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How to Write an Application Essay on Leadership

Often in life, the trickiest things are also the most important. Take application essays, for example - it's easy to read the general guidelines and think we've got it down pat. Unfortunately, reality isn't quite so black-and-white. There's a certain nuance involved in the particulars of the process and top applicants worldwide have been tapping into that nuance for decades to score coveted positions with the best universities around. Knowing is half the battle, or so they always say, anyway, so let's get started making your application shine!

Focus On Your Very Best You

Perhaps the biggest mistake students ever mistake is to assume that they ought to cover a ton of personal ground. This technique, sometimes referred to as "everything but the kitchen sink," will leave your choosy readers feeling breathless in all the wrong ways. In trying to paint a complete image of yourself, you run a high risk of coming across as longwinded - or worse, utterly scattershot. It's a shallow representation that will likely fail to fully highlight your best attributes. The end result will seem less like a good read and more like a resume.

There's a far better path. Zero in on your creative side. Technical details are often better-suited to the rest of your college application than the written component. That's not to say you shouldn't address your high school records or all those golden ribbons adorning your senior science project, but you've been given a great opportunity to spice it all up. Be creative in each paragraph of your writing! Don't just mention how you volunteered at a soup kitchen one winter - tell your prospective college why you did it. What defines you? What makes you tick? Latch onto that.

Take It A Step Further And Demonstrate Real Leadership

While the preceding paragraphs can apply to just about any application, this next part's all about a specific approach. It's never a bad idea to pick a topic with these sorts of essays – in fact, your audience will probably notice if you don't. Leadership is more than just a buzz word; it's administration, it's influence, it's initiative. Above all, it's responsibility. It's the perfect conduit for showing off what makes you such a catch.

You'll want to think about how to shape your argument. And make no mistake, it's something of an argument! Imagine you're standing trial in a courtroom. The charges? A lack of leadership. Now imagine you're your own lawyer. Given that you're hoping to impress prestigious colleges, we're going to assume you aren't planning on pleading guilty. So what can you do? You can go over the facts that support your case - and the facts will reflect that you're an awesome leader. But let's say the judge and jury want a colorful defense. In order to satisfy them, you'll need to cite ample life situations in which you've displayed an abundance of managerial oversight in an eye-openingly responsible manner.

"Managerial oversight" sounds like the kind of phrase we might hear in an office building, but it's so much more than just clerical projects.

  • It's running left-forward on a soccer team and being relied-upon to score goals.
  • It's coaching at church camp.
  • It's getting top ranks at Eagle Scouts.
  • It's anything you can make of it. It's you.

Don't Get Cornered By Pesky Details

You don't want your essay to read like a tech manual. Going into too much detail means you'll begin to sound wordy and dull. As we've already alluded to, this is where you pick up all the pieces of your life up to this point and transform them into a beautiful tapestry that sells you to your chosen college. Be a poet, not a robot. (Don't actually write a poem, of course.)

Instead of typing sentences which list your life off formulaically, pepper in how those life events made you feel. How did they change you? What role have they played in making you who you are? If you can answer these questions and if you can do so in a humble and thoughtful manner, you'll strike your college's enrollment officers as a model student. And then you'll be as good as graduated.