college application essay

Photo Via Goop


This might seem random, but I found some powerful writing advice on the blog of Gwyneth Paltrow that I believe is relevant to students writing their college application essays, and others, especially women.

The woman Paltrow recently featured in her blog, Goop, had some opinions about how women have unconscious habits in their speech and writing that cause them to come across as less confident and competent.

And they hit me hard.

When I thought about it, I was surprised how my lingering insecurities and self-esteem issues still creep into my writing, and even how I talk.

So I thought you might would find them interesting, too.

Tara Mohr has written a book, Playing Big, about how women can “step into their power” by breaking certain patterns that self-sabotage their success.

Here are some examples she shared in a recent interview on Goop.

I am guilty of ALL of these (notice my strike outs in this post!), and think you should check your own habits when it comes to communicating about yourself, especially in your college admissions essays):

Here are some of the “little things” women do in speech and writing that aren’t really “little.” In fact, they have a huge impact in causing us to come across as less competent and confident:

  1. Inserting just: “I just want to check in and see…” “I just think…” Just tends to make us sound a little apologetic and defensive about what we’re saying. Think about the difference between the sound of “I just want to check in and see…” and “I want to check in and see…” or the difference between “I just think” and “I think…”
  2. Inserting actually: “I actually disagree…” “I actually have a question.” It actually makes us sound surprised that we disagree or have a question—not good!
  3. Using qualifiers: “I’m no expert in this, but…” or “I know you all have been researching this for a long time, but…” undermines your position before you’ve even stated your opinion.
  4. Asking, “Does that make sense?” or “Am I making sense?”: I used to do this all the time. We do it with good intentions: We want to check in with the other people in the conversation and make sure we’ve been clear. The problem is, “does that make sense” comes across either as condescending (like your audience can’t understand) or it implies you feel you’ve been incoherent.A better way to close is something like “I look forward to hearing your thoughts.” You can leave it up to the other party to let you know if they are confused about something, rather than implying that you “didn’t make sense.”

Another habit I have noticed that snuck into my vocabulary is to end sentences with the word, “Right?” And many of my friends are doing the same thing.

Are guys doing this? Just curious.

You have to admit it sends out a sense of insecurity about whatever preceded it, right? (Maybe it’s a California thing.)

I don’t know how many times on this blog I have used the word “just,” and actually try to edit them out.

Or how many times I have said, “I’m not an expert, but…” Wow! Hey, I know my stuff, and I need to stop apologizing for it.

And you should, too.

Especially when writing your college application essays because you are writing about yourself—so how can you be wrong about what you have to say?

So, ladies, and anyone else with a tendency to subordinate yourself for whatever reason when you communicate, let’s try to cut this out.

(One possible exception: When writing college application essays, students sometimes need to tout their accomplishments and use qualifiers to make sure they still come across as humble. “I might not be the best swimmer, but that day I won the most important race.” I think this is okay.)

Here are a couple other empowering quotes from Ms. Mohr:

“Most women are unconsciously using these speech habits to soften our communications, to try to ensure we don’t get labeled—as women often do—as bitchy, aggressive, or abrasive.”

and this

“In our culture, an outspoken, confident woman is probably not going to be liked by everyone all the time.”

I think I might have to will buy her book!

college application essay

Ready to start writing? Check out How to Write a College Application in 3 Steps! 

Also, if you have any questions, please leave a comment! I LOVE comments!!