As I’m anxiously awaiting to hear back from different scholarships, including the Gilman, I figured I’d post some tips for writing the essay portion of the scholarship application 😀
First off … begin EARLY. I cannot stress this enough! There is a 7,000 character limit for each essay, which amounts to about 1 1/2-2 pages of single font text. Now, that’s not a huge amount, to be sure. However, you want to allow yourself ample time for revisions and peer/advisor reading. Take advantage of your education abroad/scholarship offices if you have them!!! People are being employed for the sole purpose of helping you! Use these resources. If there aren’t any such offices on your campus, look to your university library for writing center help, or ask friends (who write well, haha) to read your essays. I consider myself to be well-written, but even so…when you go through 10-15 revisions those words all start to blur together. Fresh eyes are definitely needed after about the 4th revision. There are two essays you need to write: a statement of purpose, and a follow-on service project.
While both are weighed about the same, I’d say the statement holds slightly more sway. This is because it is a platform for connection with the scholarship committee. While you certainly want to include relevant information about your study abroad program, financial aid (or in my case, lack thereof), and other necessaries, you also want to be a little more personal than you would in academic papers.
Make connections between your academic/career goals and the abroad program. Talk about your current studies, future goals, and the program all in one bundle, and make your case as eloquently as possible. You might mention challenges you face in going abroad (for instance: it’s been hard for me to fit in study abroad b/c I’ve been super busy with two majors and a full-time job).
Introduce your major, career goal, and program right away. DON’T be tempted to write a cutesy story! The readers at Gilman have thousands of essays to get through, so be kind and put the most relevant information first. Don’t waste their time with cheap anecdotes.
Tell them why you chose your program, and be extremely specific! Why this program? Why this country? Will you get college credit during your trip? Where are you staying? Any excursions? Additional challenges? If you are studying a language, can you find total language immersion readily in your area? Difficult study abroad programs for your major? Have you ever known anyone who studied abroad? First generation college student? Significant financial difficulties? This is as much a “get to know you” essay as it is informative. Find the balance between the two. Also, if you face a lot of difficulties…do try to express them in a positive light, as something that you will overcome through hard work, academic merit, etc. Don’t beg! Writing a sob story is going to seem cheap. Nobody likes a beggar 😉
Okay, so here the final version of my statement of purpose:
The impact that a single life can have on many others is an experience educators across the world are privileged to take part in, and this ability to positively influence students’ futures is why I have chosen to pursue dual degrees in both music education as well as literature at the University of South Florida. In the journey to fulfilling my passions of teaching and educative research, I have become aware of how very small our world really is. With the advent of impressively efficient technologies of communication, globalization has become less of an idea and more of a reality. For this reason, I feel it is my duty as an educator to become acquainted with as many different languages and cultures around our world as possible. This desire to be a well-rounded educator is what drew me to the USF in Russia: Intensive Language & Culture Program.
The study abroad program sponsored by my university suits both my academic and professional needs perfectly. I have been diligently working on both degrees so that I can readily be able to teach either discipline: music or literature. This dedication has made it difficult to find time to study abroad, as I’ve been involved with fulfilling requirements for both degrees during the academic year. The USF in Russia program takes place over the summer, which means it does not interfere with my strenuous academic commitments at USF. More importantly, the design of the program allows for an ideal “trifecta” directly related to my academic and career goals: critical language study, cultural immersion, and relevant, investigative research in music education.
The program features about twenty hours of intensive language study of Russian at Lomonosov Moscow State University, a highly respected academic institution both in the Russian Federation and abroad. There, I will be taking a six credit course in Intermediate Russian language. While Russian is offered at the classroom level at USF, there are no opportunities in my area for language immersion. Being able to travel to the Russian capital, where I will be taught by Russian professors in a small classroom setting, will allow me to take my foundational language study to a higher level that can then be confidently employed in my future classroom. Shrinking school budgets in our country that have led to language study cuts threaten students’ futures as well as national security when thought of in connection to our globalizing world. Even more, if a school is lucky enough to have a language department, non-western languages such as Russian are not likely to be offered. This foreign language deficit is highly unfair, and unsafe, in my opinion. Therefore, becoming fluent in as many languages as possible allows me to incorporate language study into my curriculum if it is not offered at my school.
