Frequently asked questions
Can i use humor in my application essay.
You can use humor in a college essay , but carefully consider its purpose and use it wisely. An effective use of humor involves unexpected, keen observations of the everyday, or speaks to a deeper theme. Humor shouldn’t be the main focus of the essay, but rather a tool to improve your storytelling.
Get a second opinion from a teacher, counselor, or essay coach on whether your essay’s humor is appropriate.
Frequently asked questions: College admissions essays
When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.
No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.
The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.
Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.
Most importantly, your essay should be about you , not another person or thing. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.
Your essay shouldn’t be a résumé of your experiences but instead should tell a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.
When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding your message and content. Then, check for flow, tone, style , and clarity. Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors .
If your college essay goes over the word count limit , cut any sentences with tangents or irrelevant details. Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay.
If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.
If you’ve got to write your college essay fast , don’t panic. First, set yourself deadlines: you should spend about 10% of your remaining time on brainstorming, 10% on outlining, 40% writing, 30% revising, and 10% taking breaks in between stages.
Second, brainstorm stories and values based on your essay prompt.
Third, outline your essay based on the montage or narrative essay structure .
Fourth, write specific, personal, and unique stories that would be hard for other students to replicate.
Fifth, revise your essay and make sure it’s clearly written.
Last, if possible, get feedback from an essay coach . Scribbr essay editors can help you revise your essay in 12 hours or less.
Avoid swearing in a college essay , since admissions officers’ opinions of profanity will vary. In some cases, it might be okay to use a vulgar word, such as in dialogue or quotes that make an important point in your essay. However, it’s safest to try to make the same point without swearing.
If you have bad grades on your transcript, you may want to use your college admissions essay to explain the challenging circumstances that led to them. Make sure to avoid dwelling on the negative aspects and highlight how you overcame the situation or learned an important lesson.
However, some college applications offer an additional information section where you can explain your bad grades, allowing you to choose another meaningful topic for your college essay.
Here’s a brief list of college essay topics that may be considered cliché:
- Extracurriculars, especially sports
- Role models
- Dealing with a personal tragedy or death in the family
- Struggling with new life situations (immigrant stories, moving homes, parents’ divorce)
- Becoming a better person after community service, traveling, or summer camp
- Overcoming a difficult class
- Using a common object as an extended metaphor
It’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic. However, it’s possible to make a common topic compelling with interesting story arcs, uncommon connections, and an advanced writing style.
Yes. The college application essay is less formal than other academic writing —though of course it’s not mandatory to use contractions in your essay.
In a college essay , you can be creative with your language . When writing about the past, you can use the present tense to make the reader feel as if they were there in the moment with you. But make sure to maintain consistency and when in doubt, default to the correct verb tense according to the time you’re writing about.
The college admissions essay gives admissions officers a different perspective on you beyond your academic achievements, test scores, and extracurriculars. It’s your chance to stand out from other applicants with similar academic profiles by telling a unique, personal, and specific story.
Use a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial to avoid distracting the reader from your college essay’s content.
A college application essay is less formal than most academic writing . Instead of citing sources formally with in-text citations and a reference list, you can cite them informally in your text.
For example, “In her research paper on genetics, Quinn Roberts explores …”
There is no set number of paragraphs in a college admissions essay . College admissions essays can diverge from the traditional five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in English class. Just make sure to stay under the specified word count .
Most topics are acceptable for college essays if you can use them to demonstrate personal growth or a lesson learned. However, there are a few difficult topics for college essays that should be avoided. Avoid topics that are:
- Overly personal (e.g. graphic details of illness or injury, romantic or sexual relationships)
- Not personal enough (e.g. broad solutions to world problems, inspiring people or things)
- Too negative (e.g. an in-depth look at your flaws, put-downs of others, criticizing the need for a college essay)
- Too boring (e.g. a resume of your academic achievements and extracurriculars)
- Inappropriate for a college essay (e.g. illegal activities, offensive humor, false accounts of yourself, bragging about privilege)
To write an effective diversity essay , include vulnerable, authentic stories about your unique identity, background, or perspective. Provide insight into how your lived experience has influenced your outlook, activities, and goals. If relevant, you should also mention how your background has led you to apply for this university and why you’re a good fit.
Many universities believe a student body composed of different perspectives, beliefs, identities, and backgrounds will enhance the campus learning and community experience.
Admissions officers are interested in hearing about how your unique background, identity, beliefs, culture, or characteristics will enrich the campus community, which is why they assign a diversity essay .
