Should an Application Essay Be Single-Spaced or Double-Spaced?

Best Practices for Spacing Your College Application Essay

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Some college applications allow applicants to attach an essay as a file. To the chagrin of many, quite a few college applications do not provide guidelines for formatting personal essays, whether it be for undergraduate, transfer, or graduate admission.

Key Takeaways: Single vs. Double Spacing

The Common Application and many online forms will automatically format your essay, so you have no say when it comes to spacing.

Always follow directions if a school states a preference for single- or double-spaced essays.

If the school provides no guidelines, either single- or double-spaced is fine with a slight preference for double-spacing.

Your essay content matters much more than the spacing.

Should your personal statement be single-spaced so that it fits on a page? Should it be double-spaced so it's easier to read? Or should it be somewhere in the middle, say 1.5 spacing? Here you'll find some guidance for these common questions.

Spacing and the Common Application

For applicants using The Common Application, the spacing question is no longer an issue. Applicants used to be able to attach their essay to the application, a feature that required the writer to make all kinds of decisions about formatting. The current version of The Common Application, however, requires you to enter the essay into a text box, and you won't have any spacing options. The website automatically formats your essay with single-spaced paragraphs with an extra space between paragraphs (a format that doesn't conform to any standard style guides). The simplicity of the software suggests that essay format really isn't a concern. You can't even hit the tab character to indent paragraphs. For Common Application users, instead of formatting, the most important focus will be on choosing the right essay option and writing a winning essay.

Spacing for Other Application Essays

If the application provides formatting guidelines, you should obviously follow them. Failure to do so will reflect negatively on you. So if a school says to double space with a 12-point Times Roman font, show that you pay attention to both details and instructions. Students who don't know how to follow directions are not likely to be successful college students.

If the application does not provide style guidelines, the bottom line is that either single- or double-spacing is probably fine. Many college applications don't provide spacing guidelines because the admissions folks truly don't care what spacing you use. You'll even find that many application guidelines state that the essay can be single- or double-spaced. After all, the school has an essay requirement because it has holistic admissions. The admissions officers want to get to know you as a whole person, so it's the content of your essay, not its spacing, that truly matters.

When in Doubt, Use Double-Spacing

That said, the few colleges that do specify a preference typically request double-spacing. Also, if you read the blogs and FAQs written by college admissions officers, you'll usually find a general preference for double-spacing.

There are reasons why double-spacing is the standard for the essays you write in high school and college: double-spacing is easier to read quickly because the lines don't blur together; also, double-spacing gives your reader room to write comments on your personal statement (and yes, some admissions officers do print out essays and put comments on them for later reference).

Of course, most applications are read electronically, but even here, double spacing allow more room for the reader to append side comments to an essay.

So while single-spacing is fine and will be the default for a lot of essays submitted electronically, the recommendation is to double-space when you have a clear option. The admissions folks read hundreds or thousands of essays, and you'll be doing their eyes a favor by double-spacing.

Formatting of Application Essays

Always use a standard, easily readable 12-point font. Never use a script, hand-writing, colored, or other decorative fonts. Serif fonts like Times New Roman and Garamond are good choices, and sans serif fonts such as Ariel and Calibri are also fine.

Overall, the content of your essay, not the spacing, should be the focus of your energy, and the reality is that your spacing choice doesn't matter much if the school hasn't provided guidelines. Your essay, however, is extremely important. Be sure to pay attention to everything from the title to the style, and think twice before selecting any of these bad essay topics. Unless you fail to follow clear style guidelines provided by the school, it would be shocking for the spacing of your essay to play a factor in any admissions decision.