Posted on August 4, 2020

Helpful Tips to Meet Word Limits in MBA Essays

Less is More

Shorter and fewer essays have been an ongoing trend of business school application essays for the past few years. Every year, B- schools have been cutting down on the number of application essays and their word limits. Continuing with this trend, Stanford has reduced the word limit of two required essays from 1150 to 1050; Duke Fuqua has cut down its second essay from two pages to only 300 words, Ross has further reduced the length of its two required essays from 600 to 400 words, UCLA now requires a single essay of 250 words. To cite one specific example of this ongoing trend over the past few years, in 2012, Ross required 5 essays totaling 1700 words, and for the 2020-21 application season, it asks two essays of only 400 words. The requirement for fewer essays with fewer words emphasizes the urgent need to say 'more' in 'less' in writing B-school application essays.

Why B Schools Prefer Fewer Essays and Words:

There are multiple reasons for B schools' ongoing preference for fewer essays and words. First, Admission officers have thousands of applications to review, so they do not have the bandwidth to deal with heaps of overly lengthy essays. Therefore, reducing the number of essays and their word limits eases the burden of the admission committee.

Moreover, B schools expect their prospective students and future business leaders to be original and innovative. They aim to evaluate you for your ability to make your point concisely and succinctly without beating around the bush. It's easy to write a lengthy piece than a short one. Presenting a holistic picture of your personal and professional traits and achievements in a mere 250 words to gain admission in UCLA business school is no easy feat. Finally, exceeding the word limits reflects your unwillingness to follow the guidelines.

Thus, to make each word in your essay vouch for you, you must strategize and choose your words thoughtfully and meticulously.

 Strategy Tips to Say 'More in Less':

 1. Follow the Step by Step writing process:

The first step to achieve brevity is not bothering about word limits when writing your first draft. I always advise my students not to be daunted by word limits when putting together your first draft. At this stage, your goal should be to put down on paper all of your ideas that address the essay prompt without fretting about the word limits. Dig deeper to reflect on your experiences and choose the examples that touch upon a variety of key themes.

Next, once you have made sure that you have chosen your best story, narrate it in an organized and engaging manner. Now that you have gathered all elements of your story, identify areas that you think are not directly related to the essay prompt. Then go ahead and begin eliminating those details without compromising on the essential components of the story. Also, omit repetitive content (if any). Finally, replace big phrases with shorter ones.

2. Get to the Point:

Read the essay prompt carefully and answer the question asked. I often see applicants filling precious space by using expressions such as 'It goes without saying,' 'needless to say.' These phrases only add a lot of fluff, not value. When there is no need to say something, why say it? Do not start the sentence with "I would say…." You are the writer of this essay, so the reader knows that you are voicing your opinion. So why waste four precious words in saying, 'I would say that?'

3. Avoid Empty Adverbs:

Some words that are often a part of our conversation do not add any value to our writing. We can safely omit empty words such as 'actually,' 'very,' 'quite,' 'totally' without impacting the meaning of the story.

 4. Do Not Use Quotations:

 I have often seen essays where the applicants start the essay with a quote. Please note that the admission committee wants to know about you through these essays. Filling precious space of 250 or 300 words essay by quoting famous people will not impress the admission committee. Let each word in these super-short essays speak for you.

5. Do not repeat information:

Avoid repeating information. Strategize how you plan to use different parts of your application (short essay questions, optional essay, other essays) to present different aspects of your profile.

6. Avoid Descriptive Details:

It's true descriptive details paint a picture of the situation in the minds of the reader. But in these short essays of 200-250 words, such descriptions take away a big chunk of the allowed space. I would omit them or keep them to the minimum (depending on the allowed words) and focus on what the prompt asks. For example, Cambridge Judge's essay of lessons learned from a 'spectacular failure' or Darden's essay of 'meaningful impact you made' requires you to cover so much ground about your experience in mere 200 words that leave no room to get into descriptive details of the situation.

7. Use Shorter Phrases:

To achieve brevity, chose your words wisely. You may need to edit your essay multiple times to be able to present all aspects of your story in the allowed word limit. You will find that there are more ways to express your thoughts succinctly and concisely than you can anticipate. We have compiled a list of some phrases that you can replace by their shorter equivalents. Take a look:

List of shorter Phrases:

Instead of Use
At this point in time Now
Come to the conclusion Conclude
Despite the fact that Although
I am of the opinion I think
In addition to Besides
Is indicative of Indicates
It is incumbent on me I must
Make a decision to Decide
On the grounds that Since
Perform an analysis of Analyze
Prior to that time Before
Provide information about Inform
Reached an agreement Agreed
Subsequent to After
Under no circumstances Never
With a view to To
With regard to About
With this in mind Therefore
Within a couple of days Soon
An example of that is For example

Before and After Examples from Essays reviewed by  MER:

Here are some examples from essays reviewed by MER:

Before: It is evident from this example as to how my prior experience as a technologist has helped me in providing solutions. (20 words)

After: Thus, my prior experience as a technologist has helped me in providing solutions. (13 words)

Before: When one of my best friends was placed on academic probation, I made it my personal mission to help her regain good academic standing. I spent many hours tutoring her in chemistry and calculus, and with my support, she regained good academic status. (43 words)

After: When one of my best friends was placed on academic probation, I spent hours tutoring her in chemistry and calculus and helped her regain good academic standing. (27 words)

Before: The reason I am proud of this accomplishment is that (10 words)

After:  I am proud of this accomplishment because (7 words)

Before: Aayush awarded contracts worth USD 65 million, which led to the standardization of services, reduction in administrative costs, and also achieved USD 14 million in savings. (25 words)

After: Aayush awarded contracts worth USD 65 million, which standardized services, reduced administrative costs, and saved USD 14 million (18 words)

Before: "An  example of trying to gain more insight into the business realm is that I have become an avid reader of both The Economist and the Wall Street Journal." (29 words)

After: For example, I have become an avid reader of both The Economist and the Wall Street Journal (16 words)

Thus, the above tips and examples illustrate that meeting rigid word limits is achievable if we choose your words wisely. Get to the point and follow the principle of 'less is more.'

Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview ) has been helping applicants tell their stories succinctly and successfully in a few words. We have pruned 500 words essays to 200-250 words without compromising on any essential element of the story.

Poonam, founder and president of MER is  one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club.)

Free Resources:

  1. 10 Key Essay Tips with Examples
  2. Essay Analysis of Other Top Programs-2020-21
  3. MER Students Share Their Success Stories
  4. E-book of 30 Essays that Worked
  5. Case Studies

Do you have a question about your application for the 2020-21 admission cycle, email Poonam at or fill out the free consultation form