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USC Graduate Application Personal Statement Word Count


New Member
Hey everyone,

I'm applying for USC Spring 2010 but here 's the thing: My personal statement runs for 1500-1700 words when the limit is 1000. However the adviser at my colleague is telling me that it's O.K., that it " reads well " and the fact that I over-stepped the boundaries should not be an issue, considering it's not " too long ". He stressed that the 1000 word limit is a guideline and not a rule and people reading the
admissions " want to know more about me, that's why they are doing their job in the first place ". He also said that I should not ask the
university whether I could send a 1600 word personal statement, as they would surely reply " no " out of principle, but if I send it in a
straight-forward manner, without asking anyone, it would be A-OK.

I'm a bit unsettled about this whole thing and would appreciate any kind of input you guys can provide.

Thanks in advance.


Well-Known Member
You can cut it down, but like all of us, you're looking for permission not to.

Cut it down. You'd be surprised what you can do.

When I applied to MFA programs, I had to cut my writing submissions down smaller and smaller for each school...each time, I didn't know where to cut, but in the end, the 25 pager reads so much better than the 38 pager.

That was a script. You're talking about yourself...

Cut it down.
You should try to cut it down some if you can, but it won't tank an otherwise excellent application.

I submitted a PS that was over an application word limit, and got in. My interviewer for that school mentioned that she enjoyed it. But it was a kind of unorthodox PS, and I knew I needed all the words.

If you're confident that what you want to say requires all those words, then go for it. But it sounds like you're not sure, in which case you'll probably feel better following the letter of the law.

I agree you shouldn't bother asking them though.


New Member
Thanks for the advice guys.

Well, I can cut it down, but it will lose something. It's like a story, connected paragraph to paragraph, so unless I really have to, I don't want to.

So, Jay, let's say I can't cut it down, would it be a problem?

And Jthamilton, how many words were in your personal statement? Just wondering what's the range was.
Jayimess gave you pretty direct advice. I don't think she'll change her mind just because you asked her again.
(Not to speak for you, Jayimess.)

Mine was over by a lot. It's a calculated risk. No one can tell you for sure if all your words are essential.


Well-Known Member
It won't lose something, it will become something else. Possibly, likely, something better.

You need to recognize that as the writer, you are very much in love with your material, and as such you are too close to the subject matter to cut freely.

Just a few tips off the top-o-me-head...

Use one word to replace four.

Remove "prepares to" "about to," "starts to," etc, anything that dilutes your actions and adds word count.

Condense compound sentences.

Etc, etc, etc. Start with small trims, then see where you are at.

Or have someone else do it for you. Fresh eyes are really crucial.

You are asking again and again for permission from me, this forum, whomever, to not cut, which to me indicates that you need someone to push you to make the cuts.

WHAT IF EVERYWHERE YOU TURNED, PEOPLE SAID: "No, no, Omarr, it MUST be under 1000?" What if you called USC and they told you "it absolutely must be under 1000?"

I bet you'd make that shizz happen...but you're just waiting for enough people to reassure you don't have to trim. As JTHamilton said, I'm not gonna be one of those people.

I believe in the rules of applications, and I come under fire for it often on this site, which JTH may or may not have been alluding to, but here is my reasoning: they give you parameters for several reasons, the weight of each, of course, I have no knowledge of....but here are the reasons I think they set page/word counts...take it as you wish:

::To see what you can do with restriction...you absolutely will have restrictions placed on your projects, especially at the beginning, (from no dialogue to time limits, prompts, etc) and they will not be negotiable. They want to see if you can follow rules...yes, there are no rules in creative endeavors, blah blah, but you need to be able to edit yourself. This isn't something easily taught.

::To minimize their workload as admissions committees. They get a lot of freaking applications and that's a darn awful lot to read. (UCLA, for example, has no page limit on screenwriting portfolios, and I've read on this forum that people sent them multiple feature scripts, pages and pages of poetry, chapters from novels, articles they wrote, etc. 100s of pages. Other schools say: WE WILL NOT READ MORE THAN xx PAGES. Which admissions committee would you rather be on, lol?)

::To even the playing field...if everyone else who's applying can craft a unique and engaging, informative and compelling personal statement within 1000 words, then why can't this guy get creative with what's offered and do the same?

That being said, it's word count, not page count, so it's not like they're going to be counting your words, unless it's online submissions, and even then, probably not.

Either way, artistic submission rules are certain to have some fluidity, but the thing is, push yourself to cut...see what you can do.

Or, call me crazy, try some new approaches. Get funky with your personal statement making, good man!

I hope that helps you...the simple attempts are good practice no matter what you finally submit.

Best of luck, that'll be my final semester at USC, so I hope to see you.


New Member
Alright, lots of good advice there Jay. And I didn't mean to come off like I asked the same thing to change your mind, it was a " what if I can't " kinda question.

Either way, yeah, I guess I'll cut it as much as I can and then see where I'll go from there.



Active Member
I'm also applying for Spring 2010 admission.

The 1,000 word limit for the Personal Statement is quite frustrating. I'm trying to just "be myself" in the PA, but me being myself is longer than 1,000 words! Oh well! Them's the rules!

I've been working on it for about a month now and I swear I have about 45 different drafts and pseudo-drafts. My first draft came in at 4,000 words! Now I'm stuck around the 1,100 word mark.