In addition to your main college essay , some schools and scholarships may ask for a supplementary essay focused on an aspect of your identity or background. This is sometimes called a diversity essay .
Though admissions officers are interested in hearing your story, they’re also interested in how you tell it. An exceptionally written essay will differentiate you from other applicants, meaning that admissions officers will spend more time reading it.
You can use literary devices to catch your reader’s attention and enrich your storytelling; however, focus on using just a few devices well, rather than trying to use as many as possible.
To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:
- Identify your qualities → Brainstorm stories that demonstrate these qualities
- Identify memorable stories → Connect your qualities to these stories
You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.
Yes—admissions officers don’t expect everyone to have a totally unique college essay topic . But you must differentiate your essay from others by having a surprising story arc, an interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style .
There are no foolproof college essay topics —whatever your topic, the key is to write about it effectively. However, a good topic
- Is meaningful, specific, and personal to you
- Focuses on you and your experiences
- Reveals something beyond your test scores, grades, and extracurriculars
- Is creative and original
Unlike a five-paragraph essay, your admissions essay should not end by summarizing the points you’ve already made. It’s better to be creative and aim for a strong final impression.
You should also avoid stating the obvious (for example, saying that you hope to be accepted).
There are a few strategies you can use for a memorable ending to your college essay :
- Return to the beginning with a “full circle” structure
- Reveal the main point or insight in your story
- Look to the future
- End on an action
The best technique will depend on your topic choice, essay outline, and writing style. You can write several endings using different techniques to see which works best.
College deadlines vary depending on the schools you’re applying to and your application plan:
- For early action applications and the first round of early decision applications, the deadline is on November 1 or 15. Decisions are released by mid-December.
- For the second round of early decision applications, the deadline is January 1 or 15. Decisions are released in January or February.
- Regular decision deadlines usually fall between late November and mid-March, and decisions are released in March or April.
- Rolling admission deadlines run from July to April, and decisions are released around four to eight weeks after submission.
Depending on your prospective schools’ requirements, you may need to submit scores for the SAT or ACT as part of your college application .
Some schools now no longer require students to submit test scores; however, you should still take the SAT or ACT and aim to get a high score to strengthen your application package.
Aim to take the SAT or ACT in the spring of your junior year to give yourself enough time to retake it in the fall of your senior year if necessary.
Apply early for federal student aid and application fee waivers. You can also look for scholarships from schools, corporations, and charitable foundations.
To maximize your options, you should aim to apply to about eight schools:
- Two reach schools that might be difficult to get into
- Four match schools that you have a good chance of getting into
- Two safety schools that you feel confident you’ll get into
The college admissions essay accounts for roughly 25% of the weight of your application .
At highly selective schools, there are four qualified candidates for every spot. While your academic achievements are important, your college admissions essay can help you stand out from other applicants with similar profiles.
In general, for your college application you will need to submit all of the following:
- Your personal information
- List of extracurriculars and awards
- College application essays
- Standardized test scores
- Recommendation letters.
Different colleges may have specific requirements, so make sure you check exactly what’s expected in the application guidance.
You should start thinking about your college applications the summer before your junior year to give you sufficient time for college visits, taking standardized tests, applying for financial aid , writing essays, and collecting application material.
Yes, but make sure your essay directly addresses the prompt, respects the word count , and demonstrates the organization’s values.
If you plan ahead, you can save time by writing one scholarship essay for multiple prompts with similar questions. In a scholarship tracker spreadsheet, you can group or color-code overlapping essay prompts; then, write a single essay for multiple scholarships. Sometimes, you can even reuse or adapt your main college essay .
You can start applying for scholarships as early as your junior year. Continue applying throughout your senior year.
Invest time in applying for various scholarships , especially local ones with small dollar amounts, which are likely easier to win and more reflective of your background and interests. It will be easier for you to write an authentic and compelling essay if the scholarship topic is meaningful to you.
You can find scholarships through your school counselor, community network, or an internet search.
A scholarship essay requires you to demonstrate your values and qualities while answering the prompt’s specific question.
After researching the scholarship organization, identify a personal experience that embodies its values and exemplifies how you will be a successful student.
A standout college essay has several key ingredients:
- A unique, personally meaningful topic
- A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook
- Specific stories and language that show instead of telling
- Vulnerability that’s authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy
- Clear writing in an appropriate style and tone
- A conclusion that offers deep insight or a creative ending
While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.
You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.
Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.
