Recognize your pretentious verbal hairballs
I’ve had more than one language-loving writing student who falls in love with a pretentious phrase in their college application essay.
Like, in looooooooooooove.
Those phrases are likely to offend a reader’s sensibility, and I mark them with skull and crossbones right away. I explain the problem with other examples:
(A) “Wherefore was I this way?” Wherefore?
Stop. Romeo will not be one of your admissions readers. He lost his mind over way more important things.
(B) “All I could see was the ever-loosening latticework of my sneakers”?
Stop. You were looking at your shoelaces. They are laces and they are on your shoe. They happen to criss-cross.
(C) “I was ensconced in my rumination about my perambulations in the rectangular hospital corridors?”
Hmmm, really? Just stop. I need a respirator to get through that doozy. Were you thinking about the nights you spent walking in circles in the hospital?
Usually we can hear others’ pretentious wording, but not our own. Most of us actually have a pretty good ear, and pretty strong distaste, when we are not the one who wrote it.
Drop the Pretense
Often, pretentiousness is a cover; in fact, that’s all it ever is.
But a good admissions essay takes your cover OFF.
You are better served to leave pretentious phrases for your private enjoyment; no one is stopping you.
In a college essay, your deepest goal should be to have something real to say, and to be as honest, though elegant, as you can be. And honesty is best registered through simplicity and clarity.
I’ve helped many students who clutch to this or that phrase loosen their grips and I know the pain of it. You’ll be white-knuckled for a bit until you get used to the substitute phrase, the one that “just” says what you mean.
After all, most of us are not pretentious to be jerks– we want to appear smart, cultured, and we want our words to stick out, to strike the ear, to sound intentional and brilliant.
But, trust me– otherwise your essay becomes like that verbose dude at the party everyone is trying their best to edge away.
Don’t be that: find your simplest way to tell your story, with a vocabulary that suits, for example, how you might write an email on an important topic to someone of descent intelligent whose opinions you respect.
Write like you know you’re smart, not like you’re trying to prove it.
You’re already talking about what YOU know the most about: your life story. So no need to add anything except the vulnerability and reflectiveness that makes your essay hit home.
Help, I can’t tell if my essay is pretentious!
Contact us for compassionate, swift advice. It can be hard to hear someone challenge your hard-won phrases when you’re aiming to impress. But we know the bigger point is: you’ve got something important to say, and you want to make sure the reader gets it.
Loosen yourself from your wherefores, and we promise you’ll be happy with the essay that results.