Your College Essay: Writing With Confidence, Not Cockiness

I’m wonderful… and humble, too! Here's a look at how to be confident without bragging in your college essay.

Confidence, not cockiness

For the first seventeen years of your life, people told you not to brag.

Now, however, everything’s different. You’re applying to college and writing your personal essays, which means you finally have a chance to boast about your many talents and accomplishments. Except, wait… we’re still telling you not to brag.

Bragging makes everyone – including college admissions committees (we call them adcoms) – roll their eyes. People will cheer for you if you’re confident… but boo if you’re arrogant.

Booing Mr. Burns!

So how do you walk that line? Here are three tips on how to be confident without bragging in your college application essay:

1. Be action-oriented, not description-oriented.

You’ve picked a great story to tell that shows how smart, dedicated and unselfish you are. Awesome! At this point, the easiest way to ruin your essay is to say – at any point – “This story shows how smart, dedicated, and unselfish I am.” When someone starts listing off their own virtues, it immediately raises a reader’s hackles. So talk about what you did rather than what you are – and let us draw our own conclusions.

Don’t worry… if you tell a story about how you skipped your junior prom to spend the whole night rigging up a pulley system to rescue your neighbor’s dog from a swamp, we’ll decide for ourselves that you’re pretty smart, dedicated, and unselfish.

2. Explain the reasons behind your success.

Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and acting like it does… is bragging. Let’s say you won a cooking contest. You could tell us, “I easily whipped up the most delicious chili in the entire Northeast and took home the $10,000 first prize.” Well, okay, cool – but “I won because I’m naturally amazing” is not a good story.

We want to see the hard stuff before the contest, when you spent months testing a hundred different recipe variations on your friends, or spent your entire childhood watching your mom cook in the family restaurant. You’ll impress adcoms more if you show them how and why you’re so fantastic.

3. Be generous to others.

Observe the difference here: “Our trail guide didn’t know what he was doing and got us completely lost, so I was the only one who could lead the group back to camp.” – versus – “Our trail guide was new to the job and veered off track on the convoluted paths. Confident that my orienteering experience would help, I volunteered to lead the group back to camp.” Ideally, you want to make yourself look good – without making others look bad. So when it comes down to being kind or being right… choose both!

Okay, so don’t be cocky, just be confident. Easy enough, right? Here are a few other tips of dos and dont’s when it comes to your essays. Oh and if you’re getting ready to take a crack at The Common Application, we suggest staring right here with this awesome little e-book.


Your College Essay: Deciding Between The Big Picture And The Small Details