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Is Modesty a Mistake in the College Essay?

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We grow up being told to be humble and stay grounded —  and then suddenly the college essay comes along and we’re supposed to toot our own horn like there’s no tomorrow? Don’t college admissions officers want to see that we’re down to earth and not about to release a Kim K-inspired selfie book? Yes and yes. Figuring out how to approach your college essay in terms of tone and language can be difficult. You want to don’t want to sound self-impressed, but you also don’t want to sell yourself short. This brings us to a frequently asked question: Is modesty a mistake in the college essay?

In simple terms, yes, too much modesty is a mistake. You are competing against thousands of college hopefuls for a seat in the freshman class of your dream school and you don’t want to waste the opportunity to highlight your most impressive qualities and accomplishments. Let Admissions know what a shining star you are. Maybe you started a charity or became class president. Perhaps you spent your entire summer volunteering at a senior home or hold the world record for most french fries eaten in thirty minutes. Don’t be afraid to communicate that you are unique, driven, and the kind of community member who would positively contribute to campus in ways their students could not. If admissions officers don’t put down your essay thinking, “Yes! This student!” then you didn’t do your job. The college essay is, in a sense, an elevator pitch. By the time you get to the theoretical top floor, your admissions officer should be ready to give you the key to your brand new dorm room.

Of course, things are not always so black and white. You do run the risk of sounding pompous if you come off as braggy instead of confident. This is why the tone in which you write is so important. Describe the journey involved in accomplishing your achievements, don’t just list your accomplishments. Dig into the motivations behind your actions and why you love what you do. Be Drake, not Kanye — choose sincerity over puffery. Be honest, show your true self, and then you’ll know when that hotline bling, that can only mean one thing (college acceptance)!




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