your resume to give the Admissions Committee some more information about your experience. The Work Experience section of the application also contains space for you to provide contextual information about your professional experience, including descriptions about your company, your role, your reasons for leaving, gaps in experience, and other information. Use this section to your advantage, because the more information you can provide, the more comfort the Admissions Committee will have about your professional trajectory.

It’s worth noting that while the Work Experience section of your application should only include full-time, post-undergraduate professional experience, feel free to include internships, work during college or part-time work in your resume.

Also of particular note, especially given the unsettled employment landscape of the past few years, we know that some of you have gaps in your employment history or may not currently be working. You might be concerned that the Admissions Committee will view these career disruptions negatively. We want to emphasize that we understand the tremendous professional upheavals of the last several years and will view work histories with those disruptions very much in mind. The best thing you can do is help us understand your career path, including gaps in employment, both on your resume and in the application. The application has space for you to explain your career transitions and gaps of greater than three months. Making sure your resume is clear, complete, and accurate is critical as well.

Your resume is a great place to ground your application. It’s a quick and easy way for the committee to see what you’ve been doing throughout your life and career in a chronological way. Simple stuff: Proof-read it and spell-check it

—Rebekah Melville, Managing Director of Financial Aid and Admissions Committee member

Most students who come to Yale SOM are looking to explore new possibilities for their careers, whether that means pivoting to a new industry or function, changing geographic focus, or accelerating on a current career path. You’re not expected to have it all figured out before coming to school. And in identifying your post-MBA goals, you don’t need to pretend that you’re more certain than you actual are. But it is important to have developed some ideas about your career interests and goals, and how to best position yourself to pursue those interests.

Whatever your post-MBA goals, we promise we won’t hold you to it! We don’t have quotas by industry, nor do we craft a class with a particular mix of industries in mind. In fact, we care more about your thought process around your career interests (including where they came from, how you’re thinking about them, what you’ve done already to explore them, and what you’ll do in the future to pursue them) than we do what the interests actually are. Hopefully you can breathe easier knowing that you don’t need to have the entire course of your professional life mapped out right now!

Recommendations are an important window into understanding your professional impact and how you lead and collaborate within an organizational setting. They’re a way for us to gain additional perspective on your candidacy from people who have worked with you and who know you well.

Unless you’re applying as an undergraduate student, your two recommendations should be professional in nature. Many candidates ask us who the best people are to write their recommendations. We strongly recommend that, if possible, one of your recommendations comes from a current supervisor. More generally, beyond their specific relation to you, your recommendations should come from people who know your work well and who are senior to you, not peers or subordinates. We care more about the quality of the recommendation than the title of the recommender, so you should be guided by the substance of the work relationship rather than the seniority of the position.

While we recommend that one of your recommendations comes from a current supervisor, we know that sometimes this is not possible. You will have an opportunity in the application to explain your choice of recommenders if neither of them is someone who currently supervises you. Maybe that person is a family member, or maybe you’re an entrepreneur, or maybe you haven’t told your supervisor you are considering leaving to earn your MBA. In these cases, we would suggest you look to your most recent former supervisor. For family businesses, think about vendors or suppliers. Entrepreneurs may consider getting recommendations from board members or VC funders.

In terms of securing your recommendations, we encourage you to reach out to your recommenders in advance and schedule some time to talk with them about your desire to earn an MBA – maybe even reflect together on some of the growth experiences you’ve had and how you expect to add value to an MBA community. It may be helpful for you to walk through your resume together, since it will likely contain – and may remind them of – the many accomplishments you achieved that can inform the substance of their recommendation.

We do suggest, however, that you not send your recommenders your essays or other written application materials because they may incorporate them into their recommendations. Seeing the same language in your essays and recommendations may raise concerns to us about the independence of the recommendations, even if you were only trying to be helpful to your recommenders.

Also, you can have no role in the drafting or submission of your recommendations. We know that your recommenders are busy, and they may ask your assistance in drafting a letter for their review. Please resist this pressure and ask someone else instead. An authentic letter coming from an individual who is familiar with your work will always be the better option than a letter that was not wholly written by an independent source, even if that person is your current supervisor.

Finally, we accept recommendation letters written in English, Spanish, and Mandarin. The Yale SOM Admissions Committee will be responsible for translating letters written in Spanish and Mandarin. Our hope is that this service will make it easier for you to find recommenders who know you well and will give you more options in your choice of recommenders.

We want to know what matters to you, and our essay question is designed to help us gain insight into your background, passions, motivations, responsibilities, ideals, identities, challenges, or aspirations, depending on where you take your response. To ensure that you’re able to write about something important to you, we offer you three essay prompts from which to choose:

1) Describe the biggest commitment you have ever made. Why is this commitment meaningful to you and what actions have you taken to support it?

2) Describe the community that has been most meaningful to you. What is the most valuable thing you have gained from being a part of this community and what is the most important thing you have contributed to this community?

3) Describe the most significant challenge you have faced. How have you confronted this challenge and how has it shaped you as a person?

Choose the prompt that speaks most strongly to you and about which you have the most enthusiasm. In answering the prompt – whichever one it is – you should think about the life experiences that have been most meaningful to you and that you most want to communicate to the committee, and pick the question that will best allow you to express that aspect of yourself. We find that the most compelling essays are the ones that are truly most important to you, so make sure that’s your guide in choosing what to write about; don’t try to guess what we’re looking for or what you think we want to hear. Importantly, regardless of which prompt you choose, you’ll want to support your essay with concrete examples.

The word limit (though not necessarily the goal) is 500 words.

The Optional Information section is truly optional. It’s not an additional required essay – if no aspect of your application requires further explanation, you should leave this section blank. In most cases, we get all the information we need from the various components of your application and there is no need to complete this section.

However, if you think the Admissions Committee would benefit from a brief explanation regarding any aspect of your application, you may provide it in the Optional Information section. Your general approach should be that if there is something you feel is material to your candidacy that you are not able to include in another section of the application, put it here.

Here are some examples: Consider providing additional context if it will allow us to better understand your academic performance, promotions or recognitions, or other information that is not apparent from the rest of your application. If you’ve taken concrete steps to mitigate a weaker element of your application or have an accomplishment that does not fit anywhere else in the application, you might include that here. Note that you should use the specific prompts provided in the Work Experience section to address gaps in work experience or choice of recommender. And if you would like to provide additional details to expand on any information provided in the Background Information section, you’re encouraged to do so in the “Supplemental Detail” area within that section.

To get a fuller picture of you and your interests, we ask about the commitments outside of the classroom and your day-to-day employment that are most meaningful to you. When it comes to activities, more isn’t always better. We ask for no more than two activities per timeframe because we want you to focus on what’s most significant, and where you’ve engaged most deeply. We know that for some of you, the activities you pursue outside of school or work can be what’s most aligned with your true interests and passions. On the other hand, we also recognize that different jobs, courses of study, and life circumstances can limit your capacity to take on additional activities. Wherever you are within this range, this section presents another opportunity to share something that matters to you.

We encourage you to think broadly about the activities in which you have engaged. This could include extracurricular activities, sports, volunteer work, research/academic activities, employment or work-study during school, familial roles or responsibilities, professional affiliations, or hobbies.

We’ve worked hard to create an application that gives you an opportunity to share who you are and what matters most to you, but recognize that an application process is an inherently artificial framework for learning about any individual. As recognized elsewhere, it gives us only a partial and incomplete glimpse into who you are. No single data point is determinative in this process, and in fact, the same data point can have different meaning based on the other elements of your application and the overall context surrounding your candidacy.

Because of these realities, the Admissions Committee seeks to gain the fullest understanding of you possible within the structure of the application process. Elements of your personal background may provide crucial insights into the choices and opportunities that have shaped your academic, professional, and personal experiences. We welcome whatever aspects of this background you’re comfortable sharing with us. And, as noted elsewhere, if you would like to provide additional details to expand on any information provided in the Background Information section, you’re encouraged to do so in the “Supplemental Detail” area within the section.

Yale SOM is committed to continuous innovation in the ways we identify future members of our community. The Behavioral Assessment might be the most unique of these innovations.

The Behavioral Assessment is an online exercise administered by ETS, the testing service behind the GRE. But unlike the GMAT or GRE, which are tests of certain cognitive abilities, the Behavioral Assessment is a non-cognitive instrument that measures a set of inter- and intrapersonal competencies that are associated with academic success in business school. We look at it alongside, and sometimes as a counterpoint to, traditional academic metrics. And much like any other piece of the application, the Behavioral Assessment will never be the deciding factor for admission, but will instead be used in combination with the rest of a candidate’s profile.

The exercise itself should take about 25 minutes to complete. You will receive 130 pairs of statements, one pair at a time, from which you’re asked to select the statement that best aligns with your own behaviors. The assessment is adaptive, so no two candidates will receive the exact same set of statements. No preparation is necessary to take the assessment, and no special knowledge is required.

