How To Talk About Yourself In A Scholarship Essay

I’m writing this to the soundtrack of Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE,” off his wildly popular DAMN. album that came out this past spring. I cannot tell you how many tweets I saw from 18-year-olds right after the album dropped repeating this anthem’s chorus, “sit down, be humble.”

Early 2000s kids, aka those filling out the Common Application this fall, have a pretty funky paradigm when it comes to how big the ego should be. Generation Z falls right behind us Millennials, who have been criticized for being overly encouraged as kids. If Millennials are getting a bad rep for loving the participation trophy and being way too self-confident, what’s a Generation Z-er to do when it comes to trying to sell themselves to colleges?

Listen up, Generation Z. Take it from a so-called self-obsessed Millennial herself: a place between humble and prideful exists, and that’s the exact place you want to reach in your college application essays. Here are five “what ifs?” of college essay humble-bragging and what to do about each of them.

Related:How to Write a Great College Application Essay

If you’re afraid of bragging...

College essays are about selling yourself. If you were selling a pen, you would definitely want to talk to your buyer about the pen’s high-quality ink, super-comfy grip, and trendy appearance. You would never leave any of those amazing pen attributes out because you want the buyer to want the pen. When writing your college essays, think of yourself as the pen. Never, ever leave out something great about yourself because you are afraid of bragging. College essays are the only time you get to talk about all of the wonderful things that make you you without anyone judging you for it. So take advantage!

If you want to come off as confident…

Showing confidence in your college essays might sound tricky, but with the right anecdotes, you can fully achieve that confident aura without literally saying, “I’m confident!” If you’re passionate about something unique that you might not have mentioned in your college app thus far, write about it in the essay. Talk about the time you did an underground production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show even though you didn’t know anyone else auditioning for it. If you thought becoming a ventriloquist as a kid was really cool and eventually gave it a shot, write about it. The best way to sound confident without outright telling the reader so in your essay is to write a story that shows you are confident. That will be more than enough to sell them on you.

If you think you might sound full of yourself…

The “show, don’t tell” rule of writing applies in college essays too. For example, if you are writing an essay about your summer job, never say, “I was the best employee at the grocery store.” Rather, show that you were a great employee by telling a story about the time you caught a shoplifter or exhibited great customer service. You never need to tell the reader you are superior or the best in any way if you can show them instead.

If you feel the need to tell the reader your credentials....

There is a whole other section of the Common App where you list the leadership roles you’ve had and the awards you’ve won. You don’t need to mention them again in the essay portion unless the story you’re telling calls for it. Say you are writing an essay about the time you won a particularly interesting debate for your high school debate team—you can write about your accomplishment without sounding cocky. For instance, rather than saying “I was the best debater on my team, which is why I am captain,” you could talk about the reason you are so passionate about whatever topic you debated that day.

The place for competing with what you’ve done in high school is in the rest of the Common App. The place for letting the college know who you are and what you’d be bringing to the college’s community as a person is in the essay. The best way to make yourself more competitive in the essay portion of your application is to write an essay that describes exactly who you are on a day-to-day basis rather than talking about your achievements. There are a few colleges famous for requesting applicants to pick one of their friends and have that friend write an essay about said applicant. While that type of essay might sound pretty nerve-wracking, the takeaway from the prompt is that colleges want to know what someone you hang around all the time thinks of you. Ultimately, a university is looking for a great addition to their campus, and in the case of writing a portrait of your personality in an essay, you should never have to brag, and you should have a lot of reasons to be confident in who you are.

Ultimately, the college essay is all about balance. Don’t tell the reader how great you are—show them instead. Admission officers will rarely be turned off by an applicant who wrote a great story about something wonderful they did, but they might find it a little off-putting if you call it wonderful yourself.

Looking for more college essay tips? Check out our Application Essay Clinic.

