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How Can I Easily Trim Down My College Essay?

Are you finishing up your admission essay, but it's just too long for the word count requirements? Our experts have advice for trimming it down!

Kim LiftonKim Lifton
Wow Writing Workshop
I once reviewed a student’s personal statement that was meant to be 400 words, but the draft he considered final was 751 words—almost twice as long as permitted. He didn’t think he could shorten it. We’ve never seen a personal statement or supplemental essay weakened by the editing process. Even though some people may say a few extra words will not matter, I say it’s not worth the risk. Here are five simple tips for trimming personal statements and supplemental college essays without destroying content:

  • Circle or highlight all adverbs—then take them out! These include “very” and many “-ly” words, such as really, extremely, completely, and absolutely.
  • Look for nonessential words and short phrases, often set off by a comma. These include things like “because of this,” “in fact,” “first,” “last,” “hopefully,” “to be frank,” “quite frankly,” and “in conclusion.” Highlight the words or phrases, then read the sentences without them. Take out the ones that don’t enhance your essay.
  • Tighten up helping verbs. For example, replace “I am going to be attending” with “I will attend.”
  • Use “active voice” and swap out “to be” verbs. For example, rather than saying “I am a voracious reader,” try “I read voraciously.”
  • Turn some nouns into verbs. For example, “I concluded” is better than “I came to the conclusion.”

If these little fixes don’t tighten up your admission essay sufficiently, take a break, come back to your writing with fresh eyes, and read through it a couple of times. Really think about what you’re trying to say in your essay, then ask yourself how each example and sentence helps you tell your story. (Remember, some of the best and most effective writing is the shortest!)

For more advice on writing your college essay, check out our Application Essay Clinic or our College Admission – Ask the Experts section.

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