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MBA essays: How important is the word count

Having word limit problems while writing MBA essays? If not, sooner or later, you’ll face the frustrating roadblock.  Here are a few questions that may pop up in your mind about the word limits for your MBA essays and some perspectives to help you navigate them.

Words give my thoughts wings and allow me to fly. Why, oh why, then would anyone be so cruel as to restrict the word count and curtail my flight?

The very purpose of giving you a specific word count is to standardise the process so that it becomes easy for the MBA admission committee (Adcom) to compare the output among candidates. Imagine the plight of the Adcom member who has to manage loads of applications, some answering in monosyllables and others writing epics.

You might feel, every detail (from how you managed each challenge in your career to why you hate furry creatures with long ears) is really significant. The adcom disagrees. They would rather have a crisp effective essay that also demonstrates your ability to follow rules and guidelines that they have laid out.

Remember that this is a test of your ability to prioritise your thoughts and present them in a precise, impactful manner.

Is it okay if I exceed the word limit in just one or two essays? How much variation is acceptable?

Though some of the MBA colleges mention that they don’t mind a ±5-10% in the word count, the folks at MBA Crystal Ball are conservative. Our stand would be to be safe within the limit. We think verbosity isn’t good to communicate a point (though we frequently violate that rule on our blogs for SEO reasons). A well-presented essay that does not overshoot the limit works best.

Some online forms automatically prevent you from exceeding the word limits. But if you have submitted your essays in formats where programmatic verification is difficult, Adcoms can still identify when candidates have taken liberties with the essay word counts. Whether they let you off lightly or penalise you will depend on the school policies and/or individual discretion.

When every single effort that you are putting in to get brownie points, why let a simple technical flaw spoil the party?

What if my essays are below the word count?

Aah! The strong silent type. If you’re faced with a situation where you’re expected to write a 500 word essay and you feel you’re done within 400 words, what do you do?

a> Write a funny poem or doodle something to demonstrate my sense of humour
b> Nothing. I won’t worry about it. Let the over-worked Adcom enjoy the white space.
c> It depends on how much buffer I have.

Well, though option A sounds appealing, we’ll go with option C on this one. If it’s only a few unused words, then don’t forcibly add words to take it towards the word limit. But if it’s a big gap, then we’ve got a different problem.

While the rest of your competitors are fighting to get their multi-faceted profile fit into a 2-dimensional sheet of paper, you are leaving it pretty much empty. Adcoms might wonder why. Is it because you don’t have accomplishments or you don’t have the right words to present them?

In an MBA essay where every word is important, are you losing a few precious 100 words which your competitors might use to their advantage? The adcom might also get an impression that you don’t have much to communicate or they may view this as a lack of effort on your part to make the most of the opportunity to speak about yourself, your achievements or goals.

In the next section we’ll look at an approach that you can use to minimise the pain of having to discard entire paragraphs that you have lovingly crafted only to realise later that the basic structure isn’t working and needs to be re-worked.

How to write essays within the word limit

There are no right or wrong ways to do this and you might have already thought about how you want to approach it. For those who don’t want to spend time on discovering and fine-tuning an approach, here’s a quick start.

How do I go about writing essays keeping word count in mind?

Before you even start writing, carry out this exercise:

– Think of a high level structure for your essay
– Jot down short (2-3 word) phrases that highlight the key idea you want to present.
– Depending on your natural style of creating sentences, think of an average number of words you’d need to expand on each idea.

Bang! You get a rough idea of how long your essay will be with minimal effort. If the estimated word count seems too less, you know you can include a few extra ideas. If it’s too much, drop a few less important ideas.

Sounds too simple? Flawed? Probably, yes. But it can be a good start for the following reasons:

– It’s a great way to visualise what the end product might look like with very little effort.

– Discarding an idea or in fact re-changing the basic structure itself will be easier and less painful than throwing away big chunks of text and many hours of writing.

Once you’ve frozen on the skeleton, then start adding muscle to it. Form sentences around each idea and make it ready for human consumption. This will be your starting draft and it’ll undergo revisions as you chisel away or add to the essay.

Throughout that process, you need to have a rough estimation of the word allocation for each section right from the initial drafts or you would be faced with another challenge of cutting down the size of your essays at the last minute.

With each review cycle, you’ll find your essays in a better shape and in sync with the word count with every round of essay-editing.

Some go to extreme lengths in restructuring sentences so that the use of commonly used articles like ‘a’, ‘an’ or ‘the’ are minimised. In Indian English the end result may sound ok, but when an international reviewer is going through it…tauba tauba! If you are thinking of doing the same, ensure that it does not affect the overall flow and the impression you are making on the reader.

Focus on enhancing the readability rather than mechanically trying to bring the word count down.

Time to put the theory into action now!

