In November 2019 I received the fantastic news that I had been awarded a scholarship to help fund my studies while at Oxford. Since then I’ve had a number of people asking how I did it, and what advice I would give to other professionals looking to complete applications for courses and funding. If this is you, here’s what i’d suggest…
Even if the deadline is months away, it’s never to early to get cracking on your application. My application closing date was in September, but I made a start in June, giving me plenty of time to think about the application essay questions and work through a couple of drafts.
Reflect upon your life story
I needed to answer three short essay questions: two for my course application and a third for the scholarship. I took some time to think about why each question was being asked (what are they really after? Evidence of motivations? Background? Individuality?), before planning the main thrust of my responses.
To identify the key points I wished to make, I reflected upon my own life story and the experiences that had made me who I was. I noted down the things that had shaped my world-view, and the passions that drove me forward in life. I also thought about how I could contribute to the world, and what I could teach others to help them overcome their own obstacles. In essence, I simply planned to show the reviewers who I really was, and crafted my responses around conveying this.
DO NOT RUSH THIS PART, as I believe that the way you plan and structure your replies will make all the difference between an OK application and a great one.
Work through several drafts, and take time out
This is where starting early really helps. Once i’d planned the structure I started working on my drafts, following the outline i’d created beforehand and getting some text down for each essay. Once i’d finished all three to my satisfaction I walked away. Quite literally. Downing my pen and leaving it sit for days/weeks. When I came back to the text with fresh eyes, the weaknesses in the drafts really stood out, giving me plenty of time revise, and go through the whole process again.
Gather a crack team of essay checkers…
A bit like when the Avengers Assemble, outcomes can be massively improved when others help out! In my case I roped in my sister and a mate to review my later drafts, with instructions to not hold back on their constructive criticism. They didn’t disappoint! Questioning the meaning of certain paragraphs, picking out typos, and helping me see my own writing in a newer, clearer way. Finding out how others viewed my responses TRULY made a difference, and I feel is the best thing you can do to understand how your work may be perceived.
...but don’t accept everything they say!
My sister really took exception to the way i’d written couple of passages in my essays, but after considering her comments I left them as they were. Everyone’s preferred writing style is different, and what’s great to some is awful to others. There’s no way (and no need) to second guess anyone on this point. If you feel your words say what you want in the way that you want, then don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Which leads me nicely to my final point…
Speak with your own voice
Do not allow anyone else to take over the writing process, and limit the input of others to constructive criticism and typo spotting. You are the best person to tell your unique and intriguing story, so make sure it’s you that’s doing the talking and not someone else (after all, writing convincing essays is part and parcel of most coursework these days, so you’d better get used to it!)
Good luck, and good writing!