College Application Essays

Humility Goes a Long Way


Many of the students I work with are from privileged backgrounds. (Hey, it’s expensive to hire a tutor!)

They live in affluent communities, go on extravagant vacations and enjoy pricey hobbies and activities.

There’s nothing wrong with being privileged (a humble way of saying wealthy or rich).

But when you are writing about yourself in your college application essay, and want to come across as well-adjusted and likable, it helps to know if you are.

That way, you can make sure you don’t include topics, or comments, in your essays that might imply that you are spoiled, snobby, materialistic or entitled (think that you deserve more than others).

Sometimes my students have dropped in innocent comments about themselves or their lifestyles, and don’t realize that this may lead college admissions officers to make assumptions about them.

A lot is how they talk about themselves.

But there are some things you might want to think twice about including in your essay.


Here are a few.

Again, it’s not the end of the world if you reveal your lifestyle, and not everyone who has certain things or participates in certain activities is actually rich.

That said, I would think hard about whether to mention: sports or activities that cost a lot of money, world travel for pleasure only, expensive possessions, mentioning names of famous relatives or family friends and your family’s financial status.

Here are some examples of how these loaded words can slip into your essay:

When I was floating in our swimming pool

While we were scuba diving in the Bahamas…

I was out surfing in front of our beach house

During a shopping trip to Paris with my mom…

While flying to Boise in my dad’s plane

Every year we take out our sailboat off the coast of Mexico and swim with the dolphins…

We were on our second round of golf of the day at Pebble Beach

I was in the middle of my massageĀ when my dad called me…

We were eating at our favorite sushi restaurant…

(One of my students wanted to write her essay about the BMW her parents bought her for her 16th birthday. Bad idea.)

You would think that there are so many of you out there who are privileged like this–don’t all your friends and almost everyone you know go skiing or travel?–that this no longer means you are rich.

But it does. Or it can.

You just don’t happen to mingle with all the other students applying for college who have never gone skiing, or even seen snow, for that matter.

This doesn’t mean you have to feel guilty about skiing or vacationing or fancy restaurants. Just understand that these take a lot of money, and most people in the world don’t live like that. I would say there’s a 50/50 chance the person reading your college application is one of those people.

Again, no one is saying you can’t mention any of these topics; just be aware of the implications they carry.

If you write about something extravagant that you got to experience, say it with a little humility that acknowledges you understand you were lucky–as to opposed to entitled. “For my 16th birthday, I was lucky enough to get to travel to India with my family…”

If nothing else, you just want to show that you have a realistic sense of the world and your place in it.

If you are privileged, no need to hide it. Just don’t flaunt it or let on that you think everyone shares your good luck.

Check out this other post I wrote on How to Strike the Right Tone in your college application essay.

Good luck!

Leave a comment if you have a question!