Although we often offer a “how to” and a “how not to” example when discussing business school application essays, we cannot present a simple illustration of our advice this time. This is because our focus today is on humor, which is nuanced and can be deemed appropriate only with a full understanding of the context in which it is presented. Therefore, we offer merely a strong suggestion: be very careful when using humor in your essays. The line between being funny and coming across as immature, inappropriate, or even careless is a very fine one.
In our view, the writers who use humor best are those who possess the skill to appear clever or witty and are not striving to portray themselves as stand-up comics. Your essays are not the proper venue in which to showcase your latest routine, though a mildly self-deprecating anecdote with humorous undertones could help reveal your personality if well executed. Keep in mind that humor itself is not the goal of your essay but part of your broader story and message. If you have a strong voice and can use humor with subtlety, then proceed—but even then, do so with caution and ensure that you get an honest, solid critique before you submit your final draft.