How to Shorten Your College Application Essay Without Ruining It

Here are five simple tips from Wow Writing Workshop for trimming your college application essays without destroying content.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed a student's third draft of a personal statement for
Michigan State University, which requires each student to "submit a
short essay of up to 400 words from a list of designated topics."

The draft, which he assumed was ready for a final edit, was 751 words. That meant 351 words had to be cut. He didn't think he could shorten it.

Nonsense, I told him. Anything can be cut. At Wow, we read and suggest cuts to students every day; we've never seen a personal statement weakened by the editing process. Some admissions insiders say limits are strictly enforced, while others suggest a few words too many or too few will not matter.

We say it is not worth the risk, so just follow the directions. Answer the question
within the specified word count, and you will not need to worry.

Here are five simple tips for trimming your stories without destroying content.

  1. Circle or highlight all adverbs. Take them out. These include "very" and many "ly" words, such as really, extremely, completely and absolutely.
  2. Look for a single word or short phrase followed by a comma. These include 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 do not enhance your story.
  3. Delete helping verbs. Example: Replace "is going to be attending" with "will
  4. Delete to be verbs. Rather than saying "I am a voracious reader," try "I read
  5. Turn some nouns into verbs: "I concluded" is better than "I came to the

If you've already written a draft or two, and you cannot cut it or just need a professional opinion, send it to Wow for a comprehensive review. Wow's trained writing coaches can guide you through your drafts so you can stand out at your favorite college. No matter what your need, we're here for you. 

Kim Lifton is president of Wow Writing Workshop, which now offers Wow Online - College Essay, the first self-guided online tutorial for college application essay writing.  To avoid rush fees, upload your essays for review before Dec. 15. It's on special for $99 through the end of the year.

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