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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Silbernagel

10 Tips to Trim Your College Essay

Updated: Sep 25, 2021

Is your college essay over the word count? Do you need space to add just a couple more key sentences? Use these tips to reduce words and strengthen your writing.

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1. Eliminate adverbs

Look at your use of the word “very” and “ly” words, such as really, extremely, truly, completely, and absolutely.


Do they enhance your story?

Or are they redundant?


He screamed loudly becomes He screamed.

Is there a better way to write it? Can you replace the “-ly” with a stronger adjective or verb?

He ran quickly becomes He raced.

She ran quickly becomes She sprinted.

When appropriate, revise or delete adverbs.

You do not need to remove every adverb, but limiting them (approximately one to every 300 words) will strengthen your writing.

2. Use adjectives sparingly

Writers often use adjectives to beef up their nouns. Instead, use stronger nouns.

A difficult problem becomes a quandary.

A huge hill becomes a mountain.

3. Omit unnecessary transition words

Look for a single word or short phrase followed by a comma.

These include because of this, in fact, first, last, hopefully, to be frank, quite frankly and in conclusion.

Highlight the words or phrases, then read the sentences without them. Does the sentence still make sense?

Ultimately, I realized failure teaches lessons for future success.


I realized failure teaches lessons for future success.

Delete the adverbs that do not add to the meaning.

4. Replace helping (auxiliary) verbs and use a stronger verb

He is going to be attending becomes He will attend.

I was thinking becomes I thought.

I am an avid reader becomes I read avidly.

5. Turn some nouns into verbs

I concluded is better than I came to the conclusion.

This painting portrays life and beauty is better than This painting is a portrayal of life and beauty.

6. Turn a passive sentence into an active sentence

Revise It was impressed upon me from an early age... to

I learned at an early age...

The sentence becomes shorter and more “action-oriented” and puts the focus on "you" the writer.

Pro tip: Here's a quick video where my colleague, Eveyln, teaches students how to turn a passive sentence into "I" focused action sentence.

7. Use contractions

I could not believe... becomes I couldn't believe...

Contractions sound friendlier, more personal, and more genuine. And they save word space.

8. Eliminate most of your thats.

Read the sentence without them. Remove them if they do not add to the sentence.

I want to read that book. [keep - it adds]

The book that I read was long. [delete - does not add]

The book I read was long.

9. Use possessive nouns

Read through your essay and look for "of the" phrasing when describing a noun.

Use the noun's possessive form to eliminate words.

The intricacy of the design amazed me.


The design's intricacy amazed me.

10. Use the plural when possible

Articles like "the" and "a" can be cut by converting the noun from the singular to plural.

Whenever I eat a tamale, I'm transported back in time.


Whenever I eat tamales I'm transported back in time.

It may seem like these revision strategies save only a couple of words per edit, but you will find they add up quickly. Use these ten tips to make your essay more compact and readable.

Bonus tip to gauge your essay's readability

Get a “read” on your writing’s readability with the Hemmingway App.


Do you have questions about college admissions? Let's talk!



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