In most cases, quoting other people isn’t a good way to start your college essay . Admissions officers want to hear your thoughts about yourself, and quotes often don’t achieve that. Unless a quote truly adds something important to your essay that it otherwise wouldn’t have, you probably shouldn’t include it.
Cliché openers in a college essay introduction are usually general and applicable to many students and situations. Most successful introductions are specific: they only work for the unique essay that follows.
The key to a strong college essay introduction is not to give too much away. Try to start with a surprising statement or image that raises questions and compels the reader to find out more.
The introduction of your college essay is the first thing admissions officers will read and therefore your most important opportunity to stand out. An excellent introduction will keep admissions officers reading, allowing you to tell them what you want them to know.
You can speed up this process by shortening and smoothing your writing with a paraphrasing tool . After that, you can use the summarizer to shorten it even more.
If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.
Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.
You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.
If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.
In your application essay , admissions officers are looking for particular features : they want to see context on your background, positive traits that you could bring to campus, and examples of you demonstrating those qualities.
Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.
You don’t need a title for your college admissions essay , but you can include one if you think it adds something important.
Your college essay’s format should be as simple as possible:
- Use a standard, readable font
- Use 1.5 or double spacing
- If attaching a file, save it as a PDF
- Stick to the word count
- Avoid unusual formatting and unnecessary decorative touches
There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:
- A montage structure, a series of vignettes with a common theme.
- A narrative structure, a single story that shows your personal growth or how you overcame a challenge.
Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.
Campus visits are always helpful, but if you can’t make it in person, the college website will have plenty of information for you to explore. You should look through the course catalog and even reach out to current faculty with any questions about the school.
Colleges set a “Why this college?” essay because they want to see that you’ve done your research. You must prove that you know what makes the school unique and can connect that to your own personal goals and academic interests.
Depending on your writing, you may go through several rounds of revision . Make sure to put aside your essay for a little while after each editing stage to return with a fresh perspective.
Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your language, tone, and content . Ask for their help at least one to two months before the submission deadline, as many other students will also want their help.
Friends and family are a good resource to check for authenticity. It’s best to seek help from family members with a strong writing or English educational background, or from older siblings and cousins who have been through the college admissions process.
If possible, get help from an essay coach or editor ; they’ll have specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and be able to give objective expert feedback.
When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style , and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.
Include specific, personal details and use your authentic voice to shed a new perspective on a common human experience.
Through specific stories, you can weave your achievements and qualities into your essay so that it doesn’t seem like you’re bragging from a resume.
When writing about yourself , including difficult experiences or failures can be a great way to show vulnerability and authenticity, but be careful not to overshare, and focus on showing how you matured from the experience.
First, spend time reflecting on your core values and character . You can start with these questions:
- What are three words your friends or family would use to describe you, and why would they choose them?
- Whom do you admire most and why?
- What are you most proud of? Ashamed of?
However, you should do a comprehensive brainstorming session to fully understand your values. Also consider how your values and goals match your prospective university’s program and culture. Then, brainstorm stories that illustrate the fit between the two.
In a college application essay , you can occasionally bend grammatical rules if doing so adds value to the storytelling process and the essay maintains clarity.
However, use standard language rules if your stylistic choices would otherwise distract the reader from your overall narrative or could be easily interpreted as unintentional errors.
Write concisely and use the active voice to maintain a quick pace throughout your essay and make sure it’s the right length . Avoid adding definitions unless they provide necessary explanation.
Use first-person “I” statements to speak from your perspective . Use appropriate word choices that show off your vocabulary but don’t sound like you used a thesaurus. Avoid using idioms or cliché expressions by rewriting them in a creative, original way.
If you’re an international student applying to a US college and you’re comfortable using American idioms or cultural references , you can. But instead of potentially using them incorrectly, don’t be afraid to write in detail about yourself within your own culture.
Provide context for any words, customs, or places that an American admissions officer might be unfamiliar with.
College application essays are less formal than other kinds of academic writing . Use a conversational yet respectful tone , as if speaking with a teacher or mentor. Be vulnerable about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences to connect with the reader.
Aim to write in your authentic voice , with a style that sounds natural and genuine. You can be creative with your word choice, but don’t use elaborate vocabulary to impress admissions officers.
Admissions officers use college admissions essays to evaluate your character, writing skills , and ability to self-reflect . The essay is your chance to show what you will add to the academic community.
The college essay may be the deciding factor in your application , especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.
Some colleges also require supplemental essays about specific topics, such as why you chose that specific college . Scholarship essays are often required to obtain financial aid .
Ask our team
Want to contact us directly? No problem. We are always here for you.