I hope it will put applicants at ease to know that our use of this assessment is geared towards allowing the committee to take more chances on candidates whose traditional metrics may not be the best predictors of success. To truly fulfill Yale SOM’s mission of educating leaders for business and society, we need a community of students whose backgrounds, experiences, and interests are diverse and expansive. If we limit ourselves to applicants who perform best on traditional academic measures like GMAT, GRE, or undergraduate GPA, we may miss out on candidates with extraordinary professional experience or personal backgrounds that would add vital perspectives to the classroom. At the same time, it’s our responsibility to ensure we bring students into the program who will succeed in the classroom—we don’t want to set up students for failure. The Behavioral Assessment gives us an additional piece of information to use in assessing who will perform effectively in the curriculum, specifically by helping us predict who will perform better than their academic history would suggest. So, it will allow us to take more chances on candidates without the strongest academic or testing profiles, but who nonetheless have what it takes to succeed in the classroom and who undoubtedly will make significant contributions to our community because of their experience and perspective.

—Laurel Grodman, Assistant Dean for Admissions

Like the Behavioral Assessment, you’ll complete the video questions after you submit your application and pay the application fee. The video questions are not a substitute for the interview. Instead, they provide a unique way for us to assess your communication and English language skills, and enable us to create a more dynamic, multi-dimensional portrait of your candidacy.

Every candidate will receive a set of previously recorded questions asked by an admissions team member. The questions asked are similar to typical interview questions. There are no “trick questions”; we’re not trying to stump you. The responses do not require any specific knowledge or preparation beyond the practice tool you can use before answering the questions, and your responses will be used with a “light touch,” as we say – they won’t make or break your application.

Here are a few tips on the video exercise. First, know you’re going to be great! Our aim to set you up for success. After receiving each question, you’ll have 20-30 seconds to gather your thoughts and 60-90 seconds, depending on the question, for your response. Familiarize yourself with the 60-90 second time frame in which to deliver your response. You don’t want to feel rushed, and you don’t want to run out of time getting to the heart of your answer. Finally, be sure you have a good internet connection and a quiet, private space. You’d be surprised how many ‘bloopers’ we see in the video questions due to an unexpected colleague, partner, or pet joining your session!

—Kristen Mercuri, Director of Admissions

Interviews are offered by invitation on a rolling basis throughout each round. Don’t be concerned if your invitation to interview does not come until later in the round; it takes a considerable amount of time for the Admissions Committee to review all of the applications we receive, and we don’t begin our review until after each application deadline.

If you receive an invitation, it will be an offer to participate in a 30-minute interview conducted by a current second-year student, recent alum, or an Admissions Committee member. The interview is blind, meaning your interviewer will only know what they see on your resume and will not have reviewed the rest of your application. The questions are largely behavioral in nature – how you handled certain situations – as well as focused on your MBA and post-MBA plans. The best way to prepare is to review your Yale SOM application, resume, and essay to refresh yourself on what you wrote, and be ready with answers to typical behavioral interview questions.

It’s worth noting that even if you’re not invited to interview in the round in which you applied, it doesn’t mean you’ll be denied admission. It’s not uncommon to be placed on the waitlist without having been interviewed. We will review your candidacy again in the next round, in conjunction with the applicants who apply in that round. You may be offered an interview – and subsequently admitted – at any point in the cycle. So please be patient, and resist the urge to check in with the Admissions Office on your interview status!

Final Thoughts

Once you submit your application and complete the Behavioral Assessment and video questions, your application is complete and we’ll begin our review of your candidacy.

We know that the process to get to this point is a long one, involving a lot of time, effort, money, and energy. Regardless of the outcome of your candidacy, you should congratulate yourself on getting to this point! Hopefully just completing this part of the process has yielded important benefits in terms of helping clarify the values, priorities, and aspirations that will guide you through business school and beyond.

Know that we will treat your application during the review process with the same care that you put into preparing it. The process itself is highly individualized: what makes someone stand out can be vastly different from candidate to candidate. Therefore, as you think about your application, the key is to remain your true self throughout the process. What the Admissions Committee is looking to learn about in your application is...you! We look forward to learning more about you, what makes you unique, and what special contributions you’ll bring to our community.

Virtual Campus Tour

Highlights from the mba admissions blog.

Austin Cai ’25 introducing panelists at a winter social in Beijing

Introducing Our Community to Prospective Students in Beijing

During winter recess, Austin Cai ’25 hosted a panel discussion in his home city of Beijing, creating an opportunity for prospective students to get to know more about Yale SOM and what makes the community unique.

Bruce DelMonico

From the Assistant Dean for Admissions: Insights for Applicants

Bruce DelMonico shares advice on how to approach the application process—and what the Admissions Committee is really looking for. 

MBA Class of 2025 group photo

From the Assistant Dean for Admissions: Meet the Class of 2025

Bruce DelMonico shares details about the MBA program’s newest students.

A person walking a dog outside

A Day in the Life: Lauren D’Souza ’25

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A Day in the Life: Hana Ezaldein ’24

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A Day in the Life: Stephen Potts ’24

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How to Prepare for WAT?

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  • How to prepare for WAT?

Before you get into How to prepare for XAT BDM, it is best to know what XAT is all about. If you want to get a holistic idea about XAT Exam’s Syllabus, the selection process, Eligibility, and other details like what other management exams to write and what the syllabus is for those exams - It is best to visit this page . If you already have an idea about all that, read ahead on How to prepare for the XAT BDM?

What is WAT?

Written Assessment/Ability Test (WAT) is the first phase of the post-CAT selection process. As the name suggests, it is a round where the candidate will be required to write an essay on a given topic within the word limit prescribed. The broad range of topics for Written Ability Test (WAT): The topics given to a candidate would fall in one of the following broad categories: 1. A brief case study 2. A situation with a decision-making scenario 3. An abstract/concrete one-line The candidate should ideally be ready to write an essay, given any of the three themes mentioned above.

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Written Ability Test (WAT) – Myth vs reality: There are several misconceptions about what and what not the Written Ability Test is, and what the test requires and entails. 1. This is not a test of your English language skills WAT is not a test that tests your mastery in the English language. There is absolutely no need to use fancy words or be verbose. If you are someone whose language skills are not great, you are absolutely at NO disadvantage at all. 2. WAT is about structure and articulation By now, this must be obvious. If WAT is not a test of language proficiency, it must have something else as the criteria. And that criteria is how well you can structure your ideas and articulate them coherently.

Steps to practice well for Written Ability Test (WAT)

Just like the preparation regime for CAT, the Written Ability Test (WAT) requires practice and a fair amount of knowledge as well. There are some very basic fundamental steps to ace the WAT round. 1. Go through a list of topics This is the foremost necessity before even starting to write WAT essays. It is mandatory that you go through a range of topics, like the one that has been carefully curated, here. 2. Practice by writing Write While reading through a range of topics and getting to know about them is very important, WAT practice is incomplete if you do not practice writing enough and more essays.

Do not be too short; do not run out of words as well The word limit for your actual WAT could be 200, 400 or 600 words. So, practice not just to write essays on diverse topics, but also on adapting the same essay to different word limits. Go the conventional way Practice with pen and paper. Do not use your computer to practice writing WAT essays. With typing, you get the advantage of using backspace; you will be able to erase mistyped words/thoughts. This is not possible in your actual WAT. With pen and paper, there is no backspace. You will not be able to erase the penned words. Hence, it is crucial to practice with pen and paper to know where you stand, what kinds of mistakes you make while writing, and more.

A basic structure for Written Ability Test (WAT)

There are obviously a lot of methods to structure your essay. But a structure that is the most robust and works most effectively consists of the following parts. 1. Introduction 2. Body 3. Conclusion Introduction: This is plain and simple. You must write a sentence or two restating the topic and organizing how your essay would flow. Essentially, this should set the tone for the rest of your essay. Body: This is where the actual content is. The facts, your opinions, arguments, counter-arguments, citations and everything else should form the bulk of the body of your essay. Conclusion: The conclusion can either be a summary of the points that have been laid out and detailed in the body of the essay. If the essay is argumentative, and you have taken a stance on the given topic, the conclusion should necessarily sum up your stance in a nutshell.

What should you do when you get a WAT topic?

Oftentimes, the candidates have phenomenal ideas and their command over the language is also good. But they tend to miss out on writing a great WAT essay. There are certain ground rules to be kept in mind before you jump the gun and start writing your WAT essay. 1. Wrap your head around the topic. CLEARLY. While the urge to pen down your thoughts and finish off the essay is obvious, it is crucial to know and understand what exactly the topic is about. This is especially true when there is an abstract one-line. Before you write your first letter/word, you should have absolute clarity and conviction about what you intend to write. Conversely, if there is even an iota of doubt about the topic, ensure that you take that extra time to wind your head around the topic clearly. 2. Planning vs. Writing – the time factor It is another myth that you will not find enough time to complete your WAT essay. An essay that has been planned well in your mind takes no time to finish. Take up to 40% of the total time given for your WAT round, just to plan and organize your essay in your mind. Jot down brief notes or points that form the skeleton of your WAT essay. 3. Prioritize well The mind has transferred a brief outline of sorts to the paper now. You have a set of points. Now, prioritize. Arrange them on the order of importance. Do not miss out on what you think are the top three points that should definitely be covered in the WAT essay in any case. 4. The problem of plenty Sometimes, it so happens that you tend to get so many ideas and points to cover in the essay. The aspect of prioritization takes a higher precedence in that case. You simply cannot try to shoot everything under the sun. You cannot afford to lose time on the points that are not the most crucial for your WAT essay. 5. Cite when needed If you know a research paper, journal article or the comments of a reputed person on the given WAT topic, try to include those in your essay. These lift up the quality of your essay. Caution: It is fine if you are not aware of any reputed sources with a say on the given WAT topic. This is an added advantage, and not a mandatory aspect of your WAT essay.

