College Essay Writing Help: To Use Humor Or To, You Know, Not?

Think long and hard about how funny you are. Are you funnier than this cat? Are you sure?

Think long and hard about how funny you are. Are you funnier than this cat? Are you sure?

As we have mentioned many times before the college essay is not to be considered a cousin of the typical five-paragraph essay. It is a piece of writing that lends itself to an invention of its form, and in its best cases operates almost like its own genre. Depending on the prompts there can be opportunities to discuss unique experiences, failures, crimes, and misdemeanors. There is also an almost nagging opportunity to write the thing as wittily as possible. For many, that urge is irresistible.

We recognize this desire. We have felt this desire. We demand that you repress this desire.

Why?

Because unless you are simpatico with the admissions officer reading your essay - and have caught him or her in the right mood on the right day - you run the risk of just straight up falling on your face with any gag or tonal shift you attempt. And that is not a risk you can afford to take.

It's not to say that you're not funny - though in our experience you are almost definitely less funny than you think - it's that the shaky likelihood of your reader thinking your humor is good and appropriate to the subject is multiplied against the shaky likelihood that you're funny. Multiply it again by the number of admissions officers who have to read the thing and you've written yourself into a statistical hole.

But the best reason to avoid humor in these essays is the amount of time you're going to spend on the piece. You will be able to much more easily figure out if your essay is good by avoiding humor. You will be able to focus on structural, stylistic, and content elements that are much more easy to quantify. The flip side of that, of course, is that those elements are much more easy to recognize as being well done by the admissions officer, too.

It's not that we don't like funny! We live for funny. It's just that we really live for your admissions success, and that's no laughing matter. Ba-doom-ching.

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