Should I really be bragging in my essay?

To brag or not to brag?

To brag or not to brag?

One of the hardest things for international students struggle with in compiling their applications to U.S. colleges and universities is the essay/personal statement. In many cultures, it is not appropriate to write about yourself in extremely positive terms. What does it really mean to brag or boast? Typically, to boast is to “speak with exaggeration and excessive pride, especially about oneself.”

How many of you reading this blog would get in trouble with your parents if you were to boast about yourself?

Not all essay questions that U.S. colleges ask lend themselves to being as self-centered as the typical “Personal Statement” or “Why should we admit you to our school?” type of question. But let’s spend some time looking at this notoriously difficult essay topic for international students. The reality is boasting is perhaps not the right word, rather, can you talk about your strengths in a semi-objective way?

Having read admission essays from international students for a number of years, one resounding impression remains about successful international applicants’ essays: if you can explain how your strengths and experiences make you the kind of person who will enhance the college campus, your chances of being admitted sky-rocket.

How to talk about your strengths is not easy, but think about what you do well, better than your fellow classmates, talk about experiences that have made you stronger, explain how you’ve learned from past mistakes, but most importantly, make sure you talk about you, not someone else. The folks at US News & World Report’s International Student Counsel blog also have helpful suggestions for non-native speakers of English writing their essays.

There are a number of great articles/blogs written to help students decide how to write the different kinds of essays that colleges ask you to write. One blog in particular that may be useful, if you are faced with some rather esoteric questions that might not lend themselves well to a more self-centered essay where bragging might be expected was written recently by a colleague of mine. Mr. Muth served in the University of Virginia admissions office for many years. His blog posts are excellent reading, and definitely worth following.

In the end, if you can present a true reflection of your strengths and abilities in your essay/statement about how you will enhance the college you are applying to, all other things being equal, you should be on the right path.