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Extended Essay - Criteria: Interim reflection

  • Criterion A: Focus and Method
  • Criterion B: Knowledge and Understanding
  • Criterion C: Critical Thinking
  • Table of Contents
  • Citations and Referencing
  • Appendices (Optional)
  • Initial reflection
  • Interim reflection
  • Interim Reflection Handout

Between the Interim Reflection and the completion of the extended essay, students should continue to see their supervisor as appropriate.

Interim Reflection


The interim, or second, reflection session takes place before the first full draft is completed, but after a substantial amount of work has been done. The first step is a mandatory interview between the student and the supervisor. The questions asked during this session tend to be more analytical, with a discussion of the strengths and limitations of initial findings and research methods. This interview informs the second written reflection.

Interview Session

INTERVIEW SESSION (20–30 minutes)

During this interview session supervisors might ask:

  • Where are you now in the research process and how did you get there?
  • What challenges have you faced and what strategies have you used to overcome these?
  • How are you adhering to the academic honesty policy?
  • How has your understanding of the question/topic changed?
  • What changes need to be made in order to complete this research?
  • What have you learned that might affect the way you continue?
  • Is your argument well structured and coherent?
  • Have you provided enough evidence to support a reasoned argument?
  • Have you critically evaluated this research?
  • Are there adjustments or changes that you might make to improve your essay?

INTERIM REFLECTION (max. ~150 words)

When writing the final reflection, students might reflect about any of the above questions that were discussed.

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Ellin Lolis Consulting

Impress the Adcom: 5 Steps to Killer MBA Essays

May 20, 2024

interview essay word limit

Are you gearing up to apply to business school and feeling overwhelmed by the essay writing process? You’re not alone. Many MBA applicants struggle to convey what makes them unique in a way that truly sets them apart from the competition.

The stakes are high, and a generic or lackluster essay means the difference between getting accepted to your dream school or being left behind. It’s a daunting task, but don’t worry – we’re here to bring our decade of experience to help you.

In this post, we’ll share five essential steps to crafting compelling MBA essays that strike a great balance between showing what makes you unique and hitting on the content elements all good essays need to have. 

By following our proven framework, you’ll be able to create essays that grab the attention of admissions committees and demonstrate why you’re the ideal candidate for their program. We’ll guide you through the process step by step, providing practical tips and real-world examples along the way. Let’s jump in!

Step 1: Use Your Personal Brand

interview essay word limit

One of the most important things to take advantage of as you write each of your essays is a personal brand that connects all of your ideas and examples. In essence,  your personal brand is the set of characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, approaches, values, and goals that align with your experience and motivations.

In the highly competitive MBA admissions landscape, standing out from the crowd is crucial. With thousands of applicants vying for limited spots, crafting a compelling personal brand is key to catching the attention of the admissions committee and securing your place in their program.

Your personal brand is the unique combination of your experiences, skills, and values that define who you are and what you bring to the table. By carefully curating the elements you choose to highlight in your application, you can create a cohesive narrative that showcases your strengths and sets you apart from other candidates.

To build a strong personal brand, start by reflecting on your most significant achievements, challenges overcome, and lessons learned. Consider what makes you unique and what you want the admissions committee to remember about you. Be selective in what you include, focusing on the aspects of your story that are most relevant and compelling.

While everyone’s personal brands differ, some of the key questions you can answer to build your own include: what are your purpose and vision ? What motivates you in your life and career? What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned, and how have you used them in different situations? How do you stand out, both personally and professionally? What are your strengths, and how have you demonstrated them? What about your weaknesses, and how have you tried to overcome them?

Once you have your ideas down, you can start thinking about how they translate into the responses to the questions in your application.

Step 2: Use STAR-Formatted Stories

Depending on the question (whether it’s about leadership , impact , or even your hobbies), you will have to choose which examples of your strengths (and weaknesses !) are most appropriate. No matter what you choose, however, it’s almost always a good idea to use STAR to structure your stories. 

To have a full explanation of this approach, we suggest checking out our post dedicated fully to STAR , but here’s the nutshell version. STAR stands for:

Situation : Provide context about the challenge or opportunity you faced. Paint a clear picture so the reader understands the background.

Task : Explain your specific role and the key objective you needed to achieve. Highlight any major obstacles that stood in your way.  

Action(s) : Detail the steps and strategies you used to address the situation and reach your goal. Showcase your problem-solving abilities here.

Results : Describe the outcomes of your efforts. Quantify the impacts where possible and reflect on lessons learned. 

Using this framework will help you understand what information is most important to include – especially considering that you are trying to paint a clear picture of yourself to a group of strangers – and how to structure it logically and effectively.

interview essay word limit

At Ellin Lolis Consulting , we also work with our clients to combine this approach with storytelling to make those examples really pop. If you can provide structure, that’s one thing, but if you can also make it engaging and memorable through vivid, authentic descriptions and meaning, then you are on track to getting admitted to your dream school.

Take this example from one of our client’s essays:

“The achievement I’m most proud of happened recently. At my company, it had been three years since we had raised investments for a new fund, so finding a new opportunity was critical. In mid-December, that great opportunity arose, however, we’d be battling against an unbelievably short deadline to get the project approved. 

Normally, at this time of year, we’re still fully staffed, but given the stagnant market, only one manager and myself remained. In addition, the fund’s investment policy relied on a strategy that we’d never used. Finally, I’d never worked on the public offering of a fund before. 

Nonetheless, I knew that if the manager and I worked diligently to support each other, we could land this deal. Our first move was to organize a meeting to align all parties involved. Then, we divided tasks, and I took over coordinating stakeholders, assigning tasks, and managing deliverables. In the end, we successfully delivered everything on time.

This experience made me more comfortable in a leadership position, as managing diverse stakeholders under pressure helped me better analyze what each brought to the table and execute accordingly. Recently, I’ve even been able to help other teams coordinate new offers. Finally, the project was a great opportunity to learn new management skills from my superior. This reinforced for me how important it will be to learn additional management frameworks at INSEAD and prepare myself to be a leader in the private equity market.”

Notice how the author has structured this story in STAR format while also showing color via a detailed description and revealing how the event impacted their career.

TOP TIP : The key to a strong application is to be authentic. Don’t embellish or exaggerate. Instead, focus on real examples that highlight your strengths and potential. Keep the language professional but approachable. Aim for clarity over complexity. After all, your main objective is to ensure that your personality and capabilities shine through.

Step 3: Have a Clear Plan For Your Goals

Another absolutely essential aspect of brainstorming and writing any MBA application is having a clear, actionable goals statement . Without it, you will not be able to connect your past achievements and lessons learned to your future, which includes the MBA program and how you plan to engage with and use it! 

The career goals you present are a vital piece of your business school application. It’s your chance to demonstrate to the admissions committee that you have a clear vision for your future and that you’re the kind of candidate who will uphold their reputation as you advance in your career.

To craft a compelling goals statement, you need to articulate both your immediate plans after graduation and your long-term career objectives. For each, specify the industry or company you intend to work in, as well as the particular role you aim to hold. If you’re planning a career transition, be sure to provide a solid rationale for your choice.

interview essay word limit

It’s also beneficial to describe what you hope to accomplish in those positions and why you are passionate about pursuing these goals. By including these specifics, you’ll show that you’ve given serious thought to your professional trajectory and have a well-defined roadmap for your career.

Remember, the admissions team wants to see that you have a purposeful plan for your time in business school and beyond. A strong, detailed goals statement will help you make a persuasive case for your admission and demonstrate your potential to be a successful alumnus who will bolster the school’s image in the years to come.

For example, see one of our former clients’ long-term goals:

“In the long-term, I hope to become a principal at BCG who focuses on emphasizing sustainable solutions by promoting renewable energy in consumer goods companies across Brazil. In this position, I can not only help companies become more sustainable but reinforce this mindset among BCG teams in order to increase widespread environmental awareness in business.”

Notice how they have stated the details while also giving a clear picture of exactly what they intend to do and change. These goals are specific, which proves that the candidate has thought through their goals clearly but also remains visionary in what they want to achieve, which shows passion and motivation. This is the kind of approach you want to take when formulating your own goals.

Step 4: Be Strategically Specific 

Two of the biggest mistakes some of our clients make in their essays: being too vague about their stories and being too specific about irrelevant details. Specifically, it is important to hit the sweet spot when it comes to details.

When crafting your MBA admissions essays, it’s crucial to provide specific examples that clearly illustrate your experiences and achievements to the admissions committee. Keep in mind that they don’t know you personally and may not have business backgrounds, so it’s essential to explain the context and significance of your stories.

However, it’s equally important to be selective about the details you include. That’s why developing your personal brand and focusing on a few key stories is so critical. You want to ensure you have enough space to provide a comprehensive overview of your actions and their impact, often within a 500-word limit .

