Funny Personal Statements: How to Use Humor in Your College Application
June 16, 2017
The Art of Writing Funny Personal Statements: How to Use Humor in Your College Application
When 650 words or fewer play a critical role in determining where you’ll pursue your degree, it’s hard to think of admissions essays as anything other than serious business.
With such a small space to give admissions officers a glimpse into who you are and why you’d be a great addition to a given school, it’s always tempting to paint a professional, straight-laced picture of yourself; after all, what school wouldn’t want a mature student highly focused on academic success?
Indeed, for some students, this might be a completely reasonable approach to the Common App personal statement. However, as with many things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to admissions essays, and it’s important to take a step back and recall their purpose. Test scores, grades, and letters of recommendation all play an important and informative role in the application process, but none allow you to present yourself in your own words—that’s the beauty of the admissions essays.
There are as many approaches and possible answers to essay questions as there are applicants, including those with a keen sense of humor. Admissions readers count on this because, aside from assembling an incoming class that meets the academic profile of their schools, they hope to admit interesting students with diverse talents who will enrich the educational and life experience of those around them. As a result, even though it feels a bit untraditional, letting your personality—including your sense of humor—shine through your essays can be an excellent way to create a memorable application.
Although humor can go a long way to demonstrating an applicant’s creativity and personality, this doesn’t mean that the approach will work for everyone. It actually can be a common personal statement mistake to try and use humor. Funny personal statements can definitely pack a punch, but they're difficult to do well. When writing what I call a “humorous/offbeat” admissions essay, there are a few key concepts to keep in mind.
Remember that humor itself should never be the main point of the essay. It’s perfectly acceptable to make your reader smile or even laugh out loud, but only in the course of telling a story that reveals something important about yourself. In other words, ensure that you use humor only as a device to highlight or enhance the underlying substance or reflective nature of your essay. Funny personal statements are effective only in showing the personal qualities of the writer at the same time.
You should never force humor into your essays, even when attempting funny personal statements. It is an unfortunate truth of life that making others laugh does not come naturally to all of us, so the offbeat/humor essay might not be an option for everyone. Admissions essays should indicate who you really are; forced humor that falls flat will indeed leave a memorable impression, but for all the wrong reasons.
When writing funny personal statements, the peer-review process becomes even more important than it already is. Humor is subjective by nature, so before clicking “submit” on your applications, make sure that a wide variety of people in your life (friends, parents, and teachers) have read your essays. If all your readers think your essay is appropriate and lighthearted, you’ve likely composed an essay with humor that will land well with an admissions office. If not, it might be time to go back to the drawing board.
Watch this video of a counselor editing a student's personal statement to get an idea of what essay feedback should look like:
When done correctly, funny personal statements can be extremely effective. One of the best essays I’ve ever read followed this formula: Rife with stories about fanciful white lies he had told others over the years, this student’s essay at first seemed risky. Why reveal to an admissions office the fact that you have, at times, stretched the truth?
However, the student soon made it clear that stretching the truth in his younger days was in fact an early manifestation of his larger desire to tell stories—he wanted to study creative writing and ultimately become an author. His past storytelling revealed much about his creative character and also the fact that, although he had done quite well in school, he didn’t take himself too seriously while doing so. Ultimately, the student was admitted to a number of top schools.
I’ll leave you with some final tips to review when thinking about using humor in your admissions essays:
- Stay away from potentially controversial topics—at best, you will demonstrate a lack of self-awareness, and at worst you might personally offend the admissions reader. Again, peer review your humor before submitting!
- The humor should be original. By writing funny personal statements, you are illustrating the fact that you are a creative student with a good sense of humor—recycling humor falls short here.
- You can use humor in many different types of essays, but remember that the humor should be added only after you already know what story you want to tell; humor alone should never be the substance of your essay.
- Subtle humor can often make a stronger impression than can loud, straightforward humor.