Colleges and universities customarily give specific instructions as to how long they expect acceptable essays to be as part of their application processes. However, the College Board offers a general suggestion of 500 words as a standard. This approximates to a single standard page, single-spaced.
Generally speaking, college essays' lengths are extremely short when compared to other types of essays or research papers. This is because application committees want to see how well the student can express her ideas with limited space and wording, as well as how effectively that student follows directions. Additionally, these committees often have a great many application essays to read and do not want to waste time reading extremely long, poorly written or unfocused essays. Therefore, it is extremely important that the student not exceed the maximum word count specified in the application. Even a few words over the prescribed limit may indicate that the student cannot properly take instruction.
While many colleges opt for the short essay, this not universally true. Some institutions prefer longer pieces that help them to learn the most possible about applicants. Some schools even assign more than one essay with similar or different word counts. Due to this variation in expectation, it is always best to focus on those stylistic and compositional elements that are always sought after. In short, it is best to get to the point as quickly as possible, to stick to facts and to speak in a personal and approachable voice. One should avoid overly inflated academic language, which experienced professors can easily see through, and to remain genuine and straightforward throughout.