To make the most of your essay, only include information that directly supports the main point you want to convey. While our clients are often tempted to highlight every strength they demonstrated in a particular experience, there simply isn’t enough room to cover all the angles. As we often advise our clients, even in longer essays like Harvard’s , prioritize quality over quantity!

A great way of knowing when to provide details and how to focus is by establishing a theme in each of your essays . By establishing the main idea behind what you want to communicate in your responses, you can more easily identify what can be prioritized and what must be elaborated on. 

Step 5: Tailor Your Responses to Each School

interview essay word limit

When crafting your MBA application essays, it’s crucial to keep the specific admissions committee in mind. After all, it’s not a story if it doesn’t have an audience! Thoroughly research each school you’re applying to, focusing on their values, courses that align with your goals, relevant clubs and organizations, and how the school’s community, location, and alumni network can support your career aspirations. Demonstrating a clear understanding of how you can contribute meaningfully to the MBA community will also strengthen your application.

By conducting this research upfront, you can tailor your stories and experiences to highlight aspects that resonate with the school’s unique qualities. This targeted approach will show the admissions committee that you have a strategic plan for your MBA and are a strong fit for their program. Approach your MBA application like a job application – you must be prepared to articulate how you will add value to the school during your time there and after graduation.

To achieve this, we recommend identifying the school’s core values and using them to guide the examples and themes you emphasize in your essays. Additionally, provide specific details about the activities and courses you plan to pursue and how you will apply that knowledge in your future career. You may even want to share relevant information you’ve learned about the school from students and alumni. Even if the application doesn’t include a question directly addressing your plans for your time at the school, find a way to organically integrate this information into at least one of your responses.

By following these guidelines and showcasing your genuine interest and fit with each school, you’ll be well on your way to submitting compelling MBA application essays that leave a lasting impression on the admissions committee.

Our Expert Storytellers Ensure Your Essays Shine

One of the most common mistakes we see in MBA essays is that candidates fail to tell compelling stories. This is important because if your stories are not compelling, they will not be persuasive. At the same time, they must be backed by strong examples that establish a track record of success and prove to the admissions committees why you belong at their school. 

Striking this balance between content and creativity can be tough, however, as succeeding means not only choosing the right tasks but ensuring they are told in an optimal manner. 

This is why our iterative developmental feedback process here at Ellin Lolis Consulting helps you mold your message through the application of our storytelling expertise until it reflects exactly what makes your profile stand out and show fit with your target program. 

Not only can you take advantage of our iterative feedback process through multiple edits – you can also benefit from it after a single review ! If your budget is tight, our editors will be happy to help polish your text as much as possible and leave “bonus comments” so you can keep working on it on your own!

interview essay word limit

No matter how long we work with you, we will always ensure your essays shine. Sign up to work with our team of storytelling experts and get accepted. 

Real MBA Essays That Got People In

School-specific sample essays that got our clients accepted

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interview essay word limit

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Your chance of acceptance, your chancing factors, extracurriculars, does harvard use the common app.

Hi guys, quick question: Does Harvard accept applications through the Common App? And if so, are there any unique essay prompts or additional questions to be aware of? Thanks for the help!

Yes, Harvard does accept applications through the Common App. When applying to Harvard through the Common App, you'll encounter their unique essay prompts and additional questions. Here's a brief overview of what you'll need to include in your application:

1. The Common Application Personal Statement: This is a required essay with a word limit of 650 words. You have a choice of several prompts; you should pick the one that resonates with you the most. The prompts are updated each year, so make sure to the Common App to see the current options.

2. The School-Specific Supplemental Prompts: In addition to the supplement essay, Harvard also has supplemental prompts in their application. These questions typically focus on your extracurricular activities, academic interests, and any additional information you'd like to share. The word limit for these questions varies, but it is often around 200 words. For in-depth advice on tackling the Harvard supplements, check out this CollegeVine article: https://blog.collegevine.com/how-to-write-the-harvard-university-essays

3. Additional Information Section: This optional section allows you to provide any additional information that you believe will be helpful to the admissions committee. This can include elaborating on your extracurricular activities, personal challenges, or any other topics that may not fit in the main essay or short answers. The word limit for this section is typically 500 words.

Make sure to proofread your essays and responses thoroughly before submitting them. Best of luck with your Harvard application!

About CollegeVine’s Expert FAQ

CollegeVine’s Q&A seeks to offer informed perspectives on commonly asked admissions questions. Every answer is refined and validated by our team of admissions experts to ensure it resonates with trusted knowledge in the field.

Med School Insiders

2024 AAMC PREview Prep Guide—Everything You Need to Know

  • By Med School Insiders
  • March 9, 2024
  • Medical School Application , PREview

In recent years, the medical community has placed increasing emphasis on the importance of a premed’s soft skills and non-academic qualifications. While academic qualifications are still a major determining factor in a premed’s medical school acceptance, admissions committees are also interested in evaluating a med school candidate’s empathy, professionalism, communication skills, and ethical decision making. So to do just that, the AAMC is introducing the PREview Professional Readiness Exam.

PREview is a situational judgment test much like Casper, but it is instead developed and administered by the AAMC. Since it’s quite new on the scene, it’s very possible you will not have to complete it in order to apply to medical school. In 2023, only 19 schools participated in the test. However, there is a chance future premeds or future residency applicants could be faced with it.

This guide will outline everything you need to know about the PREview exam, including test logistics, what it’s designed to evaluate, whether or not you need to take it, how it’s scored, how to prepare, and a PREview FAQ.

What Is the AAMC PREview Professional Readiness Exam?

The AAMC PREview Professional Readiness Exam is a standardized situational judgment test designed to evaluate a premed’s awareness of effective and ineffective professional behaviors.

It’s essentially AAMC’s answer to the rising popularity of the Casper test, which is required by approximately 50 medical schools .

The PREview exam is composed of a series of hypothetical scenarios that students may be faced with in medical school. Students are asked to assess the effectiveness of behavioral responses to each of these scenarios in a multiple choice format.

Admissions committees will use the applicant’s responses to determine if they, in addition to strong academic metrics, possess the temperment, empathy, and ethical decision making necessary to be a medical student and future physician.

The AAMC’s premed competency model for PREview includes professional, science, and thinking and reasoning competencies.

The premed competencies formerly known as the core competencies for entering medical students, were updated in 2023 for the 2024-2025 cycle to better reflect expectations for students entering medical school.

Professional Competencies

  • Cultural Awareness— The premed appreciates and understands how sociocultural, economic, political, and historical factors affect other people’s behaviors, wellbeing, and interactions. They value diversity and show an active interest in learning about different beliefs, cultures, and values.
  • Cultural Humility— The premed engages with and seeks out alternative perspectives with a willingness to adjust their mindset. They actively reflect on their own beliefs and biases and how they could affect others, value inclusivity, and cultivate a supportive environment where all are welcome. 
  • Commitment to Learning and Growth— The premed displays a continuous desire for personal, professional, and academic growth, including reflecting on and learning from challenges, mistakes, and successes, asking for and incorporating feedback, and setting goals for learning and development. 
  • Teamwork and Collaboration— The premed collaborates with others to achieve shared goals through an open communication of ideas, a willingness to listen to feedback and provide feedback, and an ability to alternate between the role of team member and leader based on their own and others’ experience and expertise. 
  • Empathy and Compassion— The premed acknowledges and is sensitive to other people’s feelings, experiences, and perspectives and shows a desire to ease others’ burdens and distress. 
  • Resilience and Adaptability— The premed demonstrates perseverance in the face of challenging or ambiguous situations or environments by adapting their approach in response to unexpected setbacks and new information. They ask for support when needed and show a capacity to balance their responsibilities with their wellbeing. 
  • Ethical Responsibility to Self and Others— The premed conducts themself with integrity and honesty in all things, adheres to ethical principles, acts professionally, and encourages the same behavior in others. 
  • Reliability and Dependability— The premed demonstrates accountability, fulfills their obligations to themself and others in a suitable and timely manner, and understands the consequences of not doing so. 
  • Interpersonal Skills— The premed treats other people with respect and dignity, understands how to recognize and manage their emotions, understands how their emotions can affect others, shows an awareness of behavioral cues and how they can affect other people, and is able to adjust their behavior according to these cues. 

Science Competencies:

  • Human Behavior— The premed applies their awareness of others, social systems, and themself to solve problems related to biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors that influence health and wellbeing. 
  • Living Systems— The premed applies their knowledge of the natural sciences to solve issues related to macro and molecular systems, such as cells, organs, molecules, and biomolecules. 

Thinking and Reasoning Competencies:

  • Critical Thinking— The premed applies their logic and reasoning skills to identify both the strengths and weaknesses of alternative approaches or solutions to problems. 
  • Quantitative Reasoning— The premed applies quantitative reasoning to explain the natural world’s phenomena. 
  • Scientific Inquiry— The premed applies their knowledge of the scientific process to synthesize and incorporate information, formulate research hypotheses and questions, is intimately familiar with the languages of the sciences and uses this language to contribute to the discourse of science. 
  • Written Communication— The premed communicates information articulately with written words and sentences. 

