How to Write a Common App Essay Part 2: Word Limit & Structure

How to Write a Common App Essay Part 2: Word Limit & Structure

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How to Write a Common App Essay Part 2: Word Limit & Structure
Prashant Thapa

The Common App essay, restricted to a concise 650-word limit, presents a significant challenge for aspiring college students. This difficulty isn't just about narrating personal experiences; it's about doing so with brevity and impact. This article explores two powerful structures—the Journey and the Montage—that can transform any topic into an effective Common App essay.

Also Check: IELTS Essay Topics

Handling the Word Limit Issue

Before diving into the structural intricacies, it's essential to grasp the significance of word limits in college essays. This constraint is a crucible, compelling students to distill their narratives into concise, impactful stories.

Choosing the Right Structure

A compelling essay begins with a robust topic. If you are grappling with the right subject, consider perusing our Best Common App Essay Topics guide. Once you've pinpointed your narrative, the next step is selecting a structure that complements your story.

Reassembling Your Narrative

As you reconstruct your narrative, delve into your story's core theme. Pose a fundamental question to guide your reflection:

What defines the essence of your narrative?

Is it a profound incident or a specific moment in your life that has left an indelible impact? This narrative archetype orbits around change and transformation, which is particularly well-suited for addressing prompts 2, 3, and 5.

On the other hand, your story might revolve around an enduring interest, a deeply held value, or a consistent personal quality. In this scenario, your narrative orbits a constant element in your life. This type of story finds its natural fit within prompts 1 and 6.

In understanding these distinctions, you pave the way for a more nuanced and tailored storytelling approach in your Common App essay.

Embracing the Journey Structure

Crafting a Narrative Odyssey

The Journey Structure offers a compelling framework for narratives aligning with the first point, where a specific incident or time left a profound impact.

Introduction (the 'Hook')

Commence with a riveting introduction that captures the reader's attention and sets the tone for the entire essay. Plunge into the heart of your story, describing a pivotal moment.

Section One (the 'Before')

Step back and provide context by illustrating what you were like before the experience. Summarize to stay within the word count.

Section Two (the 'During')

Return to the described experience, delving into the details of your actions and decisions. Illuminate the challenges overcome.

Section Three (the 'After')

Highlight the transformative impact of the experience. Offer specific evidence, answering the crucial question: "What can I do now that I could not do before?"


Conclude by reflecting on the lesson learned and its potential influence on your journey through college and beyond.

Also Check: PTE Essay

Embracing the Montage Structure

Weaving Threads of Sustained Themes

For narratives aligning with the second point, focusing on a sustained interest or personal quality, the Montage Structure provides an effective approach.


Define the overall theme using a vivid image, creating an engaging entry point. For instance, if exploring growing up in a mixed-ethnicity family, start with an image at the dinner table. Conclude the introduction with a sentence previewing the essay's overarching theme.

Sections One to Three

Craft two to three sections, each offering a snapshot of a different facet of your topic. Ensure each section focuses on positive traits like empathy, communication, and boundaries.


Reiterate the central message and reflect on how these qualities can contribute to your success in college and beyond.

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In navigating the Common App essay word limit, selecting the right structure is as crucial as choosing the perfect topic. The Journey and Montage structures serve as distinct frameworks, empowering you to effectively showcase your experiences and qualities. Remember, thoughtful planning and strategic storytelling are the keys to crafting a memorable and impactful essay.


What is the word limit for the Common App essay, and how important is it to adhere to it?

Explore the specifics of the word limit and understand its significance in crafting an effective Common App essay.

Can you provide tips on managing the 650-word limit while conveying a compelling and comprehensive story?

Uncover strategies for maximizing the limited word count while maintaining the depth and impact of your narrative.

Why is choosing the right structure crucial for a Common App essay?

Delve into the importance of selecting an appropriate structure and how it enhances your essay's overall coherence and effectiveness.

How do I decide between the Journey and Montage structures for my essay?

Receive insights into the characteristics of the Journey and Montage structures, helping you make an informed decision based on your narrative.

What are common pitfalls to avoid when dealing with the word limit and structure in a Common App essay?

Explore potential challenges and mistakes that applicants often encounter, along with guidance on navigating these pitfalls successfully.

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