Too often, when it comes to crafting admission and scholarship essays, students let the pressure of “avoiding clichés” control how they tell their personal stories. While some students may shy away from using humor in their essays in fear of coming across as cheesy or unprofessional, a sprinkle of wit – if and when used appropriately – has the power to turn your essay from mundane to memorable.
Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when using humor in your essays:
Do: Use humor when it is essential to the story.
Think of your college essay as a means of self expression; of course, to some extent, it is important to communicate your strengths, passions, and accomplishments – but remember to let your personality shine through. Humor does not always equate to one-liners or knock-knock jokes. Clever descriptive touches, such as funny observations, vivid memories, and specific sensory details add depth to personal stories and ideas; these are the details that truly enhance a piece of writing. Any and all touches of humor should feel natural, genuine, and germane to the meaning of the story.
Don’t: Overdo it.
Shakespeare once said, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” In other words, good humor is simple and concise. Remember, you are writing a college essay, not a comedy sketch; there is a fine line between being memorable and being distracting. Not every sentence or phrase needs to cause a laughing attack. Leave out random puns, jokes, or anything unrelated to your story or ideas.
Do: Consider your audience.
What is funny to one person is not always amusing to others, and sometimes it takes a set of eyes other than our own to point this out. There is absolutely no way of knowing the age, gender, background, or life story of the admission counselor who picks up your application packet. That being said, before sending in your essay, make sure at least one or two trusted readers have read through your piece to ensure any references, sayings, or witty descriptions come across the way you intended. (General tip: If you are unsure about a phrase or specific wording, take a break from picking apart your writing and look at the essay a day or two later with fresh eyes. In my experience, this is oftentimes the best solution to any writing issues!)
Don’t: Use humor as a crutch.
While it is normal to feel pressure to stand out among thousands of other applicants, don’t rely solely on a funny essay to get you into college. Don’t lose sight of proper writing and grammatical skills, as well as the actual content of the essay and the essay’s relation to the prompt. Just because an essay is hilarious doesn’t mean it is an accurate reflection of the applicant’s goals, values, and interests. Humor should enhance your ideas and your story, not disguise your personality.
Do: Stay true to your voice.
We each have a unique, beautiful story to tell. It may sound cheesy, but college essays allow you to share a little piece of your life with a complete stranger. Seize this opportunity by putting your best story forward. There is no doubt about it…writing these essays is daunting, especially at first. But in the end, it does not matter how “funny” or “serious” your essay is – always remember to retain your point of view, trust your ideas, and write from the heart. The rest will fall into place.