As a college writing tutor, I am almost daily faced with word count questions and issues. When a professor dictates a minimum word count (as usual), the student and I search together for ways to include pertinent description and more concrete examples instead of artificially attempting to add wordiness which does nothing to clarify.
I used to answer this question by saying: “As long as it takes to be good.” Although I agree teachers shouldn’t be sticklers about word count, there are times when word count does matter. For example: college and scholarship application essays, submitting to an op-ed or story contest. As a professional writer, I frequently have to trim my essays or stories because they are over the word limit stated in the publication guidelines. Students should also develop a feel for the length of a piece. They should know that 1000 words is about 3-5 pages. If they want to submit their work, there will almost always be a word count minimum and maximum.
I completely agree. And now, in the middle of college applications, all of which contain writing supplements of 650, 500, or 250 word counts, I agree even more! 🙂
However, being the wordy writer (and terrible editor) that I am, I find it more difficult to stay within the limits the word count than to reach it. 😛