HKC Grapevine: How to Tackle the Schwarzman Scholars Application

 

Hey there fellow university student.

In a week or two I’ll be submitting an application to a highly selective, one-year master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing that is designed to prepare the next generation of global leaders to help shape the future of international discourse and interaction: The Schwarzman Scholars program.

Sounds pretty flashy huh?

Wait until you check out the biographies of the inaugural class of Schwarzman Scholars. Students from Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and other internationally renowned universities fill the page as you scroll through the faces of what we may consider the best scholars in the world.

Intimidating? Extremely.

However, I disagree with the notion that students from less prominent universities with less impressive resumes should be deterred by this extravagant display of scholarly prowess.

I, like some of you reading this, attend a state university, and I firmly believe that the prestige of our universities shouldn’t discourage us from applying to fiercely aggressive awards and programs. Our personal values, interests, goals and how we articulate them are what make us distinct as applicants- not our alma mater.

I’ve written this post with the goal of encouraging you, my fellow non-ivy leaguers, to examine your own individual values, interests, and goals to realize that you may be a prime applicant. These steps can apply broadly to any application process, but I will be using the Schwarzman Scholars application as an example to guide you to your own success because it is the program that I am currently applying for.

Our personal values, interests, goals and how we articulate them are what make us distinct as applicants- not our alma mater.

Step 1: Dream. Dream big.

In more actionable terms, browse through a list of available undergraduate, postgraduate, and other awards, looking more deeply into the ones that grab your interest. This could be through your own university’s website or any other list available online. Bask in the excitement of the opportunities that lie before you (in an ambitious, academic way), because your college days are fleeting. Note the eligibility requirements of the ones that caught your eye and narrow down your list to one or two that you will invest your time and effort in applying for.

 
 Browse through a list of available undergraduate, postgraduate, and other awards, looking more deeply into the ones that grab your interest.

Browse through a list of available undergraduate, postgraduate, and other awards, looking more deeply into the ones that grab your interest.

 

Step 2: Locate a game plan.

Notice how I didn’t say “make” a game plan. Chances are, if you have your eyes set on a competitive award, a game plan has already been designed- and it’s only a google search away. It’s always best to start out by googling the name of the award and your university name. This will provide you with campus-specific deadlines and even connect you with your campus representative for that specific award. In my case, my university didn’t have a timeline or campus contact available, so I simply googled the name of the award followed by “advising timeline .pdf” and voila- Princeton’s Schwarzman Scholars advising and submission timeline popped up and provided me with a template to follow. Be warned, poor time management can mean months of wasted time and effort if you don’t meet the submission deadline or submit a weak application because you were rushed.

Step 3: Tackle your essay prompts like a boss (because you need to own it.)

This is arguably the most important part of your application, so start early and allow ample time for feedback by peers and mentors. The Schwarzman Scholars application has three separate essay prompts; the personal statement, the leadership essay, and the current affairs essay. Each prompt outlines the questions you should answer as well as the order you should answer them in. If you're a visual person like me, avoid starting with a blank word document and hash out your ideas on good ol’ paper with a ballpoint pen. I love that vintage feel. It’s so baby boomer.

 
 Such vintage. Much old school. Ooh, brainstorm. #typography

Such vintage. Much old school. Ooh, brainstorm. #typography

 

Personal Statement:

In my personal statement, I conveyed to the reader how my personal experiences and academic journey up until now had prepared me to be exactly what this program was looking for. I was specific in emphasizing why this award (as opposed to other similar awards) was a perfect fit for me and explained how the program would equip me to be exactly what I endeavored to be.

Leadership Essay:

My leadership essay expanded on the personal values, experiences, and goals that I outlined in my personal statement. Outlining leadership experiences is good, but that’s what all the others will do too. I firmly believe that a true sign of a great leader is the ability to successfully mentor another person to be a great leader, so I based my essay around that specific type of leadership experience. Think padawan training, minus the ugly Jedi braids.

Current Affairs Essay:

This essay also built off of a current affairs issue of personal interest that I mentioned in my personal statement. It took me a few nights of research to deepen my expertise in the topic, but in the end I was able to craft an informative essay that compiled all of the information I had absorbed. I strived to blend sagacity with substance, similar to a late night TV show host reacting to the Orlando shootings.

Step 4: Send out recommendation letter requests as if you’re asking people to wash your car.

Of course this is just a figure of speech, but here are the four reasons why I treat it like that:

1) It reminds me to be unfailingly polite. It may seem like a small favor, but writing a recommendation is no minute task for professors and mentors with a busy schedule and other commitments.

2) It reminds me to only ask people that will do a good job. Few of us are blessed with those professors who were super chill and handed out A’s like candy canes at Christmas, but would they be able to write a strong recommendation letter? Probably not.

3) It reminds me to contact them in advance- no last minute requests. Also, it may be prudent to follow up closer to the deadline to ensure that the recommendation is submitted on time.

4) Lastly, it reminds me to say thank you. Once in a while I get old school and send a letter, but at the very least a sincere thank you email should be sent.

 
 Get everything compiled in advance and submit your application a few weeks before the deadline.

Get everything compiled in advance and submit your application a few weeks before the deadline.

 

Step 5: Double-check everything & submit.

Whether you’re submitting the application online or as a hard copy, always double check everything. After investing months of essay writing, research, and emails, it would be foolish to let a simple mistake distract the reader from an otherwise perfect application. Get everything compiled in advance and submit your application a few weeks before the deadline. You might feel purposeless in the days following your submission, but don’t worry. This is normal. You're suffering from an increase in free time. Remember what life used to be like and assimilate. (Hint: LSAT/GRE prep)

Step 6: Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Keep searching for more opportunities and don’t let rejection discourage you from trying to apply for more (see: Yenching Academy). For me, each application process allowed me to look introspectively and reassess my life journey. Regardless of whether I receive an award or not, I’m left more resolute in my professional aspirations and determined to strive harder to attain them.

Cheers to wherever life takes us.


 
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author

Keoni Williams is a program assistant at the Pacific Forum CSIS.