We’re taught to be modest – not to brag or talk too much about ourselves. But when you write your college essay, you’re forced to do the exact opposite, and that shift can make students uncomfortable. It’s hard to strike the right tone in writing or speaking about yourself, especially when you’re discussing something at which you excel. Here are some tips on how to write about your accomplishments without bragging (hint: they’re all about showing rather than telling).
Show what you’ve learned
Talking about your achievements shouldn’t be a list. It should be a discussion. Focus on just one - or a few - accomplishments instead of listing every single one, and then give more details and context to measure your success. What skills have you developed as a result of excelling at an academic subject, a sport, or hobby? What happened the first time you tried, and how is it different now that you’re more experienced? If you naturally excelled from the start, how have you managed to keep challenging yourself and to hold your interest over time? If you didn’t succeed at first, what kept you from giving up?
Show why you succeeded
What was it about you in particular that allowed you to succeed? Was it your tenacity? Your mental focus? Your preparation? Consider your strengths and weaknesses and what it was about you that pushed you over the top. Don’t express negative opinions of other people and their lack of motivation or skills. Discuss which positive attributes helped you, and which obstacles to success you were able to overcome (and how).
Show cause and effect
Simply saying that you’re great at something can come across as arrogant, exaggerated, or unable to be confirmed. If you are going to write about excelling in an activity, sport, or academic subject, tell us exactly how you did so. What was the result of your involvement? Did your campaign for healthier food lead to changes in the school lunch menu? Did your leadership help your team win enough games to get to the playoffs for the first time in school history? Did your writing win an award or get published somewhere? In short, what was the result of you flourishing at an activity? Did you receive an opportunity to further explore this skill, perhaps in the form of a grant or an internship?
Who helped you get to where you are? A teacher or a coach who encouraged your natural ability and pushed you to work harder? Your parents, who supported your interests and drove you to practice early in the morning or late at night? Are you fortunate enough to have the resources and time to devote to practicing your skill? Acknowledging the contributions of others to your success shows maturity and humility.
Even if you’ve been a natural since the first time you picked up a baseball bat (or put on toe shoes, or picked up a paintbrush, etc.), you’ve surely grown as you’ve continued to practice. What have you learned over time? What do you appreciate about this activity? What effect does it have on your temperament or self-esteem? How has your view of this activity changed as you’ve matured? How have you taken the lessons of one activity and applied them to other areas of your life?
Considering the answers to these questions will help you share your accomplishments without seeming egotistical. Be proud of what you’ve done and who you are, but be thoughtful about how you express that pride.