500 What?



You’re ready to start tapping away on your keypad.  You are excited to share with the college admissions staff your amazing attributes, your incredible GPA, your blow-them-out-of-the-water SAT scores, your passion for healthcare education, and the challenges you’ve hurdled to get to where you are today.  Inspiring!  Just be sure to keep your persuasiveness to 500 words or less. You heard me. Gasp. Now breathe.

Alan Gelb, author of Conquering the College Admissions Essay in 10 Steps, has some good advice on this impossible sounding feat.  He believes many first attempts are “several hundred words beyond the mark.”  This surplus is to be expected (for a first draft).  However, after editing the essay two more times, the final draft should be near the 500 word count.  If you  exceed the 500 word cap, it’s time to incorporate some basic tips:

Figure out where to begin. Seems easy enough.  Or is it?  Remembering that a 500 word essay is limited for a reason should signal to your brain that you need to begin your story “right into the action that matters most.”  For example, don’t start your narrative about volunteering at your local food bank with you getting out of bed at 6 a.m., adding creamer to your coffee, brushing your teeth, and then getting in your car.  Instead, jump immediately into handing out food!

Use a catchy literary device. Gelb recommends “in media res.”  Latin to English translation:  “in the middle of things.” A great opener can grab your readers by the throat through the use of dialogue.  Cans of food went flying! Or maybe The stove burst into flames!

Just don’t do it. You know, add in a bunch of wordy clutter under the disguise of adjectives, qualifiers, and adverbs.  Since I was a waiter, I walked over to the first wooden table with a tray full of piping hot food. Hmm.  We get it but what about I walked over to the table with a tray. You just went from twenty words to nine and freed up space to discuss the looks of gratitude on the people’s faces you were serving. Maybe you (really, really, really) like adverbs.  I hurriedly walked over the very big counter with incredibly tall stools. How about I walked over to the counter. Dump the hurriedly, very, and incredibly (and the adjectives).  Many times, you can get rid of these words and your story will remain intact.  Better yet, it will be streamlined.

The truth is:  Gelb believes in you.  I believe in you.  Now to ensure that admissions committees don’t face palm when they read your masterpiece and find it’s been cut off mid-sentence due to a 500 word overage.  Practice using these writing strategies and check out Gelb’s book.  Soon enough, you’ll get the fat envelope in the mail, pack your dorm stuff, and buy your futon.