Fluffing up yourself: scholarships and query letters

Dear Daughter has been working on scholarships recently, which has meant a lot of essays.

“I can’t write about myself,” she wails. “It seems so pompous and uppity.”

Yeah, making yourself look good on paper can feel a bit like you’re patting your own back. The trick is doing it in a way that highlights your accomplishments, passions and future plans without sounding like a one-upper.

How is this possible?

VERBS. Your verb choice is your best friend. Consider a line from one of Dear Daughter’s application.

I got first place at speech subsections.

True, but got isn’t her best option.

Received. A better choice by far, but still doesn’t reference the hard work that went into that First Place win.

Her final version: I earned a First Place medal at speech subsections.

All of those versions mean basically the same thing: she came home from a tournament with a first place. However, the connotations behind them morph her from a passive recipient to a hard-working, motivated medalist.

SPECIFICS. Adding the right details can also go a long way in making you sound like a great candidate without fluffing up your feathers. The simple addition of “medal” in the above statement makes Dear Daughter’s accomplishment feel more robust and prestigious.

CONSISTENCY. Far too often, we write as we speak. This can land us in a world of inconsistent patterns that are not noticeable when talking, but can be extremely distracting on paper. Punctuation and sentence structure while discussing similar ideas or listing activities or skills is super important. A comma here a semi-colon there. Added up, they prove you have no attention to detail–a desirable trait in writers, employees and scholarship recipients. Show your attention to detail by how you present your information, as this is far more impressive than reading the line, “I am detail oriented.”

TASK TALK, NOT BRAGGING RIGHTS. My daughter could easily say, “I’m one of the best students in my class,” or “I’m smart,” or “I rock at speech.” If she used these or similar phrases, she would just as easily turn off every committee considering her for scholarships.

Instead, she–and we–need to focus on what she’s learned or what she’s accomplished. For instance: “I rank in the top ten percent of my class.” Or, “Speech has provided me with strong communication skills as demonstrated by my various medals and honors over the past three years.”

So, while puffing up your chest on paper might feel awkward at first, concentrating on what you did (not who you think you are or want to be) and presenting it in a concise manner will help you remain in the running for top jobs, scholarships and book deals.

What other resume, scholarship or query writing tips do you have to make yourself stand out as a viable candidate, not a bragster?

Curious minds want to know.

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