Scholarship Applications: Tell Your Story

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much…

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot… But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did NOT!…

The opening lines of these three works—Star Wars, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas—all have one thing in common: Within the first sentence, they take you on an unforgettable journey. Despite all of them being far from realistic, you’re able to connect with these characters from the get-go.

What does this have to do with scholarship applications? Writing an essay for a scholarship is less about your accomplishments and more about the story you tell—your story.

Telling My Story

Last year, a professor told me about the ASHFoundation’s NSSLHA scholarship. The requirements—write an essay, submit a copy of your resume, and get letters of recommendation—seemed a little daunting at first. However, it would all be worth it if I received one of the $5,000 scholarships!

I’d applied for scholarships before and didn’t get them; so, this time, I put aside my fears, and focused on telling my story.

The ASHFoundation provided the prompt, which focused on what I considered to be my future setting as an SLP. There were multiple issues to address in the prompt: my ideal work setting, the population I would serve, and issues I may encounter in the workforce, just to name a few. There was a five-page limit and I was expected to cite research in my essay. No matter how daunting the task felt, I reminded myself that I needed to tell my story.

Coming up with a memorable moment to start my essay was difficult. There wasn’t a specific moment that inspired me to become an SLP. I never had a speech or language disorder as a child. However, I remembered a moment where a young child asked me to play with him, and I declined because I felt like I had more pressing matters to deal with. In reality, my “pressing matters” were simply homework assignments. They weren’t nearly as important as taking time to be with this child.

While this story isn’t a huge event in my life, it caused me to reconsider my priorities. My career coach taught me that scholarship reviewers want to know more about how I grew as a result of my experiences, and less about unnecessary details. So, I decided to end my essay with what I would do if I met this child again—of course, I’d take the time to play with him.

I thought the 5-page limit would be a struggle, and it actually ended up being only 3 ½ pages long! But again, I wanted to focus on telling my story. I didn’t want the readers to be bored by going into a lot of unnecessary details just to meet a page requirement. I wanted to leave them wanting more.

5 Tips for Telling Your Story

Whether you’re applying for an ASHFoundation scholarship, writing a grad admissions essay, or something else, I have some tips to help tell your story in the most engaging way possible:

  1. Take the time to write out your specific goals as a future SLP or audiologist. Focus on the population(s) you want to work with, the setting you’re most excited about, and how you want to benefit the community.
  2. Think of a memorable and personal story you can tell. It doesn’t have to be extraordinary, but it does have to help the reader connect with you. It can be as simple as that time you read a book to a child you were babysitting, helping your grandma after she had a stroke, or overcoming a personal struggle.
  3. Once you have your goals and story in mind, intertwine elements of them throughout your essay—make the connections—especially at the end.
  4. When writing your story, really discern how much information you tell readers. Don’t go off the rails and tell them so much that they lose interest. But make sure you tell enough that shows them how you’ve become (or hope to become) a better person as a result. Think about how your story, goals, and why your applying [to the scholarship, grad program, etc.] relate.
  5. Find a career coach or someone with editing experience. Meet with them to discuss improvements to your drafts. Yes, you’ll have many drafts! Your university probably has someone who can help you free of charge.

Remember: When people are reading your scholarship essay, they’re looking to invest their money in you. Do what you can to connect with them through your storytelling and sharing how your experiences in life have made you a good candidate for their scholarship.

At the end of the Harry Potter saga, J.K. Rowling concludes the unforgettable journey with the simple statement, “All was well.” The same can be true for you as you tell your story in your scholarship essays. Give it your best shot, and in the end, all will be well.

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