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

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Some college applications allow applicants to attach an essay as a file. To the chagrin of many applicants, many other college applications do not provide guidelines for formatting personal essays. Should the essay 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, like 1.5 spacing?

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 most recent 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. Most important will be choosing the right essay option for your topic 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. An applicant who can't follow directions on the application is someone who is likely to have problems following directions on college assignments. Not a great start!

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.

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 essay (and yes, some admissions officers do put comments on essays for later reference).

So while single-spacing is fine, the recommendation is to double-space. 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.  Be sure to pay attention to everything from the title to the style, and think twice before selecting any of these bad essay topics