Humor in College Essays

The Admittedly Team
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Common wisdom says that when it comes to using humor in a college essay or personal statement, applicants should tread lightly. While humor can certainly be appreciated and make an essay more colorful, it can also be a risky proposition. So, how are you supposed to navigate this potential literary landmine?

Know that humor is personal.

Humor is difficult to negotiate because, by nature, it’s fairly subjective. Obviously, you don’t know the individuals who will be reading your essay. Therefore, it’s impossible to tailor a joke. And what might strike one admissions officer as amusing can easily strike another as inappropriate or simply not funny. Colleges are more likely to agree on the tenets of good writing than they are the tenets of a good joke. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to dispense with wit altogether. But, if you do choose to attempt humor, you need to be smart about your execution.

Don’t go overboard.

To begin with, there’s no need to pepper jokes throughout your entire statement. After all, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to adapt your essay and use it as material for a stand-up comedy showcase (let us know if you do though, we’d listen).Indeed, if you attempt to insert a “zinger” into every other line, chances are you’ll come across as immature. Admissions officers take the application process seriously, and they expect prospective students to do the same.

Keep your audience in mind.

Should you opt to use humor, it’s vital that you keep your audience in mind. In other words, be sure to exercise good taste. A college essay is not the best time to push boundaries or test out edgy material. Play it safe and avoid writing anything raunchy or inappropriate. And this should go without saying, but no curse words, either. You want to show admissions officers that you are sincere and genuine. If you add improper humor, you may not communicate your authenticity.

Check with others.

If you decide to include a joke or two, ask a few trusted friends, parents, guidance counselors and/or teachers to review what you wrote. Do they find it funny? Does it read as smart and insightful? If even one or two readers think it seems juvenile or unsuitable, it’s probably best to either revise the line or remove it altogether. Of course, a well crafted joke can certainly impress a reader and make an essay stand out. A strong one-liner can reveal the fun, playful side of an applicant. It can expose a unique aspect of his/her personality. And it can seem refreshing in a sea of mundane essays.

Overall, there’s no hard and fast rule about using humor in your application. Clearly, depending on the line, it can either enhance or detract from an essay. It’s fine if you want to be a little daring with your writing. However, be sure to temper that boldness with a judicious eye. After all, you don’t want to your writing to stand out for the wrong reasons

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