5. Using the 250-Word Essay as an Addendum, or a "Why Yale?" Essay. This is not as egregious as the first four, but I mention it because I really think people who take this route lose an opportunity. First, you can add an addendum—about the C you got in Calculus, or the alarm that was going off during the LSAT—in addition to the required essays. The 250 doesn't preclude that (just keep it brief). Second, a listing of the courses or programs at Yale which intrigue you is nice, and shows that you've researched the school, but doesn't really add to the Admission Committee's knowledge about you (they already know Yale's courses and programs are great, they teach them!). You should really try to take advantage of the 250 to showcase your writing ability, and pursue a topic other than an explanation of the components of the application or a list of things that caught your fancy on our website. We want to find out more about what makes you tick!
It may be only 500 words — or sometimes only 100-250 words — but the admissions essay(s) portion of a college application can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection. How you write your personal essay shows the admissions committee why you are different from other applicants. It provides information about you that test scores, grades, and extracurricular pursuits just cannot.
1. Not Keeping Your Essay at 250 Words or Less. Yes, it seems like it would be obvious that a 250-word essay should be, well, 250 words. I'm not sure why people choose to ignore this. Because they think what they have to say is so special that the limit doesn't apply? They didn't read the instructions? They don't know how to use the word counter on their computer? Not clear. Look. It's an excercise. The faculty who came up with this application requirement a billion years ago do not like to be mocked. Do I or the faculty reading your application actually count the words? Maybe—do you want to take the chance? Bottom line: Don't go over 250 words. If what you have to say is longer, edit it. And yes, definite and indefinite articles and prepositions count.
The personal essay is the main event, and certainly the hardest to write. But, beyond the personal essay there are other essays that have to be written. These are usually only 250 words. Some are general, like Why do you want to go to this college? or What activity most impacted you? but there are also colleges that have their own individual or supplemental essays.
First, don’t forget about this essay. Make sure to check with each school you are applying to to see if you have covered all supplemental materials. Next, think about how short the 250-word essay is. You are going to have to be brief. What you don’t include is as important as what you do include. Cut, cut, cut. Also be very specific. This short essay requires two specifics and a dash of humor.