You want it to be HOW long?!
May 29, 2009 10:24 AM   Subscribe

I have to write an admission essay for college, and the guidelines are... vague.

I've already been told by the dean that she will personally recommend me for acceptance, so I suspect this may be just a formality. Even so, I don't feel like I should just phone it in.

But, I'm at a bit of a loss. The instructions are:
Please write a brief essay on a topic of your choice in the text box. Your answer can be up to 32,000 characters long.

Perhaps this is just me, but 32,000 characters sounds like an awful lot for an essay. I could write a research paper that long, but a twelve page personal essay seems a bit much, and seems to be about five times longer than the average admissions essay out there.

Do you think that's just a guideline, in a "please, dear lord, don't send us anything longer than that" sense, or should I actually target hitting about that length?
posted by Kellydamnit to Education (12 answers total)
Whenever you don't have a minimum length, opt for concision. Say everything you need to say, and don't avoid interesting prose, but nothing glazes the eyes of overworked office drones faster than florid and repetitive writing.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:30 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Please write a brief essay on a topic of your choice in the text box.

So you're entering the essay electronically -- in a "text box"? Then maybe when they say it "can be up to 32,000 characters long," they literally mean that this is the maximum capacity their software will allow for each essay. In that case, I certainly wouldn't interpret this to mean your essay should be nearly 32,000 characters.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:31 AM on May 29, 2009

Not an admissions person, not your admissions person, but I did put a college essay in a text box, and I think that's a "please don't send us anything longer than that it'll be so damn long."

On preview, I agree with Jaltcoh too.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 10:33 AM on May 29, 2009

I'm glad to hear that you aren't phoning it in because any such offer is always going to be contingent on you fulfilling your other responsibilities. Also, good recommendations help a lot but they don't guarantee anything.

Is this a college essay for an undergraduate or graduate program? Often times graduate programs will require 10-30 pages of writing samples and sometimes these include admissions essays.

In either case, I could call the admissions office and ask them directly. You can tell them that you are prepared to write a 32,000 character essay, but didn't want to burden them with one if that wasn't the expectation.
posted by mrmojoflying at 10:33 AM on May 29, 2009

Best answer: Speaking as someone who has read a couple hundred undergraduate applications please, please, please, please don't max out the form. Twelve pages is a huge amount. I would expect 2, maybe 3 pages at the outside. The only way I could see using the entire space is if you are applying to a particular program where a longer writing sample would be applicable.
posted by procrastination at 10:33 AM on May 29, 2009

Congrats on the recommendation. You are right, you still shouldn't phone it in.

I would not regard a 32,000-character essay as "brief." And 32,000 is the smallest round number before a magic number (215 = 32,768) that is sometimes used as a maximum in programming. So jaltcoh is probably right—that is probably the technical max of their software, not what they really want.

The best thing to do would be to call the admissions office and check with them. If you don't get any hints from them, I would probably do something of about three pages. Who is going to want to read a 10+ page essay?
posted by grouse at 10:34 AM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do you think that's just a guideline, in a "please, dear lord, don't send us anything longer than that" sense, or should I actually target hitting about that length?

That sounds like a technical limitation. When people talk about essay length, they usually use measurements like words or pages, whereas characters (which includes things like spaces and line breaks) is more of a computer term. Also, for whatever reason (possibly because 2^15 is 32768) 32,000 characters seems to be a common maximum text field size in databases, so it's possible that the database that they are using to store the essays in will not support anything longer than that.

Anyway I would just write what you would normally write for an admissions essay and you should be fine, I would expect that most of the other people applying will do the same. On preview, what grouse said, including calling and asking if it will help ease your mind.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:43 AM on May 29, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone. I had most of the same ideas, but wanted a few other opinions before I called in to ask. I didn't want to call and sound like I was too lazy to write an essay of the proper length.

For what it is worth, I'm applying for an undergraduate program, without admission into a specific department.
And no, I would not consider 32000 characters and "brief" to be in the same universe.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:52 AM on May 29, 2009

Write an essay on a subject about which you are passionate, knowledgeable and articulate. Word will count characters if you ask it to. Quality beats quantity.
posted by theora55 at 11:11 AM on May 29, 2009

nthing that they aren't hoping for you to write 32k characters. 2 +/- .5 pages is pretty standard.

Not that you asked, but if you're writing essays for other college/scholarship applications with more specific topics, this is your chance to reuse one that you're proud of. :)
posted by ecsh at 12:12 PM on May 29, 2009

This may be completely stupid and obvious to you, but in the interest of completeness, I will mention it. A maximum length of characters includes spaces and punctuation, as well as regular old letters.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 12:16 PM on May 29, 2009

Response by poster: To follow up, this school says they also accept the common application. I took a look, and the essay requirement there is for a minimum of 250 words, which gives me a much clearer idea of what they may want.
posted by Kellydamnit at 2:24 PM on May 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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