Each of these competencies are essential to a student’s success in medical school, residency, and their future career as a licensed physician, as there’s a great deal more to being a doctor than high grades in science.

Infographic - AAMC PREview competencies

Who Needs to Take a PREview Test?

Not every medical student needs to take a PREview test. Whether or not you need to take the test is up to the medical schools you’re applying to.

In 2023, although all AMCAS medical schools were invited to use the PREview exam in their admissions processes, only 8 medical schools required it, and only 11 schools recommended it.

The AAMC anticipates huge adoption from schools in the future. They estimate over 80% of applicants will apply to at least one school that is requiring or recommending applicants take PREview. That said, these are only estimates, and so far, the AAMC has actually seen a drop in participation from 2023 to 2024.

They previously stated that “Most if not all of the 2023 administration participating schools are expected to participate again in 2024, with the addition of some new MD- and DO-granting institutions.”

However, for 2024, as of the writing of this article, there are only 6 schools that require PREview and 7 that recommend it.

What schools require PREview? collage of medical schools

Medical Schools Requiring PREview Scores in 2024

  • Mercer University School of Medicine
  • Saint Louis University School of Medicine
  • Spencer Fox Eccles School of Medicine at the University of Utah
  • University of California, Davis, School of Medicine
  • University of California, Los Angeles David Geffen School of Medicine
  • University of Massachusetts T.H. Chan School of Medicine

Medical Schools Recommending PREview Scores in 2024

  • Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine
  • George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
  • Louisiana State University School of Medicine in New Orleans
  • Morehouse School of Medicine
  • Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine
  • Southern Illinois University School of Medicine
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine

It’s possible that schools could be added to each of these lists, so be sure to check back before submitting your application.

Here is a list of all medical schools participating in PREview for 2024 .

Now, the tricky part is what to do if a medical school only recommends applicants take the exam instead of making it a requirement.

Since this exam is brand new, we can’t say for certain whether or not there will be consequences for not participating in the PREview exam. That said, you should look at each application component as another opportunity to impress admissions committees. Competition to earn acceptance to medical school is fierce. If you’re up against an equally qualified candidate but they completed the recommended exam, and you did not, they could have a leg up on you.

If you’re unsure of what to do, consult with your prehealth advisor or directly with the medical schools you’re applying to.

What PREview Test Dates Are Available?

If you need to take the test, when can you take it, and when should you schedule it?

PREview exam dates for 2024 are offered from March until September. Score reports will be released approximately 30 days after each testing window.

This makes scheduling the test a little tricky. Some schools say that you can have your PREview score submitted up until the last date in mid-September, which will get the school your score by mid-October. However, the AAMC says your application may not be considered complete until participating schools receive your PREview results.

It’s imperative that you complete your PREview exam as soon as possible to ensure your application is not delayed. Applying early is one of the most essential tips for premeds, as schools offer interview invites and acceptances on a rolling basis . The first applicants get the first interview spots, and the first interviewees are the first to get acceptance offers.

With that in mind, aim to take your exam between test windows 1 to 4, which run from mid-March to min-June.

For example, Window 1 has test dates available for March 13th and 14th. Registration for those dates closed February 28th. The next Window is for mid-April test dates. Registration closes April 3rd, and scores are released to schools by May 21st.

The following test dates are available for 2024.

Dates are subject to change.

Continue to check the AAMC PREview schedule for changes as well as the specific instructions provided by each school you apply to.

What Is the Format of the PREview Professional Readiness Exam?

The PREview exam presents examinees with hypothetical scenarios linked to the core competencies listed above and based on real-life situations in healthcare, educational, or other settings. Since the questions were developed for premeds, you do not need healthcare experience to perform well on the test.

A scenario set is composed of a scenario and items (responses). Each scenario is a short paragraph that describes a dilemma medical students may face during medical school. The items describe the actions you could take in response to the situation, and it’s your job to rate the effectiveness of each response using a 4-point scale:

1 = very ineffective, 2 = ineffective, 3 = effective, and 4 = very effective.

AAMC PREview Sample Question from AAMC

Image: PREview Sample Question from AAMC.


The response will cause additional problems or make the situation worse.


The response will not improve the situation or may cause a problem.

The response could help but will not significantly improve the situation.


The response will significantly improve the situation.

There are 30 scenarios and 186 questions on the test, and you have 75 minutes to complete it. To learn more, continue to the sample question section below.

How Is the PREview Professional Readiness Exam Scored?

The PREview exam is a multiple choice test, as, after “many years of research,” the AAMC has determined multiple choice to be the most reliable format to evaluate the core competencies.

You will receive a single score ranging from 1 (lowest) to 9 (highest). Your score is based on how closely your effectiveness ratings of each response align with those of medical educators.

During the development of the PREview exam, the AAMC had professional medical educators at accredited US MD-granting medical schools review the scenarios and rate responses in the same way examinees would. Their responses established the scoring key.

If your rating matches the medical educators’ rating, you are awarded full credit. If your rating is close, you’re awarded partial credit.

While every variation of the PREview exam is designed to evaluate a premed’s understanding of effective pre-professional actions and behaviors, some questions will be more ethically complex than others. Therefore, in an attempt to make things as equal as possible, the AAMC converts raw scores to scaled scores in order to compensate for these small variations in difficulty.

Each total score is reported along with a “confidence band,” which shows the ranges in which your total score lies. Confidence bands are designed to help signal “the lack of precision of test scores.” They are meant to limit distinctions between test-takers with similar scores.

A percentile rank will also be reported along with your total score and confidence band. Percentile ranks of scores represent the percentages of examinees who earned the same or lower scores than you did.

At the end of your test, you will be asked if you want your exam scored or if you would like to void it. Similar to how you can choose to void your MCAT when you reach the end of the test, if you feel like you bombed the exam, you can elect to not have it reviewed and essentially throw it in the trash. However, voiding your PREview does count toward your annual and lifetime attempts.

Scores will be released by the AAMC to participants, as well as the schools of their choosing, on the scheduled score release day that corresponds to their test date, at some point between April through October. Your score report will include your total score, confidence band, percentile rank, and any additional notes.

PREview scores are automatically pulled into the AMCAS primary application, so there is no further action required of the applicant.

AAMC PREview Sample Questions

The following are example scenarios and multiple choice responses provided by the AAMC .

Sample Question 1:

You are pursuing a two-week volunteer opportunity at a well-regarded local clinic. When you receive your course schedule, you realize the volunteer opportunity would conflict with your weekly required lab. This is the only time that the lab is offered this semester, so you are not able to make up the lab. Participation in the lab will count toward your grade.

Please rate the effectiveness of each response to this situation.

1. Skip your lab for two weeks to attend the volunteer opportunity.

2. Ask your lab instructor to identify a solution that will allow you to attend both.

3. Stop pursuing the volunteer opportunity so that you can attend the required lab.

4. Tell your lab instructor in advance that you will miss two of your scheduled lab sessions.

5. Attend the lab and investigate if similar volunteer opportunities are available at another time.

For each of the five responses, you will rate them on a scale of 1-4


Answering Sample Question 1

This question is aiming to see how you manage your time effectively when conflicts arise. As a premed and med student, you must be able to balance multiple commitments and opportunities. Simply put, no matter how much you may want to do, there’s only so much time in a day, and you won’t be able to do everything.

The scenario is clear that this lab is the only one available and that it will count towards your final grade. It also indicates that the required weekly lab takes priority; however, at the same time, you should see what other options are available.

Skipping your lab for 2 weeks would be VERY INEFFECTIVE since it counts towards your grade; plus, skipping would mean you’re failing to meet your obligations. Not a good look for a premed.

On the other hand, attendinding the lab while looking for similar volunteer opportunities is VERY EFFECTIVE. This ensures you receive your lab mark, opens you up to new volunteer opportunities, of which there are usually many, and shows you can take initiative.

Check out our Guide to Premed Volunteering to learn how to find volunteer opportunities.

Sample Question 2:

You are assigned to a small group in your clinical skills course. One of your group members has recently struggled with their assignments. The group member is often late to sessions, prepares materials of poor quality, and needs numerous reminders to complete tasks. Your group receives a new assignment that is due in three weeks and will be graded based on the group’s overall performance.

1. Encourage the group member to speak to the professor about creating a plan to handle their workload.

2. Meet with the group member one-on-one and ask how you can help them contribute more effectively to the assignment.

3. Meet with your group and evenly divide tasks across all members, making sure expectations are clear.

4. Ask the professor to assign the group member to a different group.

5. Work with the other members of your group to complete the assignment without the group member.

6. Request that your professor grade each group member independently.

7. Schedule recurring group meetings to review the work completed by each group member.

8. Tell the group member their lack of accountability places the entire group’s performance and grade at risk.

Answering Sample Question 2

This question tests your problem solving abilities, communication skills, and how you approach working with others. Evaluators want to see that you have thoroughly assessed the situation and will approach it with empathy, understanding, and proactiveness.

Asking the professor to assign the team member to a different group is VERY INEFFECTIVE, as a major point of the assignment is working as a group. Medicine is a team sport, through and through. You must be able to work effectively on teams of all shapes and sizes. Going behind your team member’s back is not only inconsiderate, but it disregards the point of the assignment. It’s extremely unlikely the professor will appreciate your actions, as it creates more work for them and illustrates you are not proactive in solving problems yourself.

