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Essays

The essays are, quite possibly, the single most important part of your application, because they are the only opportunity for you to speak directly to the funder.

Personal essays for scholarships, fellowships, and grants are very different from academic essays.  Both types are persuasive essays, but these essays are selling something specific -- YOU.  How do you make your personal essay work hard for you?

  • Talk before you write.  Meet with the award's campus adviser and Roy Jo Sartin, the Writing Center Specialist, to discuss what the funder is looking for in the essays.  
  • Reflect.  Think about your motivations.  What has brought you to this place that you are applying for this opportunity?  What has prepared you to undertake this opportunity?  How does this opportunity fit into your larger goals?
  • Show, don't tell.  Stories are more effective at explaining your qualities and passions than statements.  What have you done that shows your interests?  What has happened to you that demonstrates your motivations?  What examples can you give of your character?  Use this Story Brainstorm worksheet to generate stories.
  • Make an argument.  Use your stories as evidence for your argument.  Your argument answers the question, Why are you the perfect fit for this opportunity?  Use this Story Organizer to help you find the argument that connects your stories.

Some fellowships and grants require you to write a project proposal, which can be similar to a research proposal.  How do you write an effective project proposal?

  • Talk before you write.  Meet with the award's campus adviser and Roy Jo Sartin, the Writing Center Specialist, to discuss what the funder is looking for in the essays.
  • Think through your project.  What do you hope to gain from this project?  How will you accomplish this?  What is this project's significance? This Project Proposal handout shows the major components of most project proposals.

For either of these essays, keep the following writing tips in mind:

  • Be clear and concise.  Clarity counts for more than creativity of vocabulary.  And focus on quality over quantity -- most essays are limited in length, so make every word count.
  • Draft, revise, repeat.  Never turn in a first draft.  Expect to draft, revise, and repeat, multiple times.  Most successful applicants revise drafts close to a dozen times in order to get a document that is dense with information yet reads effortlessly and engagingly.
  • Get feedback.  Lots of it, from interested readers.  Ask the award's campus adviser, previous applicants, Roy Jo Sartin the Writing Center Specialist, Writing Center tutors, professors, and mentors for their ideas.  Your essay will improve with each reading.