Reducing the angst of college application essay writing

By College Advice, Writing Training

“Never use a long word when a short one will do.”

Good advice from George Orwell (“Politics and the English Language,” 1946) that students might want to keep in mind when writing college application essays. 

Orwell wasn’t suggesting that writers use simple vocabulary to “dumb down” their prose.  He was arguing against what he saw as a “bad habit” among fellow writers—using “long” words in place of short ones to inflate ideas or sound more intellectual.  Orwell despised this practice because it so often resulted in pretentious and confusing writing. 

CT Students who come to The Learning Consultants for college essay guidance sometimes bring with them the notion that long words have more weight than short ones.  They’ve learned in school that long words are more academic and so should be used as often as possible in writing.  Especially in college application essays.   

But short words can be as weighty as long ones.  Word length doesn’t matter.  What matters is that the word being used conveys the writer’s intended meaning–and tone. 

And students writing college app essays with tight word limits have to choose their words wisely!

Two examples of short words packing a punch–the first from a successful college app essay sent to Johns Hopkins University; the second a few lines from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:

“It’s a bit silly, but I enjoyed the simple satisfaction of being different” (https://apply.jhu.edu/essays-that-worked-2021).

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts” (Act 2, Scene 7, l 142-145).

Kristina Knobelsdorff, PhD

Kristina joined The Learning Consultants in 2007, shortly after completing her PhD in English at the University of Connecticut. With a decade of coaching teachers and students behind her, Kristina now heads the Department of Writing Mastery full-time. She derives great satisfaction helping students of all ages become skilled and confident writers. full bio