Confronting the team member and telling them that their poor performance will affect the entire team is INEFFECTIVE. While you are taking action, you are not offering constructive feedback or suggestions that will help the team member improve. It’s unlikely this confrontation will result in any positive outcomes. Plus, there’s a good chance you’re telling the team member something they already know.

Encouraging the team member to speak with the professor about creating a plan to help them handle their workload is EFFECTIVE, as it shows you understand the problem and have identified a potential solution. However, it’s not VERY EFFECTIVE because you are essentially putting the ball in someone else’s (your professor’s) court. You as a member of the team are not offering to help your struggling team member.

Meeting with the group member one-on-one and asking how you can help them contribute more effectively is VERY EFFECTIVE, as it’s clear you recognize the issue and are willing to face it with empathy and proactivity. By meeting alone, you’re also not calling out the team member in front of the rest of your group, which will likely cause them to become defensive. This action helps both the team member as an individual and the group as a whole.

PREview Prep: How to Prepare for the Exam

You can’t study for your PREview exam, but you can prepare for it.

1 | Complete Sample Questions & Practice Exams

The best way to prepare for PREview is to understand the exam format and complete practice questions and tests. The sample scenarios and questions you’re presented with are developed by the AAMC to reflect exactly the kinds of hypothetical situations you’ll face on the real test, so working through them beforehand is an absolute must.

Sample exams will help you familiarize yourself with what you’ll encounter on test day, and they’ll give you a sense of the results you can expect.

Reflect on your practice test results and pay close attention to the scoring key rationales at the end. This provides essential insight into how the questions are evaluated. You can find all of the answers and how they are rated at the end of the test.

While the answers are provided at the end, do not look at them until after you’ve completed the test. For any questions you get wrong, take a look at the question again to determine where you went wrong. Don’t try to memorize the correct answer, but rather aim to understand why you got the question wrong.

Here are some AAMC Professional Readiness Exam Sample Questions , as well as AAMC PREview Exam Practice Exam 1 and AAMC PREview Exam Practice Exam 2 .

2 | Simulate the Testing Experience

Take your test prep up a notch by completing your practice exam within the 75 minutes you’ll be allotted on test day. Do all you can to simulate the environment and conditions in which you will be taking the actual exam.

Take your practice tests using the same laptop you’ll use on test day and sitting at the same desk you will take the test. Once you schedule your exam and know the time of day of your test, take the sample tests at that time too.

The more you can simulate the pressure of the real test, the better.

3 | Understand the PREview Format and Testing System

Taking multiple practice tests will familiarize yourself with the 1-4 multiple choice system of the PREview exam. Become intimately familiar with each of the core competencies outlined above, as each scenario you face will address one or more of them.

Additionally, be sure to watch the AAMC PREview Professional Readiness Exam Test Day Experience video to familiarize yourself with the remote-proctored online experience. The video showcases the check-in process, the features and functions of the PREview exam platform, and how to submit your exam once you’re done.

It’s also a good idea to log in to the system before test day, go through the tutorial, and review the PREview exam’s policies and procedures so that you’re not leaving anything to chance come test day.


1 | how is preview different from casper.

Casper Test vs AAMC PREview Exam

PREview is similar to Casper in that they are both situational judgment tests designed to assess an applicant’s non-academic or soft skills, such as empathy, social skills, ethics, and professionalism, through an exam that can be taken from a laptop or desktop in the comfort of your home.

They take roughly the same time to complete. Casper takes 90 to 110 minutes to complete, while PREview takes 90 to 115 minutes. 75 minutes are dedicated to taking the test itself, while the remaining minutes are dedicated to administrative activities, such as check-in and exam instructions.

However, there are some notable differences.

For starters, PREview is a multiple choice test, whereas Casper requires participants to respond to hypothetical scenarios in written or verbal format.

Another difference is that PREview was designed and is administered by the AAMC, while Casper was developed in 2010 by Harold Reiter and Kelly Dore at McMaster University’s Program for Educational Research and Development (PERD) in Canada and is administered by Acuity Insights .

There is also a difference in price.

Casper costs $85 USD, which includes distribution of results to 7 programs. An additional $18 USD is charged for each additional program you need to send your results to.

The PREview exam charges a flat registration fee of $100 for the 2024 testing year, and this includes score release to an unlimited number of participating medical schools. If you qualify for AAMC Fee Assistance , the registration for your first exam is free, and you will receive a 50% discount on any subsequent exams.

Another difference is participants will be able to see their PREview score when it is released, whereas Casper only releases a student’s score to medical schools, not to the student.

Learn more about Casper with our Casper Test Guide: Everything You Need to Know .

2 | When Do I Take the PREview Test?

In 2024, test dates are offered from March until September.

Tests are only offered between 8 am and 1 pm Eastern Time. Each test day has a limited number of appointments, and you must register in advance. Registration for all tests opened on January 31.

It’s imperative to register as early as possible, as appointment times and individual test dates are only offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. Do all you can to ensure your PREview exam score does not hold up your application.

3 | How Do You Sign Up for a PREview Test?

You can sign up for a PREview test by creating an AAMC account or by verifying you already have one.

On the PREview webpage, click the Log In to Your PREview Portal button. You will be asked to enter your AAMC credentials and then to ensure your name exactly matches the name on the ID you will provide on the day of your test.

You will then be directed to Meazure, the registration and scheduling system managed by the AAMC’s vendor, Yardstick. Double check that your AAMC ID, name, and email address is correct, as after it is automatically sent to Meazure, you will be unable to edit your information.

Next, go to the Products tab in the PREview portal and select AAMC Professional Readiness Exam (PREview) 2024. You will be taken to the scheduling webpage, where you will then select Online Proctoring. Once here, you can choose your preferred time zone, test date, and appointment time. Your exam time is displayed in the 24-hour clock format, so if you want to select 8 pm, your exam time will be 20:00.

After that, you will be asked to add your address and payment info in order to confirm your purchase and secure your appointment time.

Once your exam is scheduled, you will receive a confirmation email and be given access to an exam tutorial, which will demonstrate the features and functions of the software.

4 | How Much Does PREview Cost?

For the 2024 testing year, test takers will need to pay a flat registration fee of $100 for the PREview exam, which includes score release to an unlimited number of participating medical schools.

If you qualify for AAMC Fee Assistance , registration for your first exam is free, and you will get 50% off on any subsequent exams.

5 | Can You Fail the PREview Exam?

You cannot technically fail the PREview exam, but you can perform very poorly on it. Your score ranges from 1 (lowest) to 9 (highest), so while 1 isn’t technically a fail, a low score on a professionalism exam may as well be.

6 | How Many Times Can You Take PREview?

You can take the PREview exam twice per administration year and no more than four times in your lifetime (beginning with the 2020 administrations). However, earning a low score does not mean you can simply retake the test.

Retakes are only offered if you void the exam, encounter a technical issue, or have your exam terminated by your remote proctor because they suspect you have violated the rules in some way. After an investigation, you may be offered a retake, but that is no guarantee.

7 | Can You Retake the PREview Exam?

Retakes are possible, but not for a low score in the same cycle. If you are not accepted to medical school, you can choose to retake PREview when you reapply in the following admissions cycle.

If you void your exam, you can retake it once during the same year, or three more times in your lifetime. You can only take the PREview exam four times in total over the course of your life.

If you encounter a technical issue or your remote proctor suspects you are engaging in prohibited behaviors, such as leaving your seat or searching for potential responses online, they can terminate your exam, and the AAMC may carry out an investigation. If they determine you did nothing wrong, you will likely be offered a retake. In this case, your terminated exam will count toward your total number of attempts. However, retakes are not guaranteed.

8 | Do You Have to Take the PREview Exam If a School Only Recommends It?

Since it is only a recommendation, technically speaking, you can choose not to take the PREview exam. However, if a medical school recommends candidates do something, it’s a good idea to take it to heart.

Since this exam is brand new, we can’t say for certain whether or not there will be consequences for not participating when a school recommends you do. That said, you should look at each application component as another opportunity to impress admissions committees. Competition to earn acceptance to medical school is fierce. If you’re up against an equally qualified candidate but they completed the recommended exam and you did not, they could have a leg up on you.

Admissions committees want the medical students they accept to be self-starters, to pay attention and take initiative, and to always go above and beyond. Ignoring their recommendation demonstrates apathy—the last thing you want to convey to a medical school you hope to be accepted by.

Med School Application Clarity

Balancing all of the moving components of your medical school application is no small feat—and now there’s yet another hoop to jump through. Currently only a handful of schools require the test, with another handful recommending applicants take it, but that’s likely to change in the years to come as AAMC continues to promote their new test.

Don’t let anything slip through the cracks—get tailored advice that will help earn acceptance at your top choice medical school.

Med School Insiders offers Comprehensive Medical School Admissions Packages that will help you with every aspect of your medical school application—including PREview. Our team of doctors has years of experience serving on admissions committees, so you’ll receive key insights from people who have been intimately involved in the process.

