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Strict on word limit (Columbia SIPA IR program specifically)

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For this statement it is broken into three sections, with one being a 400 word limit section on your most significant contribution to a community, and a 200 word limit section on anything else youd like the adcom to know.

those are fine, but the first section is the problem. this section is where you list out your objectives etc, and it too is capped at 400 words.

as it stands after selecting the best things from a longer sop and shortening it to the utmost possible extent, im sitting at exactly 400 words. its focused, and i use strong language. its concise, and gets to the point quickly. however, if i could have a mere 20-30 more words, i could put in a couple more key sentences to make it even stronger.

are they strict on word limit? do they really check? im guessing no, but i dont want to duff a simple guideline.

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I've heard it both ways - that breaking a rule like this "shows you can't follow rules, and can hurt your chances" and breaking a rule like this "goes unnoticed"... The conservative thing to do, I think, would be to not go over the word limit. They impose those word limits for a reason usually- likely with a place like SIPA they get hundreds of applications and it can be irritating if everyone were to go over their word limit (20 extra words times 200 applicants is 4000 extra words that an already tapped out admissions committee has to read). Ultimately though, only the adcomms there know how they feel about this rule... so are the 20 extra words you have to say worth potentially breaking a rule or irritating someone? If they are make or break for your application, I'd say do it if you must... if they're not I would question whether or not it's really worth it.

I also have to say I doubt they are counting words, and the only way it might become obvious to them is if they were reading shorter essays before yours and yours somehow look unusually lengthy.

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