If you brag about yourself now and then, you aren’t a braggart. But we all know some people who overdo it. It’s especially tempting for applicants to overdo it in the college admissions process of competitive colleges. Although understandable, bragging is harmful to an applicant.
In our society, excessive bragging is considered a negative trait. Narcissist, egotist, blowhard, conceited, and egocentric are just a few of the pejoratives used to refer to braggarts. This is not how you want to be perceived by others, least of all by admissions officials.
Successful applicants don’t brag, and for good reason. College admissions officers, like most people, consider modesty an admirable virtue. So you need to devise subtle ways to make your worthiness obvious.
It’s ironic but true that we readily recognize boastfulness in others, but we’re often slow to recognize it in ourselves. High self-esteem, normally a healthy attribute, often encourages us to think like baseball legend Dizzy Dean, who said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.” Even if you share this belief, don’t reflect it in your applications.
The trick is to display self-confidence but not vanity in making your best impression on admissions reviewers. This can make you distinctive and memorable. But if you cross the line into boastfulness, you risk turning them off. Many opportunities to strut your stuff present themselves on résumés, on the Common App, in interviews, and in essays. But you don’t need to blow your own horn.
Below are tips to help you avoid bragging while remaining upbeat about yourself and your qualifications:
- Come across as likable. Although this shouldn’t be the case, an unlikable applicant will have difficulty gaining admission to a highly selective college no matter how good their academic record may be. Colleges have a profile of an ideal student that they use to size up applicants. The admissions committee has many applicants who are equally well qualified, so they’ll admit the ones who seem most likely to fit in with their fellow students.
- Let others boast about you. Remember that teachers and others who write your letters of recommendation can sing your praises. Take steps to assure that they do.
- Describe what you did, not what you are. Which sounds better, “I’m a committed humanitarian” or “I set up a food bank in my town that helped many people in need”? One of the problems caused by bragging is the question of whether something you say about yourself can be readily verified. How do admissions officials know you’re being factual when you claim to have a commendable personal characteristic? If you make such a claim but don’t provide evidence, they must rely on your word alone. When a boast is based on your unsubstantiated self-report, you won’t be believed.
- Share the glory. For example, regarding the above reference to a food bank, it’s recommended that you add something like, “…with the assistance of other caring people in the community”.
- Be kind. Never say anything negative about a person or organization. The school prefers not to have judgmental people in their student body. There are other ways to convey an idea without disparaging anyone.
- No showboating. Although you want to come across as confident of yourself and your accomplishments, avoid preening.
According to our culture’s social norms, people are expected to be modest. Those who aren’t modest upset the expectations of others. Impression management, an art practiced by many successful people, is all about subtly leading others to view you favorably. If admissions officials think you’re trying too hard, you may alienate them. You may accomplish the exact opposite of your intent, which is to get them to like you.
Parts of your application, especially essays, afford opportunities to reveal your best self. Design your message to appeal to admissions officers on two levels. First, grab their attention with story and style. Next, include verifiable facts that motivate them to advocate for you. Being likable helps win them over to your cause.
“Who knows himself a braggart, let him fear this, for it will come to pass that every braggart shall be found an ass”. — Shakespeare