When you first start writing your college essays, you probably imagine what you want them to read like. Unique, quirky, intelligent, and balanced is probably what comes to mind. But when you get to the end, more often than not, they sound stiff and scripted. It sucks.
College essay writing is one of the hardest forms of writing. In order to do it right, you need to balance your accomplishments, your school, and your personality in only 300 to 500 words. It is easy, with so many confinements, for your writing to sound stuffy.
One of the biggest reasons this happens is because many people find bragging uncomfortable. It is so hard to brag about yourself to a university without coming off as fake. While selling yourself and your strengths is important in college essays, it is also important to feel good about what you are writing. Generally, it is uncomfortable in any circumstance describing your achievements. However, the solution lies in reframing the problem.
As shown by studies that focus on how people are perceived by peers when talking about themselves, rephrasing and rethinking about talking about ourselves is the key to bragging without sounding cocky. Michael Norton, a Harvard Business professor, wrote about associations with bragging and insincerity. This insincerity, Norton states, derives from being indirect. In order to brag about yourself, without sounding cocky, you need to write in way that is sincere but builds up your confidence at the same time.
One way to do so is to reflect on how you improved from your past self. Instead of saying how you are president of Key Club and how you completed 500 hours of service, describe how you came to the realization as a member that you cared about service and how you took it upon yourself to have a greater impact. Look at how far you have come and bounce your accomplishments off your former self.
Additionally, focus on how you succeeded, not on what you succeeded. Do not simply state your accomplishments; rather focus on describing them. Also, write about the journey that led you to where you are. By doing so, you came come of as very genuine and accomplished in a very positive, nonchalant type of way.
However, there is a catch to writing this way. While trying to remain humble, be careful not to take this to the extreme or twist it. As Henry Alford wrote in his article about humble-bragging, attempting to brag through modesty upsets others as they see you attempting to awe them and gain their sympathy.
Be careful not to use modesty to compliment yourself. In terms of college essays, this manifests itself when people write statements about how they weren't sacrificing a lot of huge amounts of time or effort to a cause. Describing how it was "nothing" to spend the summer teaching children English in Vietnam is not charming. It is patronizing and hurts your essay. Instead, focus on why you did what you did.
Overall, writing essays that do not sound like bragging will sound much more authentic, real to you and to your intended audience. Using the tips above, you will be able to write a more impactful essay that highlights your achievements in a positive way.