Active Member
I'm down to 1,063 and slowly whittling it down. I'm determined to get to 1,000 words. I have this fear that I'd be tied with someone else for the last available spot for the program, but my PS was 1,001 words while the other person's was only 1,000 and they made their decision based on that.

How are you coming, Omarr?


New Member
Well, I'm trying to cut it down too, although I doubt I'll ever get it down 1000 words. I think I'll end up somewhere between 1200 and 1400.

45 drafts is intimidating mate, I sat down and wrote mine in one sitting. Anyway, hopefully they'll just end up different, your's and mine, and we'll both end up getting in.


Well-Known Member
Omarr...might want to give another try, another approach, if you've only done one sitting...just a thought.

I personally worked on my application materials for 9 months or so, only to toss it all right before deadline and write new ones in less than two days.


Active Member
I wrote my first draft about a month ago...got about 800 words in and I still hadn't finished the lead! (I can be a bit wordy, at times) So I scraped that one and completely started over from a new direction.

That second lead still ended up being like 400 words, but was really strong...which was one of the reason I've had so many drafts and semi-drafts. I've gotten to the end several times but still had more to say, so I've had to go back each time and re-write the lead.

At one point I completely scraped this PA as well and started over yet again...this time the angle was a lot darker...too dark really, so I ended up going back and continuing with the second version.

Also, the more I research USC, the more I think of new things to add. Plus my writing partner is a USC Production M.F.A. Grad, so everytime I squeeze her for info, I think of something new to add.

Normally it wouldn't take me this many drafts to finish something, but I've already been rejected from other Grad programs before (never applied to USC before, though). My academic record is pretty strong, and my Recommenders gave me good letters...I am still young (25 now, 22 when I applied before), so that might work against me, but otherwise the only thing that could have caused my rejection was a poor Personal Statement.

Hence my high draft count.

But everyone works differently, so you shouldn't be intimidated at all! I hope we will both get in, and I'll toast a drink to that later tonight!


Active Member
My original one was around 1100 words, but I gave someone who was an english teacher and helps people write memoirs the description and my original statement. She whitled down their statement and mine, and i rewrote it in like 15 minutes, gave it back to her, and she was floored. THE BEST PART??? It came in at 980 words.

I then gave it to my dad to read, who told me that it unfolds like a story and that it was great, and he was crying. My goal was for it to be a short story, because to me, they are looking for people who can tell stories, since they can teach people the technical stuff.

To make a long story short, Omarr, maybe you should seek advice from a trusted source within your life. It worked wonders for me.

Good luck, I hope to see you in January!!!


New Member
Thanks for the kind words guys.

Yeah, I know in-one-sitting is kind of an unorthodox approach but I wanted to be really sincere and just let it flow. Otherwise I can get mechanical and calculating, it's something I wrestle with in all my writings.

Heh, Psufilmgirl, you know, I did the same thing, I wrote a 2000 word statement and delivered it to my advisor who I trust a lot. He basically told me to send it as it is and it " sounds like me ". I was hoping he would cut it down, but nope.

Either way, I'm gonna take my chances with this one. I'll re-apply in fall, just in case I don't get in, so then I'll go for a different route.

Hope we all get in ladies&gents, that'll be the day.



They might just stop reading after the 1,000 word point (or where they think that is) if it is too long. I've had professors for whom that was the rule. They'd only read a certain amount if you did not stick within their limits. Just something to think about.

What's worse? Having them stop reading at the 1,000 word mark and missing out on the end or having to cut it down?

Personally, I'd cut it down, however difficult. I wouldn't want to take the chance on how they might view a longer-than-requested statement. But ultimately, the choice is yours.

Good luck with whatever you decide.


Active Member
I do find the 1,000 word limit slightly disgusting. I'm a big proponent of revision as it almost always makes your work better. But with such an arbitrary word count limit, the amount of revision has become a struggle between loss of voice vs. loss of content.

Oh well, c'est la vie. I'm right at 1,000 words now and am satisfied, I suppose, though I could have easily gone on for another two to three thousand words without being redundant.

On a slightly different note, what are everyone's thoughts on the visual submission, re: still image vs. video submission?

I made 9 miniDV films as a student, but now the most recent one is a year and a half old. I've grown a lot as a visual artist in that time, so I'm thinking about submitting photos instead.

Any thoughts from someone in the know?


Well-Known Member
Originally posted by Omarr:

I wrote a 2000 word statement and delivered it to my advisor who I trust a lot. He basically told me to send it as it is and it " sounds like me ".

I don't trust your advisor.

I think you need more input...what Ashley said is right.

When I applied to USC, I sent my first attempt at the "Most Emotional Moment" out to the masses, relatives, friends, professors. Everyone told me it was amazing, blah, blah, beautiful, touching, etc...which it was. But it took a professor who actually went to Columbia to have the cojones to tell me what it was lacking...and she was SO RIGHT, looking back.

Get more than one opinion.

Though...You seem to think that you are above editing, and should you make it to film school, they will show you that you are not. Are you sure you want to go, lol?


New Member
Jay, I do not think I'm above editing and I did attend USC for summer school, so I know I'm not. You might be right that maybe I am putting too much trust into my advisor's words, who seems confident as hell and whom I paid a whole lot of money to help me out, but in the end it's a calculated risk and I know it is.

Either way, thank you for your help.

And Ashley, you are indeed right, thank you for your input too.

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