If the word count of your essay is off by just a few words, you’re probably okay. But if the essay is significantly longer or shorter than it should be, you’ll have to adjust. Here’s how to cut to fit and lengthen to suit.
Usually, the problem that afflicts most essayists is excess verbiage. But from time to time applicants end up with an essay that’s below the recommended word or page count. One major rule applies to this situation:
If you wrote the essay on a word processor, you can find out the number of words quickly. In Microsoft Word, for example, click on Tools –> Word Count for a total. If you used a typewriter, assume that one page, single-spaced, with normal fonts and margins, contains about 500 words (if double-spaced, 250 words).
Don’t worry; even if the application calls for a word or page limit, your reader is not going to bother to count your words and hold you to a ten-word range. However, you don’t have a completely free hand either. The admissions counselors are skilled at estimating the length of your essay. If they specify “an essay of no fewer than 250 words,” they expect at least one typewritten, double-spaced page with normal fonts and margins. And if they ask for no more than two typewritten pages, they will be annoyed to receive ten. They how to count. They have fingers.