Write Your Story II

Last week, I wrote about a friend of mine, a stay-at home mom, who is returning to school after a lengthy hiatus. She was looking to see what scholarship opportunities might currently be available for students seeking last minute funding for the upcoming semester. Unfortunately, I had to tell her that I was unaware of any scholarship programs that accept applications this close to the beginning of the academic year. Since most scholarship programs work with a 9-12 month lead time, scholarships given for the 2015-2016 academic year, were accepted between August and November of 2014. While this year’s scholarship season is almost at an end, next year’s scholarship season is right around the corner. Therefore, the time to begin your preparation is now. As you prepare, remember that an important component of your application is the personal essay.

If you are like most students applying for scholarship funding, the personal essay section can feel overwhelming. You are comfortable with your grades and test scores, your extracurricular activities, and even your letters of recommendation, but you feel something is lacking when you tell your story. The source of this problem is found in our constant need to compare ourselves to others. We hear about the background of our peers, read website interviews, or listen to the “feel-good” portion of the ten o’clock news portraying students who have overcome extreme adversity and we say to ourselves, “I cannot compete with that,” or “my story is not exciting.” The fact of the matter is, very few student stories could be filmed for the next edition of the news, but they can be written in a compelling fashion, one that portrays you as a unique individual, worthy of scholarship funds. Such was the case of this “Mom Returning to School.” While she too did not see her story as one that could separate her from the crowd, after we found what was unique to her story, it is hard to say that hers is merely ordinary.

“Jane” is currently a stay-at-home mom. While I’m sure in today’s day and age that presents a mental picture of an all day vacation, this is hardly the case. During the day, “Jane” homeschools her daughters. This process began almost two years ago, when “Jane” realized that the surrounding schools were failing and would not adequately educate her children. Rather than send her daughters to subpar schools, she researched and found a curriculum, created lessons plans, and retrofitted a room in the house into something you would find in any kindergarten thru fourth grade class. When she is not educating her children, she is taking care of the home: cooking, cleaning, etc., enabling her husband the time and opportunity to focus on his new career.

Prior to deciding to stay at home, “Jane” had been the primary income and benefit provider for her family for over ten years. During that time, she withdrew from school and worked full-time, providing the necessary stability for her husband to attain not one, not two, but three (bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD) degrees. He is now fulfilling his dream as a professor at a college, but this would not have been possible without her unwavering support.

“Jane” has dreamed of owning her own business, a putt-putt course to be specific. While she no doubt could have begun the dream of entrepreneurship without a college degree, she sought the counsel of successful business owners, who suggested she return to school. So while classes are often merely theoretical for students, the courses “Jane” is taking are immediately applied to her future business.

So what can you take from the above descriptions and apply to your personal essays?

  • First, you are not nearly as bland or boring as you think you are. Be willing to unpack the mundane to demonstrate your unique twist on life.
  • Second, you have a story that is told through experiences that are unique to you. These stories are able to articulate character qualities (commitment, motivated, sacrificial) more vividly than merely providing a listing of your strengths.
  • Third, do not be afraid to be vulnerable. Often, our greatest victories are built upon the ashes of our greatest failures and setbacks; there is great strength in knowing and acknowledging your weaknesses.
  • Fourth, be you. Do not try to take someone else’s story and make it your own. .
  • Fifth, do not focus on what you are not. Remember, your distinction is found in your differentiation. Do not turn your differences into a disadvantage.

In the end, you need to realize that you— your life, your experiences, and your wants, wishes, and desires for your life— are enough to warrant scholarship consideration. Are you struggling through an essay question? I would be happy to help you work through it. Click here to get in contact with me.