It’s about what you learned, not what you did.
You may have a rap sheet of accomplishments, activities, jobs, and hard skills, but that is not the purpose of an essay. If the foundation or organization providing the scholarship wants a list of experiences, they will ask for a resume or a Curriculum Vitae (CV).
This essay is also not merely a list of actions you took to attain those goals, complete your job, or build your resume. It is a reflection of how those actions have impacted your life and prepared you for the future.
If the purpose of the essay is to receive a scholarship for something specific (e.g. a study abroad opportunity), you should start with that goal and work from there. However, if the purpose of the essay is to showcase you and your potential, then I recommend choosing 1-3 activities or achievements from your resume to highlight throughout the essay.
Once your goal or your activities are chosen, create a concept map. As shown in the picture below, come up with themes that surround each goal or activity. Arrows and connecting lines between concepts are encouraged, as they will assist you in crafting a fluid and cohesive paper.
My goal was to attain a scholarship for a speech-language therapy study abroad experience in Mexico through my undergraduate institution’s Communication Disorders department. I was not planning to become a speech-language pathologist (SLP), but I found ways to connect the importance of the experience to my areas of study–health science and communication disorders–and future goals of working with populations with hearing loss.
Questions to help populate your goal-driven concept map include:
- How does the goal relate to your current job or area of study?
- What will you do if you achieve your goal?
- How will this goal help you grow?
- How do the concepts on the page connect to each other?
Questions to help populate your activity or achievement-based concept map include:
- What did you do?
- What was important?
- Who was involved
- How did that activity influence your future?
- How do the concepts on the page connect to each other
A concept map does not act as an outline, but rather sparks ideas, draws connections, and narrows the focus for when you are ready to write! Once complete, you should have a better sense of direction.
As stated earlier, this essay is not a dry list of achievements, but a well crafted example of the person you are and the person you want to become. This essay is an opportunity–an opportunity to demonstrate your character, your intellect, your thought processes, and your “why”.
Character includes work ethic, empathy, integrity, and resilience among a long list of soft skills. When you describe instead of tell about an achievement that required teamwork, time-consuming tasks, or challenging situations; often these skills naturally appear.
Intellect means more than book smart. If you have a 4.0, great, put in on the resume and don’t mention it here. However, when describing an achievement, don’t be afraid to toot your own horn by featuring your ability to learn, make decisions, or analyze complex concepts.
Thought processes are demonstrated as you make connections between your past engagements and your future goals. Refer back to your concept map to remind you of those connections. You may ask yourself, “how has this activity impacted my life?” or “How will this study abroad experience help me be a better health education specialist?”
Your WHY! This might be the most important. This is your chance to answer, “so what?”. So what about your past achievements make you worthy to receive this scholarship? Why should I fund your trip to Mexico instead of another student’s? These are the questions the scholarship panel will be asking. Make this the climax of your essay, because this–if all other requirements are met–is the deciding factor in your success. This was my why:
I want to make a difference in the world, and I want to advocate for minorities, specifically those with disabilities or mental health concerns. By working with children who have developmental disabilities from orphanages and day cares in Mexico, I get to connect my passions through a multi-cultural immersion. I will work one on one with the kids, give health education lessons to the caretakers, improve my Spanish, experience 3rd world institutions, and learn from the [University] professors all of which will guide me toward the right career.
Reflection takes careful consideration of language and strong self-awareness. Welcome the opportunity to think critically!
I am specifically writing about scholarship essays, but these strategies can apply to cover letters and even recommendation letters. You are one of a kind. If you make the essay personal it WILL stand out.
These are the strategies I have personally found to increase my success with scholarship applications. However, there is no “magic bullet”. Each organization, foundation, university, or employer is looking for something a little different. Therefore, if you are in need of additional tips or specific feedback, please visit the career services office in the bottom floor of SPH and/or make an appointment with a career advisor.