- Email [email protected]
- Start live chat
- Call +1 (510) 822-8066
- WhatsApp +31 20 261 6040
Our team helps students graduate by offering:
- A world-class citation generator
- Plagiarism Checker software powered by Turnitin
- Innovative Citation Checker software
- Professional proofreading services
- Over 300 helpful articles about academic writing, citing sources, plagiarism, and more
Scribbr specializes in editing study-related documents . We proofread:
- PhD dissertations
- Research proposals
- Personal statements
- Admission essays
- Motivation letters
- Reflection papers
- Journal articles
- Capstone projects
The Scribbr Plagiarism Checker is powered by elements of Turnitin’s Similarity Checker , namely the plagiarism detection software and the Internet Archive and Premium Scholarly Publications content databases .
The Scribbr Citation Generator is developed using the open-source Citation Style Language (CSL) project and Frank Bennett’s citeproc-js . It’s the same technology used by dozens of other popular citation tools, including Mendeley and Zotero.
You can find all the citation styles and locales used in the Scribbr Citation Generator in our publicly accessible repository on Github .
What are your chances of acceptance?
Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.
Your chancing factors
Should You Be Funny In Your College Essay + Examples
Why are college essays important, should you be funny in your college essay, tips for adding humor to your college essays, essay examples, how to make sure your humor is effective.
College essays are an important part of your application profile. They humanize you and provide you with the opportunity to prove that you’re an interesting individual beyond your grades and test scores.
Some ways students humanize themselves include reflecting on their values, clueing readers into their backstory, showing off their personalities, or any combination of these.
One question that may come up with regards to showing off your personality is: can I be funny in my college essay?
Read along to hear our expert opinion on the subject and tips for writing a funny essay, the right way. You can also check out a few examples of essays that have successfully included humor to give you a good idea of what’s appropriate for your writing.
To put it simply, college essays are needed because top colleges have lots of qualified candidates and, to get accepted, you need to stand out. It is estimated that, at top schools, there are at least four academically-qualified applicants for every open spot. This means that students hoping to gain admission to top schools must supplement outstanding grades with other outstanding qualities.
Ways to make yourself stand out include extracurriculars, recommendations and interviews, and essays. At the nation’s top schools, reports tell us that these non-academic factors are weighted respectively as accounting for 30%, 10%, and 25% of your overall admissions chances. The fact that essays account for 25% of your admissions chances means that they could be your key to acceptance at your dream school.
If you are interested in the specific factors that determine how important essays are for individual candidates at individual schools, check out this post .
Essays are heavily weighted in the admissions process because they are the only place where admissions officers get to hear directly from you. An individual’s voice says a lot about them—how mature they are, how comfortable they are with their experiences, and even how likable they are. These are important factors for admissions officers who are trying to see how you would fit in on their campus!
The gist of our answer: if your personality is funny, feel free to be funny! As we’ve said, an important opportunity provided to you by the college essay is the opportunity to show your personality. Humor, if done correctly, can be an important part of that.
That said, if you are only attempting humor because you think it is what admissions officers want to hear or because you think it will help you stand out, abandon ship and find a way to shape your essay that is true to your personality. Try writing down how you view your personality or ask friends and family for adjectives that describe your personality, then show that personality through your voice. It will be more natural this way!
Some elements of personality that could define your voice, if humor isn’t for you:
Additionally, if you cannot follow some basic guidelines (listed below) for how to incorporate humor into your essay, you might want to change your course.
1. Be Appropriate
First things first: be appropriate. Humor is, of course, subjective, but make sure your subject matter would be considered appropriate by absolutely anyone reading it. Think about the most traditional person you know and make sure they would be okay with it. No jokes about sex, drugs, lying, crimes, or anything inappropriate—even if the joke is “obviously” against the inappropriate thing you are mentioning.
2. Don’t Be Overly Informal
You want your essay to position you as mature and intelligent, and the way you control language is a sign of maturity and intellect. That said, lots of humor—particularly the humor of young people and internet humor—are based on informality, intentional grammatical errors, and slang. These types of humor, while arguably funny, should be excluded from college essays!
As you write, remember that you know nothing about your admissions officer. Of course, you do not know their age, race, or gender, but you also don’t know their sense of humor. The last thing you want to do is make a joke with an intentional grammatical error and be perceived as unintelligent or make a joke with slang that confuses your reader and makes them think you don’t have a firm grasp of the English language.