The second benefit to the program is the valuable cultural study. Key historical and cultural sites of Moscow such as museums, churches, and parks will be visited and studied as part of a three credit course on Russian culture and civilization. Exceptional components of this study also involve a weekend excursion planned for St. Petersburg, and the witnessing of “Victory Day,” one of Russia’s most loved holidays, which celebrates the end of World War II in Europe and honors the fallen Russian soldiers. The opportunity to partake in direct cultural study of the religion, architecture, food, music, and history of a country that is still somewhat shrouded in mystery to the U.S. is critical to my academic and career goals of language acquisition and educative research, which will both be greatly enhanced by cultural immersion.
The last, and perhaps most important, reason the USF in Russia program is perfect for my goals concerns the independent undergraduate research that I intend to conduct. In addition to language and cultural study, I will also be involved in two related research projects. The first involves study of pre-service music education, and will measure the effect that different pedagogical practices have on the success of music education students. This study will be conducted both quantitatively and qualitatively, and was pioneered in part by my research mentor, Dr. Clint Randles. Dr. Randles collaborated with music education researchers in England and Finland, producing studies published in two respected international music education journals. Arrangement for the duplication of the quantitative data in Russia is already underway, and a qualitative study of the same ideas will take place when I go into a few of Moscow’s music schools, such as the Ippolitov-Ivanov State Musical and Pedagogical Institute, for firsthand observation of Russian music pedagogy. In addition, there is a smaller practical study I will take part in which will involve the researching of music education practices in a few of the Russian capital’s primary music schools, in order to investigate the parallels between similar arts crises here in the United States and in the Russian Federation. Both countries currently suffer from a dwindling presence of support for music education, and there is very little research that has been done to compare the problem the two countries share. I have built these research projects into my free time in Russia, and my research mentor and I feel very confident that the data will be relatively easy to collect. A great deal of pre-research will be done during the spring semester prior to the summer trip, and a USF Russian faculty member (Dr. Olga Oleynik) has agreed to help with my admittance to the various music schools while I am in Moscow.
Participation in this program comes at a high cost, and adds to the most difficult challenge I have faced as a student – the financial one. Working on two degrees will ultimately lead to my being a more informed educator, but has come at a great price that I have been struggling to keep pace with. Both of my parents passed away before I entered college, and so I have been financially independent for my entire university career. Even with federal loans and a Pell Grant, I have had to hold a full time job in order to pay for my living expenses and leftover costs of attending university. Because of this financial strain, I have had to sacrifice both personal time and pleasure for the greater good. My participation in the study abroad program will only add to this burden, and the Gilman Scholarship would greatly help to relieve some of the cost.
I foresee this study abroad experience having an immensely positive effect on not only my life, but the lives of my future students. The experience will help me to become a competitive applicant in the education job pool, but more importantly – it will directly aid in my dream of becoming a well-rounded educator who will be able to compassionately pass on knowledge and values to a new generation, preparing them to proudly represent the United States in the world conversation.
Okay, so you have your statement. Now all you need is to perfect your follow-on service project. This is where your creativity and marketing skills will be tested. The follow-on is, above all, an advertisement. It’s all about getting the word out about this amazing scholarship opportunity. A report on this project will be required within six months of your return to the US, so make sure it’s feasible. To convince the Gilman readers that your project can be carried out, use specifics. Dates, contact information, relevant research, etc.
Keep it personal by sticking to your interests and activities. Consider writing blogs, holding workshops, doing newspaper columns. Go to schools and speak to students. Speak at a conference. These are just examples, but the idea is to find something like them and then mold it into something unique that fits you as a person.
Provide as many details as possible! Think of this essay as a legitimate business proposal, and not a vague idea you’re just tossing around. Who is your target audience? Who do you think your project will reach? When will you carry out your ideas, and how many people will it reach, and it what amount of time? Where will you advertise? Consider the following departments that may be on your campus: Scholarship office, education abroad office, housing/residential, libraries, etc.
