Humility in College Essays
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By Eugenia Kaw

If you want to show your best qualities to college admission officers, shouldn’t you brag in college essays or at least write about them?  The answer may seem obvious to some, but when you understand a bit more about what qualities colleges value most and also, the role of college essays, the answer is not so clear-cut.

Certainly, colleges value intelligence, hard work, and varied relevant experiences. But your GPA and test scores can reveal your hard work and intellect.  Your activities list or resume can reveal your experiences. So what role is left for the college essay?

College Essays are an invaluable opportunity to show colleges who you are in a way that lists and numbers cannot show. A college essay is usually longer than the word limits for your  activities lists. Essays are anywhere from 250 to 650 words, whereas activity lists are 150-250 characters per entry. Some applications have multiple essays for you to write. If within those wide spaces, you repeat the list on your resume or reiterate how smart you are, one of two things can happen: either the information will become redundant or you will run out of things to say.

The essay, as it’s synonym, “composition”,describes, is an art. A college essay is the art of showing who you are by forgetting yourself.  In a way, college essays are a paradox. How do you communicate great qualities about yourself by not being too focused on yourself? The college essay is a practice in humility.

This humility paradox and the art of the college essay are difficult for a student to grasp. A 2016 research conducted by the  College of Charleston showed that many Americans misunderstand humility as something negative, as meekness or lack of self esteem (Washington Post, Ashley Merryman, 12/08/2016). Yet, true humility, according to scientists is the ability to know one’s strengths and weaknesses and see oneself as a part of something greater.   Humility is not being egocentric. It is about being positive and grounded in knowing one is not the center of the universe and not perfect.

It is no wonder that colleges want to see a future student who is humble. Colleges look for leadership qualities in their candidates. They want to know, is this student going to be a strong, contributing member of the college community and the larger world?  Is the student likeable and can the student work with others to get things done and make a difference in the world?

Recent studies of the working world also shows that humility is a prized quality, especially in leaders. (Cheryl Williamson, Forbes  9/14/2017) People are more likely to respect and do tasks for a leader who treats them as equals and lead by example rather than through bragging or micro-management.

Humility is an essential ingredient of college essays, but how do you write humbly?  The key to understanding how to write a humble college essay is to know the following: the truly humble do not humiliate or put themselves down; the truly humble do not brag either. They are open minded and willing to revise ttheir views based on evidence.  Being truly humble, they will also never say they are humble.

Leaders are More Powerful When They are Humble, Washington Post, Ashley Merryman, 12/08/2016
The Importance of Humility in Leadership, Cheryl Williamson, Forbes  9/14/2017