Although in the past, the word and character counts were guidelines rather than rules, this is no longer the case. If the directions stipulate a limit, you will find that your submission will be truncated as soon as you reach it. So if the prompt tells you that the essay has a 650 word maximum, make sure you adhere to that. The best idea is to do all of your drafts as Word documents and be sure that the final draft is 650 words or under. The same is true for the Additional Information.
The Activities section also has a limit of 150 characters and spaces to give details about each activity. The activities should be listed in the order of importance to you.