College Application/Essay Word Counts?

I’m in the process of filling out my college applications and writing my essays, and I just encountered a problem.

I’ve been using Microsoft Word’s word count feature to help me stay within the 500 word limit set on my essays, but it seems to consider every character sequence separated by spaces as a word (i.e, it includes “I”, “the”, “an”, “a”, and all those in its count). My Dad claims that those don’t count when you’re doingword limits - he says you should only consider words of 4 characters when counting.

Anyone know what the standard is these days? I’ve found a few websites online that say Word’s count is fine, but they’re less than credible. I emailed my guidance counselor, but I doubt she’ll answer over the weekend and I’d like to get everything done by Sunday. All the admissions offices are closed over the weekend.

Any help would be appreciated.

I have heard both too, but perhaps your local library could help you out.

Don’t have a traditional English writer’s manual handy, but the AP Stylebook doesn’t say to exclude anything when doing a word count.

Hope that helps.

Do you think someone in the admissions office sits there and counts them? Just do something around 500 give or take 50 and you will be fine.

FWIW, my wife is a professional translator (French --> English) and charges by the word. Every once in a while some wise-ass questions whether she should charge for un and le (and l’). The plain fact is that the usage of articles in French and English is sufficiently different that they sometimes give her the most trouble. IMHO, a word is a word is a word. And if they haven’t specified, it is because they don’t care.

I would add that to err on the side of brevity is often a good thing in writing. Distill your message to its essence! And best of luck to you!