In April 2016, I won a full scholarship from the National Council of Social Services (Singapore) to read Social Work in the University of Nottingham.
I thought I would take the chance to share the examples from my scholarship essay that helped me to get into the interview. I hope students reading this will have a clearer guide on how to write their own scholarship essays.
Whilst the scholarship essays from Singapore might differ to other countries, I provide principles here to guide your writing. Throughout this article, I will also include examples from my own personal scholarship essay application. Through this, I hope you gain better ideas on how to use them for yourself.
Writing a scholarship essay can seem unnerving. For one, they ask many why questions. They also seem to expect you to know what you are going to do with your life in 5 years’ time. You might not even know what you are going to do with your life tomorrow!
1. Include stories
A public speaking coach once told me, ‘Facts tell, stories sell.’ Humans are story-telling creature. Without stories, our lives would be less rich. But more importantly, without stories, we make less of an impact on the panel of assessors reading through our applications.
When you tell your story, try to keep it to one. Unless it’s a full essay, including only one will help you to go in-depth into the story.
Focus on the things you did that might relate to social work. What impact did it make?
Write about what others might have said of your contributions.
2. Ask someone else to read through your essay.
Example 1: About yourself
During Sunday afternoons, I volunteer my time with the intellectually disabled, and see them as no more different from any of us. One of my most impactful moments came when I was teaching one of the trainees how to write in block letters. We are trying out the alphabet “A”. After the umpteenth time, he looks at me, bites his lip, and exclaims, “I don’t know how to write this!”
Although he is bilingual and looks like you and me, such a simple alphabet has spawned so much difficulty. They may be obsessive, compulsive and impulsive, but their flaws are no less than our own, and their flaws do not change the fact that they are still fundamentally human and deserve respect and dignity.
In my search for a future career, I wanted one that would be able to help me to make a positive impact in the lives of others. (LINK TO SOCIAL WORK)
Whilst social work may often be seen as lowly paid, and the fruits of our labor often taking a much longer time to ripen, I believe that the process is what is to be cherished, rather than the end product itself.
We are all prone to our own biases. That is why sharing your essay with someone else is good. I shared my own essay with a social worker, who led me to see certain stereotypes I may have unknowingly conveyed through my essay.
Encourage someone to read your essay and tell you the good, and bad about it.
2. Use every experience you have had.
Some people think that direct social work or social care experience might be more useful. But for many younger students who might be applying for an undergraduate scholarship, you might not have this experience. It’s good to draw a link between your summer jobs and your future ambition of becoming a social worker.
For example, even though I didn’t have any social care experience, I used my experience in the army to illustrate how we shouldn’t hold stereotypes towards the disadvantaged. Social work was my way of reaching out to them.
Hopefully, the following social work scholarship essay examples, drawn from my own application, help.
Example 2: Current work experience
One of my fondest memories of National Service came in the cookhouse as I was speaking to one of the more notorious men. Big and bulky, it is not easy to order him around, especially when we know his connections outside. And especially when we have heard about how an imprint of his fist is still on a locker somewhere, landed in frustration after he was charged and sent to the detention barracks. But as he sits alone in the cookhouse, I feel compelled to speak to him, knowing that his past is no reason to isolate him or to treat him differently.
As I awkwardly place my plate in front of him, he looks up, eyeing me suspiciously. I break into a smile and try to make small conversation.
Unprompted, he shares about his experiences inside jail, and it is clear that he has not had it easy inside.
But as I hear about his plans to begin work as a car salesman before eventually setting up a zi char store, whipping up dishes people love, I greatly admire the hope he holds deep within. His face is lit with optimism of a better future, and his scowl has disappeared.
Army has indeed exposed me to a myriad of different characters and has taught me that far beyond the shelter of my privileged environment, lie many people who have not had the chance to enjoy life as fortunately as I have. Social work gives me that chance to touch these lives. (LINK TO SOCIAL WORK)
4. Be clear about who you are.
Applying for a scholarship can be a gruelling process. Application essays and interviews will ask you multiple questions about what your motivations are (why social work?), what you are interested in, what you are good at, what you can add, and where you want to be. You don’t have to know the answers to all these. But you need to show that you have at least thought about some of these questions.
If you have not, I would deeply recommend Richard Bolles’ What Color Is Your Parachute. This is a book that leads you on 7 separate exercises that help you elucidate more about who you. Try it. It is worth the effort.
5. Be linguistically and grammatically accurate.
Scholarship panels dislike reading grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. This will be the first sign that you might not have spent as much time as you should on an application. There is no second first impression. Your first impression counts. Before you submit that application, take the time to run through the spell check multiple times. To be safe, I would recommend 3 times!
6. Print it and read it out loud to yourself.
It is powerful to read what you have read, out loud to yourself. For one, the spelling and grammar mistakes will jump out at you. It also allows you to see if you are cogent.
Do your arguments flow well?
Do your points make sense?
Recommended by Cal Newport’s book How To Be A Straight-A student, I have found it invaluable in editing better.
I hope that these social work scholarship essay examples help make writing easier. Don’t forget, you are not defined by the outcome of this application. Even if you do not make it, that does not necessarily mean that you should not be a social worker. If you make it, check out my post on interview tips.
Getting a social work scholarship is hard. With the examples above, and the tips for getting a social work scholarship here, I hope you get yours. The world needs more social workers like you.