3. Avoid Appearing Disrespectful or Inconsiderate
Humor often involves making fun of someone or something. It is very important that you do not make fun of the wrong things! In the last example, the student made fun of themself and their failed cooking experience. That is totally acceptable.
Things that you should not make fun of:
- Other people (particularly those in positions of authority)
- Political ideas
- Religious ideas
- Anything involving ethics, morals, or values
When you make fun of others, you risk sounding cold or unsympathetic. Admissions officers want to admit candidates who are mature and understand that they can never understand the struggles of others. That means you shouldn’t make a cutting joke about your old boss or an unintelligent politician who was running for your city mayor, even if they are the villain in your anecdote.
Similarly, avoid jokes about types of people. Avoid stereotypes in your jokes.
In general, it is hard to write a humorous essay about a controversial subject. Controversial issues are typically issues that require deep thought and conversation, so if you intend to engage with them, you should consider a more reflective approach, or consider integrating reflection with your humor.
Here is an example of a student successfully poking fun at themself with their humor, while alluding to controversy:
My teenage rebellion started at age twelve. Though not yet technically a teenager, I dedicated myself to the cause: I wore tee shirts with bands on them that made my parents cringe, shopped exclusively at stores with eyebrow-pierced employees, and met every comforting idea the world offered me with hostility. Darkness was in my soul! Happiness was a construct meant for sheep! Optimism was for fools! My cynicism was a product of a world that gave birth to the War in Afghanistan around the same time it gave birth to me, that shot and killed my peers in school, that irreversibly melted ice caps and polluted oceans and destroyed forests.
I was angry. I fought with my parents, my peers, and strangers. It was me versus the world.
However, there’s a fundamental flaw in perpetual antagonism: it’s exhausting. My personal relationships suffered as my cynicism turned friends and family into bad guys in my eyes. As I kept up the fight, I found myself always tired, emotionally and physically. The tipping point came one morning standing at the bathroom sink before school.
This student engages with controversial subject matter, but the humorous parts are the parts where she makes fun of herself and her beliefs— “ Darkness was in my soul! Happiness was a construct meant for sheep! Optimism was for fools!” Additionally, the student follows up their humor with reflection: “ However, there’s a fundamental flaw in perpetual antagonism: it’s exhausting. My personal relationships suffered as my cynicism turned friends and family into bad guys in my eyes.”
This student is both funny and mature, witty and reflective, and, above all, a good writer with firm control of language.
4. Don’t Force It
We have already mentioned not to force humor, but we are mentioning it again because it is very important!
Here is an example of a student whose forced humor detracts from the point of their essay:
To say I have always remained in my comfort zone is an understatement. Did I always order chicken fingers and fries at a restaurant? Yup! Sounds like me. Did I always create a color-coded itinerary just for a day trip? Guilty as charged. Did I always carry a first-aid kit at all times? Of course! I would make even an ambulance look unprepared. And yet here I was, choosing 1,000 miles of misery from Las Vegas to Seattle despite every bone in my body telling me not to.
The sunlight blinded my eyes and a wave of nausea swept over me. Was it too late to say I forgot my calculator? It was only ten minutes in, and I was certain that the trip was going to be a disaster. I simply hoped that our pre-drive prayer was not stuck in God’s voicemail box.
As this student attempts to characterize themself as stuck in their ways (to eventually describe how they overcame this desire for comfort), their humor feels gimmicky. They describe their preparedness in a way that comes off as inauthentic. It’s funny to imagine them carrying around a first aid kit everywhere they go, but does the reader believe it? Then, when they write “ Was it too late to say I forgot my calculator? ” they create an image of themself as that goofy, overprepared kit in a sitcom. Sitcom characters don’t feel real and the point of a college essay is to make yourself seem like a real person to admissions officers. Don’t sacrifice your essay to humor.
5. Make Sure Your Humor Is Clear
Humor is subjective, so run your essay by people—lots and lots of people—to see if they are confused, offended, or distracted. Ask people to read your essay for content and see if they mention the humor (positively or negatively), but also specifically ask people what they think about the humor. Peer feedback is always important but becomes particularly useful when attempting a humorous essay.
Essay Example #1
Prompt: Tell us an interesting or amusing story about yourself from your high school years. (350 words)
Cooking is one of those activities at which people are either extremely talented or completely inept. Personally, I’ve found that I fall right in the middle, with neither prodigal nor abhorrent talents. After all, it’s just following instructions, right? Unfortunately, one disastrous night in my kitchen has me questioning that logic.
