Flattery Will Get You Nowhere

Flattery usually raises the same question as being overly polite does: What do you want?

Which is why it is so dangerous to include statements that are intended to flatter the school in your application essays.

Things like:

“USC has always stood for educational excellence and professional integrity.”

“Berkeley’s alumni network is the best in the Bay Area and the faculty is unmatched.”

Stuff like this doesn’t belong in your personal statement. It wreaks. It makes the adcom sigh and makes you look like a slimy brown-noser. It just doesn’t play well, plain and simple.

It comes across like you don’t have much to offer, the school does, and you want in at a place you don’t really feel you belong. Sort of like the short gangly kid in glasses peering over the tall outfield fence at the Little Leaguers practicing…”Can I play? Huh, can I? Can I? Pretty pleeeease?”

All of this is not to say that you shouldn’t highlight aspects of the school and program that really speak to you. Just don’t do it in generically flattering terms that anyone with a cursory review of their website can regurgitate.

For example, rather than “you have such beautiful eyes” (barf) think: “I grew up near the beach and your eyes remind me of sunsets.”

Sure, it’s still a little cheesy but at least it provides some insight into the complimenter rather than turning his object of affection into the main subject.

That’s the basic idea with application essays. Adcoms will be bombarded with applicants that come off as supplicants. Don’t be that guy.

Instead, match the strong points about the program with the strong points on your application. Kinda like the guy above: You got pretty eyes but I grew up on the beach–let’s talk.

Here are a few examples of how to effectively highlight a program’s strengths and demonstrate that you’ve researched it well enough to know why it’s a good fit for you, without coming across like a panting doggy begging for a treat.

Having attended a small liberal arts school and excelled scholastically in the humanities, I am especially drawn to the rigorous quantitative and analytical courses at USC’s XXXXXXX program, which will help complete the skills I now lack and translate into my goal of becoming a well-rounded strategy consultant.”

“The paper I published on Business Ethics in Third World Countries spurred an interest in public policy research that is very much in line with the research focus of Professor So N. So, with whom I intend to collaborate closely during the research phase of my graduate study.”

See? The object of affection has turned from the school to the applicant, without sacrificing a complimentary turn here and there to let the school know that they’re your first choice to take to the dance.

So, to recap:

  • No gratuitous flattery in your personal statements.
  • Match compliments to the school with flattering insights about yourself.
  • Research your program well enough to avoid generic statements about the school that they will likely be bombarded with from lesser applicants.
  • Make you the object of affection instead of the school.

Oh, and one more. This one from Lincoln–yeah, that Lincoln:

“Knavery and Flattery are blood cousins.”

Enough said.

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