Ivy league colleges

Bragging Hurts Your Chances of Admission

“Who knows himself a braggart, let him fear this, for it will come to pass that every braggart shall be found an ass” — Shakespeare.

Bragging on occasion is normal human behavior, so everyone who’s ever bragged isn’t a braggart. But some people brag every time they open their mouths and others never brag. In their way of thinking, “Pride goeth before a fall”, and modesty is a virtue.

Excessive bragging is considered a negative feature of one’s personality. Narcissist, egotist, blowhard, gasbag, and windbag are just some of the pejorative terms used to refer to braggarts. They’re described as arrogant, conceited, vain, egocentric, and haughty. This is definitely not how you want to be perceived by others, least of all by the college admissions officials who review your application.

There’s irony in the fact that although we readily recognize braggadocio in others, we’re often slow to recognize it in ourselves. High self-esteem, normally a healthy attribute, often encourages us to agree with baseball legend Dizzy Dean, who observed, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”  Such a belief should be put aside in your campaign for acceptance by top-tier colleges.

You need to exhibit self-confidence to make the desired impression on an application reviewer, one that will have a positive impact by making you distinctive and memorable. Yet if your message contains anything that even resembles bragging, you risk making a negative impression on your reviewers that could result in rejection.

Rejection isn’t the end of the world. If you apply to about eight reach schools, as we at IvySelect recommend, chances are that you’ll be rejected by at least some of them. But there’s no need to court trouble. There are other ways that you can tout your best qualities and accomplishments without resorting to overt, in-your-face bragging.

Opportunities to brag present themselves in interviews, resumes, on the Common App’s Activities List, and in essays. Below are some tips to avoid bragging while remaining upbeat about your qualifications for admission:

  • Come across as likable. An unlikable student will have a difficult time gaining admission to highly selective colleges no matter how good their academic record may be. The admissions committee has many other applicants who are equally well qualified but may seem more likely than you to fit in with their other students.
  • Let others brag about you. Remember that your teachers or others who are writing letters of recommendation can sing your praises while you remain modest. Make sure they do. Likewise a School Report written by your high school guidance counselor.
  • Describe what you did, not what you are. Which sounds better, “I’m a great humanitarian” or “I founded and set up a food bank in my church’s basement after the hurricane that remains in operation today”? One of the problems caused by bragging is the question of whether something you say about yourself can be verified by your audience. How do they know you’re telling the truth when you claim to have some commendable characteristic? If you make such a claim but don’t provide an outcome as evidence, they must rely on your word alone. When bragging is based on your self-report without evidence, you won’t be believed.
  • Share the glory. For example, in the above reference to the founding of a food bank, it’s recommended that you add something like, “…with the cooperation and assistance of other caring people in the congregation”.
  • Be kind. Never say anything negative about another person or organization. The school will prefer not to have a highly judgmental person in their student body. There are other ways to convey an idea without disparaging anyone.
  • Although you want to sound confident of yourself and your accomplishments, avoid preening.

According to our culture’s social norms, people are supposed to be modest, so those who aren’t modest upset the expectations of others. Impression management, which is an art practiced by successful applicants to elite colleges, is all about subtly leading others to view you favorably. If an admissions officials thinks you’re trying too hard, they’ll be turned off, as in, “Methinks he doth protest too much”. You’ll achieve the exact opposite of the desired effect.

There are parts of your application, especially essays, through which you have an opportunity to reveal your best self to an Ivy League or other elite institution. Your message needs to appeal to admissions officers twice over. First, you need to grab their attention with story and style. Next, your message must motivate them to advocate for your acceptance. In this effort, remember that bragging turns them off while likability and kindness encourage them.

IvySelect’s thorough understanding of the admissions process at top-tier colleges is what sets us above other private college admissions consulting firms. We coach you to avoid bragging in all elements of your application. Most importantly, based on our deep expertise, we help you craft the best possible essays — essays that convince admissions officials that you’ll make a fine addition to their student body.