You’ve probably heard a great deal about the admissions interview, including various perspectives on its relative importance as part of your college application. It’s a good idea to look into interview options at the colleges on your list, because not only does it provide a good opportunity for the admissions committee to learn more about you as a person, but it also gives you a chance to learn more about the school itself.

 

Once you’ve scheduled an alumni or on-campus interview with a college, how do you prepare? While you have no way of knowing exactly what an interviewer will ask, you can — and should — expect and be prepared for certain types of questions.

At CollegeVine, we specialize in guiding students through the admissions process, including holding mock interviews with tons of practice questions to be as prepared as possible. Learn more about how our College Applications program can help you ace your interview. 

 

Starting the Interview: What your Interviewer Wants to Know

The interviewer will most likely begin with some form of the question, “Tell me about yourself.” While this may seem like a fairly open-ended prompt, and perhaps even a bit daunting, there are certain ways to answer effectively, as well as topics to avoid.

 

Setting the Tone

You should see the “tell me about yourself” prompt as an opportunity to show the interviewer your most important qualities and describe what you can contribute to the school community. Just as with any interview you will have over the course of your career, college years and beyond, this prompt is meant to give the interviewer an idea of what qualities you offer that are relevant to the position at hand — in this case, as a member of that college’s matriculating class.

 

Because this may well be the interviewer’s first question, it will set the tone for the rest of the interview, so be ready with a strong, but not overly rehearsed, answer. Keep in mind that this is not an invitation to share your life story or overly personal information with your interviewer; doing so will make you appear unprofessional and unprepared.

 

Topics to Cover

In general, it is a good idea to begin by mentioning the area in which you grew up. Don’t spend too much time discussing the intricacies of your hometown and home life, but mention if you’ve lived there your whole life or moved around a lot, and, if possible, connect it to your interest in the college’s area, size, or campus.

 

Tell the interviewer about your prospective major, if you have one, or what your main area of interest is and what you hope to study. Also, describe a few personality traits (roughly three), which will allow you to segue into your academic areas of interest and extracurricular activities and why they are important to you. End your answer with why you want to attend that college.

 

Since you should have researched the school thoroughly before the interview, you will have a good idea of how your personality and academic and extracurricular interests will fit in there, so make an effort to connect what you know about the school with your personal strengths and the topics you’ve covered in your answer. Keep in mind that, if the school offers you admission, the admissions officers want you to choose them as much as you wanted them to choose you, so you should express how interested you are in attending.

 

Example:

I grew up in a small town in Connecticut and have lived there my whole life, so I’d really love to experience city life in college. Since I live relatively close to New York, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few times, and it has so much to offer, especially in terms of the literary scene. I love reading and writing, so I’m planning on majoring in English or journalism. Journalism seems like a good fit because I’m good at noticing the details and know how to dig deep.

 

I’m proud of my ability to persevere and overcome challenges. This year I was having a hard time in trig, but I met with the teacher outside of class and committed to studying for two hours a day, and ended up with an A in the class. I’m also really passionate about my interests, especially writing and foreign languages. That’s why I’m a columnist for my school newspaper and the president of Spanish club.

 

I also tutor English and Spanish at an after-school program in my town. I’d love to attend NYU because it has such strong English and journalism programs. I’m also interested in foreign languages, and I hear NYU has an amazing study abroad program. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, New York is such an amazing city, especially for an aspiring writer.

 

In this response, the interviewee touches on the topics relevant to her interests and qualifications for the school. She discusses her background a bit and connects it to why NYU and the candidate are mutually good fits, explaining her interests in English, writing, and foreign languages, what she has to done to explore them both inside and outside school, and how she can continue to pursue them in college.

 

She also makes it clear what attributes of NYU appeal to her. Additionally, she reveals some attributes that make her unique and avoids offering cliché personality traits. She provides examples that illustrate these attributes, such has her ability to persevere and overcome obstacles in a challenging course, also demonstrating her ability to turn a negative into a positive.

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