How Long Should A College Essay Be Ehow

Every year we hear dizzying statistics about the college admissions process. Thousands of students apply to colleges with single digit acceptance rates, and often it feels like a lottery ticket to get accepted. Amidst this madness, many parents find resources to help their child: academic tutors and college admissions counselors. The value proposition for tutoring is fairly straightforward: if the tutor has historically produced higher SAT or ACT scores, then they should be able to do the same for your son or daughter. The proposition for a college admissions counselor, however, is not so simple. As the founder of a college admissions consultancy, I will provide you with a framework for identifying the need (if any) for a college counselor.

The Process

The college admissions process is tailored to each individual and is intended to be highly personal. In fact, in my opinion, it is a discovery process for each applicant: why did they participate in those school clubs, and why exactly are they trying to apply to each college on their list? Moreover, the writing we are taught in Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses is unlike the style needed for college admissions essays.

The College Admissions Essay

Great college admissions essays are clear, evidence-based, and yet emotional in nature. These essays find the core of a student's thoughts and feelings, and often their beliefs. The best college admissions essays inherently show a student's perspective to the admissions committee. Admissions readers are professionals at discerning intent and extent of an activity, but clear writing makes it easier for everyone involved.

A significant amount of time we spend with students is focused on this essay writing process.

• How do you actually find what you like to do outside of the classroom?
• How do you articulate your passion in an essay, and show it rather than tell?
• How do you keep it simple, tell a story, and be different than other candidates at the same time?

These are the types of questions we tackle on a student-by-student basis, and it often takes time.

Diving into college admissions essays right away leads to flowery essays with little substance and an often desperate tone. Countless times, we have seen perfect SAT scorers write essays about why they want to go into medicine to help the world without actually thinking about how they will do this, or why medicine is the right path for that goal. Being specific is important, but being specific takes deliberate and mature thought.

How College Counselors Help Students

College applicants often benefit from a direct mentor who has recently gone through the college application process because these mentors can offer a third-person perspective on college admissions essays. In addition, college counselors can back up these insights with data from universities and years of experience.

At Synocate, we also help students in two other areas:

• Understanding college profiles - who are the acclaimed professors, what is the personality of the college, what are the chances at admission
• Keeping track of deadlines - identifying teachers for letters of recommendation, explaining early action vs. early decision vs. regular decision, and keeping track of all the Common Application supplemental essays

Ultimately, college counselors are good for an additional introspective push, a mentor, and a time tracker. Our goal is to help students find themselves rather than force them into some mold, which seems to be a trend in college admissions today. This approach has worked wonders for us, with admits to all the Top 40 colleges and Ivy Leagues each year. It is a patient and simple approach. College counselors are coaches for students applying to college, much like tennis coaches or speech coaches.

Determining the Quality of an Admissions Counselor

There is also a variety of college admissions counselors. Most are single-person companies or even sole proprietorships that are founded by older individuals who graduated from college several years ago. These often fit the needs of those looking for any help on the applications, and who want someone local, with a bit more knowledge, and experienced.

But for those looking for robust support from multiple perspectives, choosing a team of college counselors is a better approach. We did not find this in the market, so we developed the Nexus Approach. Two counselors are assigned to each student, and report on each student's progress at a weekly meeting. Similarly, when searching for a college admissions counselor, listen carefully to the depth of the counseling and assistance you will receive.

On the other hand, large tutoring companies have started to move into college admissions counseling as a natural ancillary service. These tutors are not specially trained in many of the skills needed for college counseling, and the organizational focus on tutoring often makes these services an amalgamation of knowledge that can be easily found on the Internet.

The approach we take is a hybrid, offering a primary counselor that tailors content to each student, and a secondary counselor who listens in and reports back to the broader team. This gives the primary counselor indirect feedback and allows each applicant to have multiple perspectives, heard from a single source, the primary counselor.

Sometimes testing a prospective admissions counselor on sample subjects can also be a litmus test.


A college admissions counselor is a useful resource. Beyond grammar edits, we hope to give students a toolkit for determining what they actually enjoy. Writing is an instrument of critical self-examination, and the college admissions essays are designed to make applicants think. Instead of sighing at these essays, we try to help students embrace the process.

Thinking through deadlines and specific essays can be overwhelming, and college counselors are great at handling this as well. Be sure to vet a prospective counselor closely, however, as there is a lot of variance in the quality and seriousness of college admissions counselors in the market.

Good luck, and feel free to visit us at for more articles on college admissions.

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  • 1

    Wait a day or so and re-read your essay. Get your essay done a couple of days before the due date so that you have time to go back and revise it to make it polished. Avoid turning in a first draft that you haven't double-checked for errors.

  • 2

    Correct errors related to grammar, punctuation and spelling. Consult a style book if you are unsure how to properly use quotation marks, colons, semicolons, apostrophes or commas. Avoid using exclamation points.

  • 3

    Check your statements.
    • Look for mistakes involving than/then, your/you're, its/it's, etc. Make sure you know how to use apostrophes correctly.
    • Look for mistakes involving general punctuation. Check for run-on sentences, commas and periods inside quotation marks, as well as sparely-used dashes, colons, and semi-colons.
  • 4

    Remove any repetitive or unnecessary words.Vary your language with the help of a thesaurus. Also, consult a dictionary to make sure that you're using unfamiliar words correctly.
    • At the same time, try to keep your language short, sweet, and to the point. A thesaurus is a great tool, but don't just use big words to sound fancy. The best essays are clear, concise, and easily understood by a wide audience.
    • Focus on writing killer verbs for sentences. Verbs communicate the action in a sentence and drive the action. A great verb can be the difference between a bland sentence and a beautiful one.
    • Use adjectives lightly. Adjectives are great descriptive words, but when used indiscriminately, they can burden an essay and make it less readable. Try to let the verbs and nouns do most of the heavy lifting before you focus on adjectives.
  • 5

    Avoid colloquial (informal) writing. Do not use contractions or abbreviations (e.g., don't, can't, won't, shouldn't, could've, or haven't). Your essay should have a serious tone, even if it's written in a light or lyrical style.

  • 6

    Analyze how your essay flows. Does each sentence lead smoothly to the next? Does each paragraph flow logically to the next? Good connections will help your ideas to flow:
    • When events happen in sequence: I first started to realize that I was in the minority when I was in middle school...My realization was confirmed when I proceeded to high school.
    • If sentences elaborate on each other: Plants need water to survive...A plant's ability to absorb water depends on the nutrition of the soil.
    • When an idea contrasts with another idea: Vegetarians argue that land is unnecessarily wasted by feeding animals to be eaten as food...Opponents argue that land being used for grazing would not be able to be used to create any other kind of food.
    • If you're relaying a cause and effect relationship: I will be the first person in my family to graduate from college...I am inspired to continue my family's progress through the generations.
    • When connecting similar ideas: Organic food is thought to be better for the environment . . . local food is believed to achieve the same goals.
  • 7

    Cut information that's not specifically related to your topic. You don't want your essay to ramble off-topic. Any information that doesn't directly or indirectly support your thesis should be cut out.

  • 8

    Have someone read your paper aloud to you, or record yourself reading it aloud and play it back. Your ears are sometimes better than your eyes at picking up mistakes in language. The essay should sound like it has a good flow and understandable words.

  • 9

    Rewrite any problematic body passages. If needed, rearrange sentences and paragraphs into a different order. Make sure that both your conclusion and introduction match the changes that you make to the body.

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