The word count of your essay mostly depends on your educational level, subject, department, course, and tutor’s instructions. This piece of writing is normally shorter than research papers or dissertations. But how long should an essay be exactly?
Generally, the length requirements are indicated in your assignment sheet. It can be words, paragraphs, or pages given as a range (300–500 words) or a particular number (5 pages). If you are not sure about your essay’s length, the number-one tip is to clarify it with your tutor. Also, if you’re not sure how to write an essay, we have a detailed guide on that topic, just follow the link.
We will review all the factors you must consider when it comes to an essay’s length, but here’s a quick answer to questions like, “How many words in an essay or how many paragraphs does an essay have?”
An essay is five paragraphs long on average, which is around 400–700 words.
Essay Length Tips
The tips below relate to academic essays that are given as a writing assignment. Everything that concerns admissions essays will be discussed in the following section.
- Three is the minimum number of paragraphs for essays (intro, body, and conclusion).
- The most common structure for a basic paper is the five-paragraph essay.
- The length of the introduction and conclusion paragraphs is always proportionally smaller.
- Each body paragraph must cover only one central idea, which is your topic sentence.
- A double-spaced page with text written in Times New Roman (12pt) usually contains about 275 words.
- A single-spaced page can fit double the amount, which is about 550 words.
How long should each essay part be?
If it’s a short essay (400–1000 words), each paragraph usually contains 100–200 words. The introduction and conclusion should be roughly the same in length and shorter than the overall word count of the body section.
According to Jennifer Duncan from The Writing Centre (the University of Toronto at Scarborough), for a 1000-word essay, its introduction and conclusion should be 4–5 sentences each. If your word count must be bigger, the length of these sections can be several paragraphs or even pages.
You might have seen conversion tables that say, “This number of words equals this number of paragraphs.” They all are based on a fixed length for each paragraph and are not very accurate. Yes, an essay that’s 400–800 words long can be converted like that. But, when your paper is bigger than a thousand words, your paragraphs can scale along, which means their number won’t grow exponentially with the overall essay size. For instance, if a 700-word essay comprises five paragraphs, a long essay (2000 words) won’t necessarily have fifteen paragraphs.
How long should a college essay be?
Here, “college essays” imply essays written for admissions. Admissions essays are quite different from the ones you get as homework. Usually, their chief goal is to show to the board that you are a worthy applicant. All the details about such essays should be publicly available on the college’s website in the appropriate section. But, if you don’t know the word count requirement and can’t find it, you still have some options. Below is a quick answer to the “how long is a college essay” question.
An average college essay is about 500 words long.
Admissions essay length tips
- Once you open the college’s site, look for phrases like “essay questions,” “information about supplemental essays,” “application instructions,” etc.
- As a rule, admissions essays are short (250–600 words) because board officers have to go through a lot of them daily.
- Do not exceed the given range by too much: if it says 500–550 words, the maximum length would be 600.
- When exceeding the word limit, your essay may not even end up being read to the end, so be mindful.
What if there are no length guidelines?
Sometimes colleges will not indicate a length limit for their essay prompts. But, don’t worry just yet because there are several ways to deal with this situation.
1. You need to send a sample of your writing.
They might have several options for applicants. Amherst College provides you with a choice: you can either (Option A) write a response to one of the quotations from the list or (Option B) submit a graded paper that best shows your writing skills. The last option implies that you have a set of papers to choose from, so you’re limited by their word count. But usually, there’s a page that contains guidelines for paper samples.
2. You can understand how long it should be from the description.
In its essay prompt guidelines, Wellesley College doesn’t give you a range of words or pages. Instead, it says, “in two well-developed paragraphs.” That means paragraphs can be quite long but within a reasonable limit, which is about 450–500 words. So this is when you’ll need to estimate or even guess a bit.
3. You need to search for the length requirements.
It can happen that essay length guidelines are not on the same page as the prompts. However, once you google, you can find posts on forums and social networks that discuss these essay writing requirements. You can also try searching “long” or “length” within the college site by typing “site:yourcollegewebsite.com” with those words.
4. You must call the admissions office.
If word limit instructions are nowhere to be found, you should call the admissions office. Even if they don’t have an exact number, they can tell you how long an essay should be based on the ones they had received before.
Sentence length will vary based on the paper type you’re working on. In narrative essays, you have to tell a story, which means sentences can be very long (up to 50 words). But general advice would be to keep sentences shorter than 25 words. Considering that, a 500-word essay would have somewhere between 20 to 45 sentences.
In short, you do. Unfortunately, the education system is “lazy” in this regard. Even though minimum length requirements force students to stretch their writing by adding fluff and verbose phrases, if those restraints were no more, some students would abuse that and submit essays far too short. Although some educators give a small margin over or under the word count, it’s better to write within the given range.
Your introductions and conclusion are usually smaller than body paragraphs. Hence, they will contain fewer sentences. For a 300-word paper, the first and last paragraphs will be about 3–5 sentences each, and every main paragraph will consist of 5–7 sentences.
The list of references
Here, you may find additional information on the topic:
- Paragraph Length — Aims Community College
- Writing Introductions and Conclusions — the University of Toronto at Scarborough