We actually had a Brave Supplicant do this last year – and we were impressed with the creativity.
We had read through several drafts of essays from this person and we kept commenting on the grammar errors around hyphenated words. We saw a bunch of instances like “team-dynamics” and “five-years” and “live-training” — phrases that might be hyphenated if they’re used as adjectives, but used as nouns, nope. We finally told them that we weren’t going to point out the individual errors anymore, but that the draft had a high incidence of this problem, and he was going to have to watch out for it in his revisions, to make sure that he fixed them.
He finally came back with the admission: He’d been hyphenating words in an attempt to lower the word count.
Wow. We’d never seen THAT before!
But that doesn’t work.
If you’re employing some sneaky technique to try and reduce the length of your essay, well, a) it’s not reducing the length of the essay, and b) it’s introducing grammar errors.
Examples where those phrases do need the hyphen?
- “the team-dynamics training manual” (awkward but grammatically correct)
- “a group of five-year-olds” or “the five-year mission” (we can’t think of any case where “five-years” is valid)
- “the live-training exercise”
As we stated above, most of those are nouns converted into adjectives, and in that case, the hyphen is legit.
But guess what? None of this matters – the bschools don’t count words (
except in very rare instances where their app software restricts the amount of text you can place in a field UPDATE! Since the original publication of this post in 2015, more and more schools have online apps that do in fact require you to paste in your content, which means Mr Computer will often not let you go overlimit!). The admissions committee people all develop a very keen eye for a too-long essay. It’s not about literally what Microsoft Word tells you your essay length is; it’s what’s appropriate for a 500-word essay (or whatever the length limit is on the puppy you’re wrestling with).
This is why it’s important to use appropriate essay formatting, so that your 500-word essay does not spill onto a second page — just as one example of what to watch out for as you write.
It’s not just about the words that you offer in answer to the question; it’s also important to write well, and to format your presentation optimally for the context that you’re writing it. And to be concise.
And to follow directions.
All of these things communicate important factors about you as a person applying to their program.