How do I best answer the college application essay “describe your strengths and weaknesses”?
October 29, 2019
There is no easy answer to this but my quick response is start with strengths end with weaknesses and here is why:
Admissions Officers have to read literally thousands of applications so if you start with a weakness and its poorly worded, explained, or is just a bad example, it can turn off the reader from the start. (Read below to see why)*
The chances of you screwing up your strengths is not high, and therefore most Admissions Officers will likely be on your side from the start. But if you start with a weakness that is half-baked (i.e. I’m a perfectionist, I’m overly ambitious, I work too hard, I bite off more then I can chew), this can turn them off and they wont even get to your strengths.
If you present a GREAT strength(s) then that will get the officer even more on your side so that when it comes to your weakness, the Officer will think its ok because s/he has a great strength that can help mitigate the weakness.
To help illustrate the point, we found these two GREAT examples online for poor examples of weaknesses (the first is a strength dressed as a weakness and people will be able to see right through this. The second comes off as entirely arrogant).
My biggest weakness is probably biting off more than I can chew. I love learning new things, helping my colleagues, and being right in the thick of innovation. I usually get the hang of my job pretty quickly, which leads me to take on a lot of additional stretch projects. It’s funny how my bandwidth feels maxed but there’s always room for more!
My biggest weakness is definitely the fact that I work too much. At my previous job my boss actually had to implement a rule that I needed to be out of the office by 7pm because I was routinely staying until 9pm. I did win the award for highest sell through rate though.
So when selecting your weakness be sure to select an adequate example that can allow you to address the following:
Clearly explain the weakness so there isn’t confusion that will undermine the response.
Be honest about the weakness so it comes off as humble (NOT humble-bragging)
Demonstrate what you learned from the weakness (same if it was a mistake)