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In Idaho, don’t say ‘abortion’? A state law limits teachers at public universities, they say

Idaho's public university professors say a law barring state employees from ‘promoting’ or ‘counseling in favor of’ abortion limits their ability to teach..

Demonstrators gather in front of the Supreme Court as the court hears oral arguments in the case of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration v. Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine on March 26, 2024 in Washington, DC.

This story was published in partnership with the Center for Public Integrity , a newsroom that investigates inequality.

University of Idaho student Bergen Kludt-Painter started school in August 2022, a few months after a U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down Roe v. Wade. Soon after, abortion was banned in Idaho in almost all instances.

The political science major was eager to discuss the precedent-shattering case in class, but, she said, “we talked about everything except for abortion.”

During a political science course on how to write a research paper, her professor said he could not give her feedback on her chosen topic — abortion. The issue didn’t come up in her other political science classes either, even as state after state changed their abortion laws. Nor did abortion get mentioned in her Introduction to Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies course.

“It wasn’t discussed,” she said, “which I found odd, personally, because it feels like something that would be relevant to talk about in a class like that.”

But few, if any, public university professors in Idaho are talking about or assigning readings on abortion these days. That’s due to a 2021 law that makes it illegal for state employees to “promote abortion” or “counsel in favor of abortion.” Professors have said those two phrases put them at risk of violating the law, known as the No Public Funds for Abortion Act , just for discussing abortion in class. The possible penalties include significant fines and even prison time.

Six named University of Idaho professors and two faculty unions filed a lawsuit against the state in August for violating their First Amendment right to free speech and academic freedom and their 14 th Amendment right to a clearly worded law. Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union are representing the professors.

“The more I heard about it, the more worried I was that I really can't teach my class in a responsible way without putting myself at risk,” said Aleta Quinn, an associate professor of philosophy for the University of Idaho and a plaintiff in the case.

Quinn teaches a course in biomedical ethics that typically features readings and class discussions about abortion. When she saw that the highest penalty for breaking the law was 14 years in prison, “I decided I would not — I couldn't — teach the subject of abortion.”

The bulk of the arguments in the case center on the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which the Supreme Court has interpreted to mean that a statute “so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning” violates a person’s right to fair treatment under the law. 

The case also raises an important First Amendment question about protections for academic freedom in America: Are public university professors exempt from laws that could otherwise govern the speech of state employees?

Supreme Court precedent suggests the government has significant leeway to regulate the speech of the people it employs while they are performing their professional duties.

Still, the most recent court opinion on the issue left open the question of how much that speech could be regulated for one key group: public university professors. 

“We need not, and for that reason do not, decide whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching,” then Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the 2006 majority opinion in Garcetti v. Ceballos .

The Supreme Court has not yet returned to that decision. 

“So establishing that legal principle, in and of itself, is an important endeavor for those [Idaho] professors,” said Helen Norton, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Colorado who is not involved in the case.

Interestingly, none of the professors suing in the Idaho case are nursing instructors or even biology professors. They aren’t teaching anyone about the physical nature of abortion. Their concerns, as scholars of subjects like philosophy, political science, gender studies and English, are focused on whether they can speak about abortion as an ethical, political and historical issue.  

For example, a sworn statement by an English professor named in the case explained that he used to assign Sallie Tisdale’s 1987 Harper’s Magazine essay, “We Do Abortions Here,” in one of his classes. The essay about her work as a nurse in an abortion clinic explores the complicated morality of helping women end their pregnancies. It’s also considered to be an example of powerful writing. He has now removed it from his syllabus.

Lawyers for the state of Idaho agree that professors fall under a different regulatory framework than other public employees when it comes to what they are permitted to say in the course of their duties. In their motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the state’s attorneys concede that settled law establishes protections for academics’ speech.

A month after the case was filed, Idaho’s attorney general, a defendant in the case, issued a non-binding opinion that the law does not apply to the “teaching or scholarship” of public university professors. If it did, Raul Labrador wrote, “the prohibition would likely be unconstitutional.”

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s office declined to respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Republican state Rep. Bruce Skaug, the sponsor of the No Public Funds for Abortion Act, later introduced legislation to create a specific protection for classroom discussion of abortion, but it failed to pass. Skaug did not respond to requests for an interview.

Rather than arguing about the First Amendment claim, lawyers for the state focused on the professors’ assertion that the law is unconstitutionally vague under the 14th Amendment.

“Plaintiffs have alleged that there is a law that prohibits them from teaching college courses concerning abortion, producing scholarship in favor of abortion, and grading papers concerning abortion,” the state’s lawyers write in the November motion to dismiss. “There is no such law in the state of Idaho.”

The state’s attorneys argue that any reasonable reader of the law would see that the statute refers only to the act of advising a specific person to have an abortion. As written, they argue the law could not be interpreted as a prohibition on, say, giving a strong grade on a writing assignment where the student had chosen to make an ethical argument in favor of abortion. 

Because of the attorney general’s opinion and the “plain language” in the law, the state’s lawyers say the professors are imagining themselves to be at risk of prosecution when, in reality, no such risk exists.  

Lawyers for the plaintiffs disagree. Federal courts have issued rulings with varied interpretations of the word “promote.” And the lawsuit offers numerous hypothetical situations in which a professor could be prosecuted for promoting abortion even if that were not their intent.

Norton, the University of Colorado law professor, said it was reasonable for the professors to question the law’s language.

“That’s shown so far to be the focus of the dispute — what does ‘promoting’ or ‘counseling’ mean?” she said. “And it seems like that’s an important thing to nail down.”

Because there’s no definition of the terms in the law, she said, “there’s absolutely room for folks to argue about whether or not we should be quick or slow to interpret broadly or narrowly.”

The current case challenging Idaho’s No Public Funds for Abortion Act does not directly include the state’s many other public employees, like social workers and school counselors, who are unlikely to qualify for any special First Amendment protections. 

Public school teachers in the K-12 system do not have the same level of academic freedom protections as professors, either. But a high school history teacher could face the same concerns that speaking about abortion in class could be construed as either promoting or counseling in favor of it. 

However, those employees would no longer have their speech curtailed if the professors prevail and a court strikes the law down.

That matters because Idaho’s restrictions surrounding abortion are so tight at this point that nearly every other action connected to encouraging abortion has been outlawed some other way. At this point, regulating how public employees speak about abortion is arguably the only thing the No Public Funds law still does. Opponents of the law have questioned why the state is fighting to uphold it, if not to limit speech about abortion.

Wendy Heipt, a reproductive rights attorney with Legal Voice who is working on a challenge to Idaho’s ban on helping minors travel to receive abortions without parental consent, calls the state Legislature “extremist.” She worries that the state has become a “testing ground” for the far right.

“You would notice [these laws] in Texas,” where more than 30 million people live, she said, “not Idaho,” home to less than 2 million.

Indeed, copycat travel ban bills restricting the movement of minors seeking an abortion were introduced in Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma this session, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization that works to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights.

No one interviewed for this story had heard about a copycat law that raised the same combination of First and 14th Amendment concerns as Idaho’s No Public Funds measure.

A judge heard the professors’ case in Idaho District Court in April. His decision on whether the preliminary injunction they’ve asked for will be granted is expected soon. The judge could also decide to dismiss the case, as the attorney general’s office has proposed. If the judge doesn’t dismiss the case, he will likely ask both parties to reconvene for another hearing before a final resolution.

In the meantime, professors are continuing to stay quiet about abortion in class. 

For someone dedicated to the free exchange of ideas like Quinn, that silence feels wrong. When she started teaching, her goal was to make the world a slightly better place by helping young people learn how to think, not what to think. She feels like she’s not fulfilling her duty to her students by ignoring an ethical debate as relevant to daily life as abortion.

“Philosophy is thinking critically about ideas and concepts and arguments, and considering which arguments are stronger and which are weaker and how they apply and all their implications,” Quinn said. “My goal is to enable people to have the skills to evaluate positions on their own.”

Kludt-Painter, the University of Idaho student, is the president of the Young Democrats. But her issues with the No Public Funds law weren’t about the politics of abortion. It’s an education she wants and feels she is being at least partially denied.

“It's a form of censorship,” she said. “College students should be able to handle hearing about these difficult topics. And educators should be able to discuss them and have a free exchange of ideas without being worried about getting fired or having criminal charges be brought against them.”

Hayden Cassinelli, the vice president of the College Republicans at the University of Idaho, said the topic of abortion came up in one of his classes recently but was "quickly avoided" when a teaching assistant told students he couldn’t discuss it. 

Despite Cassinelli’s opposition to abortion, the sophomore education major believes the topic should be discussed in class. He doesn’t think the No Public Funds law prevents such discussions. But he supported his university’s decision to issue guidance to professors in fall 2022, urging them to be cautious when talking about abortion.

"Given many professors' thoughts on abortion — including the fact that some of them may advocate for it and [encourage] a student to commit a crime — a temporary hold on any abortion-related discussion until legal clarity is established is a sound decision," Cassinelli wrote in an email.

Kludt-Painter thinks professors are just trying to protect their jobs when they avoid discussing abortion in class, but she wishes they didn’t feel that way. 

