The Deceptive (And Dreaded) Word Count
“I’m 225 words over the count”, “I can’t get all my ideas into the essay, because of the word count” and “You keep asking me to expand my thoughts! What about the word count?!?” are typical concerns we hear from students. Parents’ are equally attentive to the word count; often, their first question about the essay is, “How long does the essay have to be?”, under the assumption that shorter is easier to write.
Word count is an editing issue. However, in order TO EDIT students must first write the story they want–and more importantly NEED–to tell, regardless of the word count. WHAT THE WHAT?!? This writing process goes against the typical thinking of teenagers, who’re used to writing their first–and ONLY–draft of an essay, as a FINAL copy. Now, that process may gain the results–i.e. an A grade–on most writing assignments for high school–yet, after a decade of editing hundreds of college essays, doesn’t make for the most competitive college essay possible.
Once students are ready to edit, the word count forces applicants to “say what you mean and mean what you say.” Again, this constraint may go against what students have been taught in typical English classes, that “more is better”, and “why limit yourself to 2 adjectives to describe the noun, when 7 will be better?” However, competitive college essays don’t entertain the admissions officer, they inform the admissions officer with the greatest insight, so the student can gain the most comprehensive review of their application possible. Therefore, the word count forces seniors to carefully (sometimes painstakingly) choose their every word. [HINT: Use the thesaurus–and in some cases, consult more than one] BUT, and I emphasize, BUT, not in the first draft, not in the second draft even.
Writing the essay one draft at a time, and separating drafting from editing, can help reduce the stress of writing the college essay and create a greater confidence in the essay that is submitted, eventually.