Again, here is what I did:
Receiving a Gilman scholarship can help finance a significant portion of my study abroad program, and so I want to have as much of an impact as possible when the time comes to give back. I would like to take advantage of the accessibility inherent in our technological world by creating an educative, informative blog detailing the Gilman Scholarship as well as my academic, research, and personal experiences while abroad. I intend to implement a marketing plan to ensure that my blog is seen by as many Gilman-eligible students as possible.
A significant portion of the blog will be constructed prior to my departure, and will continue to be maintained while I am abroad. I intend to highlight not only my sincere gratitude for the Gilman’s support, but also set aside a section entirely devoted to the process of applying for the scholarship. There are many brochures, flyers, videos, and the like which are offered by the Gilman but which not all colleges/universities may know about. Scans and links to these aids will be put on the blog. It is a sad fact that there are many colleges in my state (indeed, around the country!) which do not have a scholarship office. Or, if such assistance is available to students, many offices may not be familiar with the particulars of this generous scholarship. Therefore, I believe that a combination of detailed instructions about the application process, links to the Gilman Scholarship website, and personal anecdotes about my search for funding will prove to be a reliable source of information for students who were not as blessed as I was to have an informed scholarship office on campus. In addition to information concerning the Gilman Scholarship, I will also be providing information about my personal experiences while in Russia, updates on the research I will be conducting, and pictures of the trip.
As a native Floridian, I have chosen to target my home state with this blog. My goal is to provide access to the Gilman Scholarship to as many students as I possibly can. Therefore, I propose to send the link to my blog to the proper contacts/administrators of each and every college and university in my state. For a majority of higher education institutions, I will contact their study abroad advisors. In the event that there is no study abroad office, then scholarship advisors will be contacted next, followed by academic advisors and/or deans of student affairs if the college/university also lacks a scholarship office. I’ve already written an introductory email, which I will email along with the link to each higher education facility in Florida. A full list of colleges/universities in Florida is easily found on the internet through a search engine, all with links to official websites that lead to the needed contact information. I plan to send 10 emails a week starting in June after I return from Russia. Florida has 124 colleges/universities, which means this commitment will be accomplished in about twelve weeks, or mid-August 2013.
The reasoning for this endeavor is simple: while it may appear that one higher education facility is more privileged than another, the fact remains that there will always be at least one person there who is in need of the assistance that the Gilman scholarship provides. As a student at the eighth largest university in our nation, the University of South Florida, I myself could have easily slipped through the cracks without knowledge of the Gilman Scholarship had I not been proactively searching for a way to fund the cost of my program attendance. Many colleges/universities in Florida do not have an office specifically set aside for scholarships, or even a study abroad department. As it was, even at a university as large as USF, with as many resources as I had, I almost didn’t hear about the Gilman. I sincerely feel that each and every student should be privy to this scholarship opportunity, and the easiest and most efficient way to accomplish this task is through the most accessible and convenient vehicle to the modern student – the internet. I strongly feel that every student should not miss an opportunity to better themselves through an education abroad experience just because they lack the financial means to do so.
Of course, this success all relies on students’ willingness to read the information I will write in my blog. Therefore, I have specifically chosen to employ the user-friendly WordPress blog template. Large, successful companies and news media franchises like The New York Times, CNN, GM, Ebay, and Forbes all use WordPress for the same reason – it offers attractive, easily navigable websites. I can add pictures and share videos of my study abroad experience with ease, creating an intriguing and compelling blog that students will want to read through. Another sizable selling point of the WordPress blog tool is the fact that viewers can contact me by commenting and/or asking questions directly on the blog itself. If there should be any confusion about how to properly go about applying for a Gilman scholarship, I will be able to either answer their inquiries or put them in touch with someone who can.
I am of the solid opinion that change inspires change. Immersion in one of our world’s many cultures is an experience that I believe can alter an individual for the better. Students become aware of their part in the global experience, and learn of others’ involvement as well. I feel this enlightenment makes for more understanding that can spark change in our world for the better, even in the smallest way. To view of glimpse of the change that I envision, I have created a preliminary sample of my blog, which can be found at https://tamarasineinmoscow.wordpress.com/about/.
So there you have it 🙂 I would also like to add that the Gilman website itself offers a ton of essay help, including videos and webinars! Check it out!