“It takes away from the whole academic freedom thing that post-secondary education is supposed to be about,” she said.


  1. Common App Essay Word Limit (BEST WORD COUNT FOR COLLEGE ESSAY)

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  2. Writing an Interview Paper: Formatting Guide, Samples and Writing Tips

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  1. The Word Limit in Academic Writing (and How to Stick to It)

    There are two main reasons that academic papers usually come with a word limit: Fairness. It's impossible to grade two papers of vastly different lengths (e.g., 20,000 compared to 2,000 words) on the same scale. The word limit makes sure that everyone taking the same class knows what is expected of them. Communication Skills.

  2. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    Revised on June 1, 2023. Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit. If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words. You should aim to stay under the specified limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely.

  3. The Best College Essay Length: How Long Should It Be?

    In the simplest terms, your college essay should be pretty close to, but not exceeding, the word limit in length. Think within 50 words as the lower bound, with the word limit as the upper bound. So for a 500-word limit essay, try to get somewhere between 450-500 words. If they give you a range, stay within that range.

  4. Frequently Asked Questions

    Please note any word limits for Coalition or Common Application essays; however, there are no strict word limits on the UChicago supplemental essays. In general 500-700 words for the extended essay and 300-600 words for the "Why UChicago?" essay are good benchmarks, but these are rough guidelines and by no means requirements.

  5. How Long is an Essay? Guidelines for Different Types of Essay

    This generally has a strict word limit. Undergraduate college essay. 1500-5000 words. The length and content of essay assignments in college varies depending on the institution, department, course level, and syllabus. Graduate school admission essay. 500-1000 words.

  6. How Long Should Your College Essay Be? What Is the Ideal Length?

    Personal statements are generally 500-650 words. For example, the Common Application, which can be used to apply to more than 800 colleges, requires an essay ranging from 250-650 words. Similarly, the Coalition Application, which has 150 member schools, features an essay with a recommended length of 500-650 words.

  7. How To Write an Interview Essay (With Example Questions)

    1. Think about your essay's purpose. The first step is to think about your essay's purpose. This consideration can help you determine what questions to ask during the interview, how to conduct it and how to write the resulting essay. For example, you may want to write an interview essay as an informative, factual piece for others to educate ...

  8. LibGuides: Extended Essay Resources: Paper Formatting

    an exemplar of a questionnaire or interview questions; an exemplar of permission letters; group 1, category 1 essays: copies of poems or short stories (of less than three pages) ... The upper limit is 4,000 words for all extended essays. Please note: Examiners are instructed not to read or assess any material in excess of the word limit. This ...

  9. How many pages are ideal for a college essay?

    Hello! Generally, college essays have specific word count limits rather than page limits. The Common Application, for example, has a word limit of 250-650 words for the main personal statement. This usually translates to around 1-2 pages, depending on your formatting (font size, line spacing, etc.). It's important to stay within the specified word limit to ensure that admissions officers can ...

  10. Working within word limits: A short guide

    In writing a dissertation, the allocation of word limit might differ slightly. The weightage depends on the depth of each chapter. For example, Introduction - 10%. Literature review - 25%. Methodology - 15%. Findings - 20%. Discussion - 20%. Conclusion - 10% . Remember that normally the references and appendices are not included in the word count.

  11. College Essay 500 Word Limit: 5 Simple Ways to Pare it Down

    Many college essays, including the essay for The Common Application, limit you to 500 words. It can be tough to write an interesting, creative essay and keep it short, but if you know a few simple tips you can deliver an essay that will impress. Here are 5 Ways to Succeed with the 500 Word Limit: 1. Think Small Instead of Big.

  12. Your Best College Essay

    When we say "The College Essay" (capitalization for emphasis - say it out loud with the capitals and you'll know what we mean) we're talking about the 550-650 word essay required by most colleges and universities. Prompts for this essay can be found on the college's website, the Common Application, or the Coalition Application.

  13. How to Avoid Going Over an Essay Word Limit: 15 Steps

    1. Reduce your word count after you have drafted your essay. Keep the word limit in mind as you write, but don't worry if you go over a bit. Take the time to trim your essay only after you're done writing. Be sure to get all your points written down and then go back and try to reduce your word count.

  14. Is it ok to go over the essay word count?

    Transcripts must be sent in by your school counselor or another school representative to fulfill our requirements for an official transcript. This applies for high school and college transcripts. If…. At MIT Admissions, we recruit and enroll a talented and diverse class of undergraduates who will learn to use science, technology, and other ...

  15. writing

    If your essay limits 1500 words, can you just reference essay prompt without discussing it, then criticize it? - Solar Mike. Aug 14, 2020 at 6:37. 3 @SolarMike no! that other question is 1500 word limit. this is separate question. even if your word limit is 5000, you can still got not enough words to elaborate an argument or idea ...

  16. Common App word limit?

    The Common App essay has a word limit of 650 words. It's important to stay within this limit, as admissions officers read many essays and going over the limit may negatively impact their perception of your essay. When selecting a topic, you'll want to keep a few things in mind. First, make sure that your essay is personal and reveals something about you that isn't evident from the rest of your ...

  17. PDF Extended essay guide

    The extended essay should be written in a clear, correct and formal academic style, appropriate to the subject from which the topic is drawn. The use of word processors is encouraged. The length of the extended essay The upper limit is 4,000 words for all extended essays. This upper limit includes the introduction, the body, the

  18. How Strictly Must I Stick To The Word Limit On MBA Admissions Essays?

    Similarly, I advise clients not to go less than -5% on any essay. In one sense, like all professional communicators, I believe in: "say what you have to say; say it once, strongly and clearly, then stop talking.". This is the royal road to more powerful communications. Certainly there's no merit in padding, waffling, or repeating yourself.

  19. Application Guide

    5. Essay - The essay may be one of the last things you complete before submitting your application. That's OK, but be sure to spend time thinking about what you'll write and working through the writing process far enough in advance of the deadline that you're not scrambling to put your ideas into words as the deadline's approaching.

  20. How important is staying within the word limit for personal ...

    Please stay within the limit. I've heard some schools have pre-filters that take out essays that go out of bounds. After all, I don't think anyone would want to advise a student who doesn't follow instructions. That being said, I completely understand your predicament. One of the schools I applied to (CS Ph.D.) had a 500 word limit.

  21. How to prepare for WAT?

    The word limit for your actual WAT could be 200, 400 or 600 words. So, practice not just to write essays on diverse topics, but also on adapting the same essay to different word limits. Go the conventional way Practice with pen and paper. Do not use your computer to practice writing WAT essays. With typing, you get the advantage of using ...

  22. MBA Admissions Tip: Essay Word Limits and Character Counts

    For the vast majority of programs, it's generally acceptable to exceed the MBA essay word limit by 5%. There are, of course, a few exceptions: Caveat #1: If a school gives you a range (e.g., 250-750 words), you should ideally stay within that range. Caveat #2: If a school gives you a page limit (e.g., 2 pages), you should stay within that ...

  23. Vanderbilt Essay Example That You Need to See

    Short answer essay 1 (Vanderbilt essay word limit: 250 words) Prompt: Vanderbilt University firmly believes that the learning process should be full of diverse perspectives. Our unique differences are also what provide us with a powerful edge. We respect different views and ideas because they strengthen us. You have had many conversations with ...

  24. LibGuides: Extended Essay

    The interim, or second, reflection session takes place before the first full draft is completed, but after a substantial amount of work has been done. The first step is a mandatory interview between the student and the supervisor. The questions asked during this session tend to be more analytical, with a discussion of the strengths and ...

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    Step 1: Use Your Personal Brand. One of the most important things to take advantage of as you write each of your essays is a personal brand that connects all of your ideas and examples. In essence, your personal brand is the set of characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, approaches, values, and goals that align with your experience and ...

  26. Is it Bad to Go Over the Word Limit in Essays and Assignments?

    If an essay is well-written but falls short of the word limit, it is better to leave it as is rather than add fluff to meet the limit. Sylvia: Great point, Leticia. Here I agree with your ideas! Leticia: Thank you. Moreover, if an essay exceeds the word limit, it is advisable to look at the overall content rather than deleting words line by line.

  27. Does Harvard use the Common App?

    The Common Application Personal Statement: This is a required essay with a word limit of 650 words. You have a choice of several prompts; you should pick the one that resonates with you the most. The prompts are updated each year, so make sure to the Common App to see the current options. 2. The School-Specific Supplemental Prompts: In addition ...

  28. Do you use the maximum word count? : r/AskUK

    Definitely not. I sometimes have to look through them when we have a vacancy on my department. This is to decide who gets an interview. I don't really read them in depth. I glance and within seconds can see if they're a good candidate. We have 5 questions, max 300 words. On the last vacancy we had 18 applicants.

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    The AAMC anticipates huge adoption from schools in the future. They estimate over 80% of applicants will apply to at least one school that is requiring or recommending applicants take PREview. That said, these are only estimates, and so far, the AAMC has actually seen a drop in participation from 2023 to 2024.

  30. Law barring Idaho employees from promoting abortion limits teachers

    A state law limits teachers at public universities, they say. Idaho's public university professors say a law barring state employees from 'promoting' or 'counseling in favor of' abortion ...