Do Colleges Have Humor (Essay)?

I’m applying to colleges in the fall, and many colleges (like USC for example) ask for short responses. One of the questions is often “describe yourself in 3 words.” Should I be humourous with it, or keep it strictly professional? I’ve heard colleges like to get to know you as a person, and not as just another applicant. Thoughts?

Humorous and professional are not mutually exclusive.

Humor is often misunderstood.

It would help to know the three words that you are thinking of using.

Conveying yourself in three words is tough, especially using humor with people who don’t know you. How does the rest of your application read? If it further orients them to you with an existing foundation of humor, not a bad idea (as in keep them smiling). If it’s a stark contrast, would be tough to pull off.

Love to laugh
Make people laugh
Smart happy clown


Really stinky feet. Nah

My guess is that yes, humor would be OK. However, writing a joke sentence usually won’t help, and if it is inappropriate or a cliche it will likely hurt your chances.

I think that, if you can describe yourself in three words, it is OK if there is humor there, and OK if not. The difficulty with humor in these things is that most humor is related to context, and it is difficult to provide context in a single sentence. However difficult is not impossible.

BTW, you may really need a second (and third, and fourth) set of eyes for this, to get an idea as to how another person would understand whatever you are writing.

I suspect a more serious answer won’t be any easier. It’s not the specific words that matter. Rather, what seems to be the thinking and awareness behind the choices.

And the more you understand what USC looks for, the better you can decide. Humor just for humor’s sake can fall flat.

I hate UCLA could also work for three words with humor, you’d get a chuckle, but whether you get in or not, is another question.

Sorry, let me rephrase. Not humor necessarily, but witty comments etc. For example, if you’re putting “Competitive” as one of your words, would it be ok to put something like “Competitive (Seriously, bring it on!)”? My essays are pretty personal, and many have told me that it’s common for my writing to show my personality, which is naturally outgoing and talkative.

My essays often come off as witty (but still professional!). In my common app essay, I’m talking about how I used to collect chalk dusk as a kid (weird, I know), and then transitioning into how it helped me build confidence in talking to people. It’s kind of hard to explain in a forum, but my teachers and counselor think it’s a good essay that really shows my personality and how I’ve developed as I grew older. So, it’s definitely common that my essays are humorous.

“Competitive (Seriously bring it on !)”

In my opinion, this phrase would harm, not help, your application.

Witty, yes, flippant, no.

It is much easier to do witty in an assay, even a short one, than it is in a sentence. As I wrote above - humor usually requires context. Single stand-alone sentences are usually unable to provide that context, and can easily come across as flippant, sarcastic, or cynical.

You may not always see it yourself, since you already have the context in your mind, and will usually share the short comment with people who are familiar with that context. The AOs are likely not familiar with that context.

PS. I love the topic of your essay.

I won’t be using competitive since I agree it’ll hurt my application. I know colleges are taking a more holistic approach on admissions than before, and many have told me to try and stand out (in a good way), I just don’t know how to go about it.

I would simply focus on presenting the best possible version of yourself.

Try to remember this is the college leap. You aren’t applying to another high school. Your application decisions, how and what you try to show will be different. What college adcoms want is different than hs admins.

Try to get an idea of what your “best possible version” is, to various colleges. Imo, you can do this through a lot of learning what each is truly about, how they see themselves, their contexts, opportunities they offer, how they describe the students they might highlight. More than facts like major or clubs.

It’s more than applying. It’s matching what they seem to want and seek. Yes. That takes work.

Two weeks ago, you wrote you were stuck on the essays.

The principle is “show, not just tell.” I’m not sure chalk dust will seem an enticing topic to adcoms at a college where admits are highly competitive. And rather than tell them it improved confidence, you need tangible examples, (woven into the essay.) A nice narrative can do it.

Relax a bit. You have months to process ideas. What sort of kids do you think characterize USC? Imo, qualities like enthusiasm, ideas you’ve put into practice, willingness to try new things or reach out to others, collaboration, etc, go further than, say, competitiveness. (I know you dropped that.) Think of assets that work well with others.

Btw, all written answers in the app convey impressions, not just the big essay.