Every other Wednesday, our friends at Clear Admit will share one of their excellent tips for navigating the law school admissions process. For more advice, be sure to check out their blog.
One question law school applicants struggle with is how strictly they need to adhere to page and word limits. Applicants naturally have a good deal of information they want – and need – to convey in the limited amount of materials, and getting the important ideas down under restrictive page and word counts is a difficult task. While it might be tempting to run a bit beyond the guidelines to slip in that one extra thought, it’s important to keep the reasons for these limits in mind.
In addition to being a forum for sharing your story, the essays also serve as a test of the applicant’s ability to communicate clearly and concisely, not to mention follow directions and answer a question. Because law schools and future employers place a premium on all of these elements, adhering to word counts ultimately works to the applicant’s advantage.
The other consideration is the reader’s time. Because of high application volume and the need to give every applicant fair and thorough consideration, schools are forced to limit the amount of information permitted in each file. If you consistently extend your answers beyond the suggested limits, you are essentially asking the reader to give you more time than they are devoting to the other applicants. In other words, if you were to ignore the word or page limits and overshoot by 30% throughout, this might imply that you consider yourself to be 20% more interesting than everyone else who applied.
Therefore if a school gives you a page limit (e.g. 2 pages), you should try to stick to it as much as possible, without excessive margin manipulation or font size reduction. Diversity statements and “why School X” essays should be around one page (if not indicated otherwise), and addenda should be as concise as possible.
If a school gives you a word range (e.g. 250-750 words), you should ideally stay within that range. However, if a school gives you a simple word count (i.e. 250 words) it’s generally acceptable to exceed the word limit by 10%.
In terms of the other end of the length issue, it is likely unwise to consistently fall more than 10% below the word limits or use less than 75% of the page limit, as this is valuable room in which to share information about your candidacy. Similarly, not using the full word count or page length might signal a lack of effort, experience, or accomplishments.