The task was simple enough: cook a turkey stir fry. In theory, it’s an extremely simple dish. However, almost immediately, things went awry. While I was cutting onions, I absentmindedly rubbed at my eyes and smeared my mascara. (Keep this in mind; it’ll come into play later.) I then proceeded to add the raw turkey to the vegetable pot. Now, as any good chef knows, this means that either the vegetables will burn or the turkey will be raw. I am admittedly not a good chef.
After a taste test, I decided to take a page out of the Spice Girls’ book and “spice up my life”, adding some red chili paste. This was my fatal mistake. The bottle spilled everywhere. Pot, counter, floor, I mean everywhere . While trying to clean up the mess, my hands ended up covered in sauce.
Foolishly, I decided to taste my ruined meal anyway. My tongue felt like it was on fire and I sprinted to the bathroom to rinse my mouth. I looked in the mirror and, noticing the raccoon eyes formed by my mascara, grabbed a tissue. What I had neglected to realize was that chili paste had transferred to the tissue—the tissue which I was using to wipe my eyes. I don’t know if you’ve ever put chili paste anywhere near your eyes, but here’s a word of advice: don’t. Seriously, don’t .
I fumbled blindly for the sink handle, mouth still on fire, eyes burning, presumably looking like a character out of a Tim Burton film. After I rinsed my face, I sat down and stared at my bowl of still-too-spicy and probably-somewhat-raw stir fry, wondering what ancient god had decided to take their anger out on me that night, and hoping I would never incur their wrath ever again.
What the Essay Did Well
This essay is an excellent example of how to successfully execute humor. The student’s informal tone helps to bridge the gap between them and the reader, making us feel like we are sitting across the table from them and laughing along. Speaking directly to the reader in sentences like, “ Keep this in mind; it’ll come into play later, ” and “ I don’t know if you’ve ever put chili paste anywhere near your eyes, but here’s a word of advice: don’t. Seriously, don’t,” is a great tactic to downplay the formality of the essay.
The student’s humor comes through phrases like “ Now, as any good chef knows, this means that either the vegetables will burn or the turkey will be raw. I am admittedly not a good chef.” As this student plays on the common structure of “As any good (insert profession here) knows,” then subverts expectations, they make an easy-to-understand, casual but not flippant joke.
Similarly, the sentence “ I decided to take a page out of the Spice Girls’ book ,” reads in a light-hearted, funny tone. And, importantly, even if a reader had no idea who the Spice Girls were, they would recognize this as a pop-culture joke and would not be confused or lost in any way. The phrase “ raccoon eyes” is another humorous inclusion—even if the reader doesn’t know what it’s like to rub their eyes while wearing mascara they can picture the rings around a raccoon and imagine the spectacle.
As you can see from this essay, humor works well when you engage universal and inoffensive concepts in ways that are casual enough to be funny, but still comprehensible.
Essay Example #2
Prompt: Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History… a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here. —Inspired by Josh Kaufman, AB’18
When I shared the video of me eating fried insects in Thailand, my friends were seriously offended. Some stopped talking to me, while the rest thought I had lost my mind and recommended me the names of a few psychologists.
A major in Gastrophysics at UChicago is not for the faint hearted. You have to have a stomach for it! I do hope I am accepted to it as it is the only University in the U.S. with this unique major. My passion for trying unique food such as fish eye has made me want to understand the complexities of how it affects our digestive system. I understand that Gastrophysics started with a big pang of food, which quickly expanded to famish. Bite years are used to measure the amount of food ingested. I look forward to asking, “How many bite years can the stomach hold?” and “How do different enzymes react with the farticles?”
Gastrophysics truly unravels the physics of food. At UChicago I will understand the intricacies of what time to eat, how to eat and how food will be digested. Do we need to take antiparticle acid if we feel acidity is becoming a matter of concern? At what angle should the mouth be, for the best possible tasting experience? When I tried crocodile meat, I found that at a 0 degree tilt, it tasted like fish and chicken at the same time. But the same tasted more like fish at a negative angle and like chicken at a positive angle. I want to unravel these mysteries in a class by Professor Daniel Holz in gravitational gastrophysics, understanding the unseen strong and weak forces at play which attract food to our stomachs.
I find that Gastrophysics is also important for fastronomy. I want to learn the physics of fasting. How should we fast? Hubble bubble is a good chewing gum; an appetite suppressant in case you feel pangs of hunger. I have read how the UChicago Fastronauts are stepping up to test uncharted territories. Intermittent fasting is a new method being researched, and UChicago offers the opportunity for furthering this research. Which is better: fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8, or fasting for 24 hours twice a week? It is just one of the problems that UChicago offers a chance to solve.
