Essays seem to cause a lot of stress. It seems strange to me, but the stress seems to increase when the topic is broader. When they ask specific books you’ve read or people that influenced you, somehow that seems easier than, “tell us about yourself.” This seems especially odd since most applicants I met spend much of the day talking (texting, twittering) about themselves. It appears the transition from blog/facebook/phone to application is, to put it mildly, challenging.
A number of you will try to be funny. Here’s a hint – if you have to TRY to be funny, this is a huge mistake, and may be in error even if you’re the next Seinfeld/Tina Fey reincarnation. Many of you, of course, aren’t funny. You might check with friends – if they’re REALLY good friends, they’ll tell you. Even if you are, however, you have no idea if the admission counselor(s) reading your application have any sense of humor at all. An example to illustrate:
A few years ago I received a hilarious essay about all the truly horrific things an applicant had done in high school. These started with truancy and shoplifting, and escalated to vandalism and general mayhem. While you might not think that would be amusing, it was incredibly well written and I thoroughly enjoyed reading, even laughed out loud a few times at a particularly ingenious prank (involving, and I am not making this up, live pigs, a motorcycle gang, and a lot of honey). I was very impressed when I got to the end to find out that the student had made it all up to make herself seem more interesting – she was a strong student, and had never been in a day of trouble in her life. Average involvement, average leadership – she just felt she needed to get our attention. Wonderful – I have it my highest rating for committee.
The other counselor (I was in a system then where two people read and scored each file – if the decisions matched, then it didn’t go any farther) denied her.
It turned out my counterpart reading that particular file was, to say the least, not funny. She would make a great guard at Buckingham Palace. I’m guessing she never got past the line in the essay about the honey (makes me smile again to think about it). It took a fair amount of explanation in committee for me to get the applicant past the very strong negative rating that second reader had given.
The point is – you’re reader may not be funny, and may not get YOUR sense of humor, so you may want to consider whether this is the best time to try out your standup routine material. Personally, I also hate applicants trying to be overly cute. A few years ago someone got the bright idea (back when we still used this stuff called “paper) to cut their essay into puzzle pieces and make us put it together and write across the back “XXXXX University is where I fit in!!!!”. Actually, there were a lot more exclamation marks. I must have gotten a few dozen of those. I hope I denied all of them.
So – think twice about funny and cute. Next up, what you SHOULD write about. Be seeing you.