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

9 thoughts on “MBA essays: How important is the word count”

  1. Hi Sameer,

    Please accept my heartiest congratulations for such a informative forum. I have done my PGDM in 2000 with 63% from the top 50 business school in India. I have an experience of 15 years in sales in real estate. I have worked with real estate companies like Jaypee Group, Vatika Group and Amrapali Group (all based in Delhi / NCR). Currently, I am working as DGM in sales in real estate. My age is 41 yrs.I was always inclined towards international degree MBA to enhance my career, but, was unable to pursue due to financial constraints.Now, I am interested for 2nd MBA or accelerated MBA from US / Canada.
    I have 3 questions (This is a humble request):-
    1. Which college / universities shall i apply ? (Not aware of good colleges names)
    2. Is it important to have GMAT scores to reserve the seat in good colleges (in my case my experience is more than 15 yrs)
    3. Do i have the good chance to be absorbed in these countries after completing my 2nd MBA

  2. Hi Sameer,

    I have 4 years of experience in IT industry and planning for an MBA from one of TOP B Schools. But as my aggregates are less (10th 64%, 12th 69%, B.Sc. 56% and M.Sc. 63%) for any IIM (please correct if am wrong). The options that I have (I believe) are MBA from abroad OR 1 year MBA program from colleges like ISB Hyderabad (not sure about 1 year program from Indian school I mean how much they impact in my career, in comparison to 2-years MBA?). My ultimate goal is to reach higher management level position for that I believe in current era MBA is very important to grow with a good pace.
    1. If I prepare for GMAT and qualifies with a good score lets say in 5 months, I have to wait for another 1.5 years from now to take admission in US university. So going for an 2-years MBA program after completing 5.5 years work ex, how much It would be fruitful for my career.
    2. How great it would be to join a good university not from US but from UK, Australia?
    3. In current Indian Economy and status of Indian B schools, is it worth paying a huge amount (Around 50lacs) to international school rather joining a good Indian school?

  3. @Harbaksh: The Sloan Fellows program may be worth exploring. Here’s more about it:

    GMAT is required for most good full-time programs. Some Executive MBA programs skip the requirement.

    Getting a job in a foreign country can be a big challenge.

    @Piyush: It surely is a big risk paying so much money to go abroad. But many who’ve done the best & worst case analysis go ahead with it due to the rewards it can offer.

    USA has more MBA opportunities, followed by the UK. Australia will be at the bottom compared to the other two.

  4. Hi Sameer,
    I have been working in the aluminium production industry as a shift incharge for the last 8 years and I am 30 years of age as of now.Now ,I feel that it is time for me to change my field and an EMBA would help me achieve it.Therefore,I am planning to take the GMAT test.Is it advisable for me to take that test?

  5. Dear Sameer,

    I have 11 years of experience in technology Pre-sales and consulting and have worked with top MNC’s and have completed multiple assignments across the globe.

    I am 36 years old and targeting the 1 year full time MBA program from IIM-A, IIM-B, IIM-C, IIM-L, ISB this year as I strongly feel the requirement for the same.

    Will the above mentioned B-schools entertain my application taking into consideration my age-36, or am I wasting my time studying for GMAT to apply for these schools??

    Kindly suggest.

  6. Hello sameer I am prasad,I did Bsc in biotech n MSC in biotech,I am having 3 year experience in sales n marketing.
    Now I want to do one year MBA in India.
    Please suggest me if I will go for GMAT or else .

    I got
    58% in 10th
    49% in 12th
    72% in Bsc
    73% in Msc

    Please suggest me.

  7. Hi,

    I am working in onsite in IT sector and having 10+ experience in IT. I am getting 20L package per anum here.

    But i want to settle in india with better package. For that, I am planning to do executive MBA from IIMA or ISB,hyderabad to settle in india.

    Planning to prepare GMAT. Pls suggest, If we join in IIM or ISB, do we get good package in india.


  8. Hi Sameer,

    I have done my graduation from Delhi. My 10th and 12th scores are 92% and 70% resp. My CGPA however is 7.0.I am currently working in Singapore with Accenture. I was planning to prepare for foreign MBA, how good are my chances to get a good Uni if I manage a decent score in GRE/GMAT? Also can you tell me how to decide which B School will be best for me?

  9. @Sarthak: Sure, you can take the GMAT. You can try for a combination of 1-year MBA and 2-year MBA.

    @Swapnil: The one-year MBA options in IIM A/B/C do get mature professionals. Your exprience would put you on the outlier side.

    @Khum: A GMAT / GRE score is a pre-requisite for all good MBA programs. So, if you have decided to apply to some programs, getting a competitive score would be the first step.

    @Roja: There is no guarantee about getting a job or a good salary after MBA, irrespective of whether you graduate from Harvard / Stanford in USA or from ISB / IIM in India.

    @Niki: You can refer to this article where we talk about how to select the right business schools:


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