I can also study the new branch it offers that uses farticle physics. It is the science of tracking farticles and how they interact with each other and chemicals in the stomach space. It could give rise to supernovae explosions, turning people into gas giants. It would also teach about the best ways to expel gas and clean the system and prevent stomach space expansion.
I want to take Fluid dynamics 101, another important course in Gastrophysics; teaching about the importance of water and other fluids in the body, and the most important question: what happens if you try to drink superfluids?
I hope to do interdisciplinary courses with observational gastrophysicists and work with environmental science majors to track how much methane is given by the human and animal gastrointestinal tract in the atmosphere and how much it contributes to the global climate change. I believe, with the help of courses in date science, they have been able to keep a track of how much methane is entering each day, and they found that during Dec 24-Jan 3 period, a spike in the methane and ethane levels could be seen. Accordingly, algorithms are being programmed to predict the changes all year round. I would love to use my strong mathematical background to explore these algorithms.
These courses are specially designed by the distinguished faculty of UChicago. Doing interdisciplinary research in collaboration with biological science students to determine what aliens may eat, with fart historians to know more about the intestinal structure of medieval Italians, Japanese, Chinese, Swedish and French people to better their lives is what I look forward to. The Paris study abroad program is an immersion course into fastronomy, where I will have the opportunity to test my self-control with all the amazing French food and desserts around!
My stomach rumbles now, so I am going out to try out new food – hopefully it will be in Chicago a few months later.
This is a fun essay! This student’s voice is present and their goofy personality is especially evident. Not only did they change the name of their major, but this student incorporated word play throughout the essay to showcase their imagination. Phrases like “ the big pang of food ”, “ bite years ”, “ fastronauts ”, and “ farticle physics ” keep the tone lighthearted and amusing.
Incorporating this style of humor takes a lot of creativity to be able to still convey your main idea while also earning a chuckle from your readers. While some jokes are a bit more low-brow—” farticles ” or “ fart historians ” for example—they are balanced out by some that are more clever and require a bit of thinking to get the A-ha moment (referencing the Hubble telescope as “ Hubble bubble chewing gum “). You might not feel comfortable including less sophisticated jokes in your essay at all, but if you do want to go down that path, having more intellectual sources of humor is important to provide balance.
Another positive of the essay is the continued thread of humor throughout. Sometimes humor is used as a tool in the introduction and abandoned in favor of practical information about the student. This essay manages to tell us about the student and their interests without sacrificing the laugh factor. Weaving humor throughout the essay like this makes the humor feel more genuine and helps us better understand this student’s personality.
Essay Example #3
Prompt: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? (650 words)
Scalding hot water cascades over me, crashing to the ground in a familiar, soothing rhythm. Steam rises to the ceiling as dried sweat and soap suds swirl down the drain. The water hisses as it hits my skin, far above the safe temperature for a shower. The pressure is perfect on my tired muscles, easing the aches and bruises from a rough bout of sparring and the tension from a long, stressful day. The noise from my overactive mind dies away, fading into music, lyrics floating through my head. Black streaks stripe the inside of my left arm, remnants of the penned reminders of homework, money owed and forms due.
It lacks the same dynamism and controlled intensity of sparring on the mat at taekwondo or the warm tenderness of a tight hug from my father, but it’s still a cocoon of safety as the water washes away the day’s burdens. As long as the hot water is running, the rest of the world ceases to exist, shrinking to me, myself and I. The shower curtain closes me off from the hectic world spinning around me.
Much like the baths of Blanche DuBois, my hot showers are a means of cleansing and purifying (though I’m mostly just ridding myself of the germs from children at work sneezing on me). In the midst of a hot shower, there is no impending exam to study for, no newspaper deadline to meet, no paycheck to deposit. It is simply complete and utter peace, a safe haven. The steam clears my mind even as it clouds my mirror.
Creativity thrives in the tub, breathing life into tales of dragons and warrior princesses that evolve only in my head, never making their way to paper but appeasing the childlike dreamer and wannabe author in me all the same. That one calculus problem that has seemed unsolvable since second period clicks into place as I realize the obvious solution. The perfect concluding sentence to my literary analysis essay writes itself (causing me to abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely).
Ever since I was old enough to start taking showers unaided, I began hogging all the hot water in the house, a source of great frustration to my parents. Many of my early showers were rudely cut short by an unholy banging on the bathroom door and an order to “stop wasting water and come eat dinner before it gets cold.” After a decade of trudging up the stairs every evening to put an end to my water-wasting, my parents finally gave in, leaving me to my (expensive) showers. I imagine someday, when paying the water bill is in my hands, my showers will be shorter, but today is not that day (nor, hopefully, will the next four years be that day).
