It’s that time of year again: Time to submit scholarship and admission applications! This is always a frustrating time for students, because there are so many extras involved in the application process. Asking for recommendation letters, writing essays, and composing the ever-ambiguous purpose statement can lead to what I like to call “application freak-out.” Application freak-out can be seen in students who email their professors 40 times a week to check on the status of their recommendation letters, who develop carpal tunnel syndrome from writing and re-writing essays, and who come into the Writing Center completely stumped about what scholarship/admission boards are looking for in their purpose statements. The good news is that we can help with your essays and purpose statements. Here are some general tips
1. Do your research about the program or scholarship you’re applying for. If you’re applying for the Jane Doe Scholarship, it’s helpful to know who Jane Doe is or was, and what qualities the recipient of the award should possess. Likewise, you may find it helpful to research the academic institution you’re applying to. What are the qualities they value in students? How diverse is the campus? What kind of work have the professors in your future department done? Incorporating this information into your essay or purpose statement shows that you’re serious about this particular scholarship or program you’re applying for, and personalizes your submission so it doesn’t seem like you’re sending the same thing to many places (even if you are, and simply change the relevant information).
2. Many people find it difficult to “brag” about their accomplishments. Modesty is a great quality to possess, but in essays and purpose statements, it is more important to stand out from the rest of the applicants. Why should you receive this scholarship or be admitted to this program instead of someone else? The majority of the applicants are going to say that they are hard workers. However, if you’re a hard worker, your accomplishments will show it. Instead of saying, “I’m a hard worker,” say, “I worked three jobs, was the president of the Garden Club, and maintained a 4.0 grade point average.” Be careful not to go overboard, though—Stick to the facts you can back up with evidence, not magnanimous claims about your awesomeness (even if they’re true).
3. Another thing to think about when writing scholarship essays and purpose statements is your personal experience. What life lessons have you learned from your academic endeavors? For example, “College has taught me that I possess strong leadership skills.” Don’t limit yourself to academics: What motivated you to seek a degree in your particular field? For example, “Having a family member with special needs motivated me to become a nursing student.” You’re looking for a “hook” that ties your accomplishments and experience together to make a memorable impression on your readers. However, be careful about including too much unsolicited personal information, such as graphic details about your checkered past as a Go-Go dancer.
Scholarship essays and purpose statements are serious undertakings. With these pieces of writing, you are marketing yourself in a favorable light to people you may not ever meet, and most likely won’t get feedback from. Think about the image you want to convey, and how you can make your application stand out from the crowd in a good way. And, of course, bring your drafts into the Writing Center to get constructive feedback from an objective audience before you send your completed application off into the world on its own.