Showers are better than any ibuprofen, the perfect panacea for life’s daily ailments. Headaches magically disappear as long as the water runs, though they typically return in full force afterward. The runny nose and itchy eyes courtesy of summertime allergies recede. Showers alleviate even the stomachache from a guacamole-induced lack of self-control.
Honestly though, the best part about a hot shower is neither its medicinal abilities nor its blissful temporary isolation or even the heavenly warmth seeped deep into my bones. The best part is that these little moments of pure, uninhibited contentedness are a daily occurrence. No matter how stressful the day, showers ensure I always have something to look forward to. They are small moments, true, but important nonetheless, because it is the little things in life that matter; the big moments are too rare, too fleeting to make anyone truly happy. Wherever I am in the world, whatever fate chooses to throw at me, I know I can always find my peace at the end of the day behind the shower curtain.
While the humor in this essay isn’t as direct as the others, the subtle inclusion of little phrases in parentheses throughout the essay bring some comedy without feeling overbearing.
The contrast of elegant and posh Blanche DuBois and “ germs from children at work sneezing on me ” paints an ironic picture that you can’t help but laugh at. The ability to describe universal experiences also brings a level of humor to the essay. For example, the reader might laugh at the line, “ abruptly end my shower in a mad dash to the computer before I forget it entirely,” because it brings to mind moments when they have done the same.
This student also achieves a humorous tone by poking fun at themselves. Admitting that they were “ hogging all the hot water, ” leading to “ (expensive) showers, ” as well as describing their stomachache as a “ guacamole-induced lack of self-control, ” keeps the tone casual and easy-going. Everybody has their flaws, and in this case long showers and guacamole are the downfall of this student.
While the tips and tricks we’ve given you will be extremely helpful when writing, it’s often not that simple. Feedback is ultimately any writer’s best source of improvement—especially when it comes to an element like humor which, naturally, can be hit-or-miss!
To get your college essay edited for free, use our Peer Review Essay Tool . With this tool, other students can tell you if your humor is effective/appropriate and help you improve your essay so that you can have the best chances of admission to your dream schools.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!
Related CollegeVine Blog Posts
Scholarship Essay Ideas: You Should Stand Out From the Crowd
A strong scholarship essay is immaculately written, interesting, and unique. If you want to grab the scholarship committee's attention and earn the award, you have to write a paper that really stands out and is memorable. Here are some ways to accomplish exactly that.
Add Personality with Specific Details
Scholarship committees love essays that shine with the writer's personality. You may be accustomed to writing papers that are fairly dry and objective, and therefore writing about yourself may seem unusual or difficult, but don't let that stop you! The point of a scholarship essay is to communicate who you are and why you are appropriate for the award, so let the readers get to know you from reading your essay.
One way to add humanizing details to your paper is to pepper the document with personal anecdotes. Open your essay with a personal story that conveys who you are, or insert details throughout your paper that lets the reader get a sense of who you are, what you're interested in, and what you have accomplished so far in life. Don't be afraid to toot your own horn!
A light touch of humor or wit can make a scholarship essay shine, and is bound to be memorable to the committee. This can be accomplished using funny, alliterative turns of phrase or clever puns, inserting humorous (but relevant) quotations, or providing information that is humorous. Aim for a tone that is light hearted, but wise. Avoid humor that might offend your readers or go over their heads. Imagine telling the joke in front of a large, mixed audience. If you can imagine the joke going over well, it is probably appropriate for your paper.
Use Literary Techniques
You have probably spent several years studying literary flourishes in your English classes, and now it is time to put your knowledge to work. A strong scholarship essay is not merely adequately written; it is also interesting and pleasant to read. Use tricks such as parallelism, alliteration, assonance, and irony to convey your point and insert interest into the paper. Vary the length of your sentences, and write in an active voice that propels the reader forward. Make sure to use proper spelling, grammar, and syntax, of course, but beyond that, don't be afraid to break some of the rules to make your paper more engaging and personalized.
Before submitting your scholarship essay, read it aloud in front of the mirror or a few friends. A strong essay should sound very much like a witty, well-written speech when it is read aloud. If you make yourself or your audience laugh or pause to think, you've done a good job.
- Dissertation help
AtiAdmissions.org provides admission and application essay writing help and guidance.