Leadership Essay

Dance sculpture in front of FPAC

Advice from: Tara Yglesias, Deputy Executive Secretary, Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation
Jane Curlin, Senior Program Manager, Udall Foundation

Identify a significant problem

Leadership examples are most compelling when the student writes about an issue that he or she feels is important.

Explain the defined and unique role you played

Be a problem solver. Only you can write this essay. The successful essay shows how you are the only one who could fulfill this role.

Participate with others

Explain how you interacted with others and how this interaction is a by-product of your leadership. Successful essays acknowledge the contributions of others but also show how the leader was able to utilize those contributions.

Show a concrete outcome

Your actions in solving the significant problem should show demonstrable impact, not just an increased awareness of the issue. Did you enlist and direct the participation of others? Did you build consensus? Did you raise money, and if so, how much? Who is being affected by your efforts? Rather than using generalities like “increased awareness,” offer definable and quantifiable outcomes.

Broaden your definition of leadership

The leadership essay is about something other than occupying an office. Some of the most compelling examples are written when a student sees a problem and steps in with a solution. Holding an office does not necessarily make the student a leader.

Do not try to finesse non-leadership activities

The applicant has significant public service but very little leadership. The student often explains how he or she had an impact by doing something but not by leading anyone.

Blow your own horn

Although downplaying your own achievements is admirable, it does not make for a persuasive leadership essay. Use your characters to demonstrate your leadership, not the contributions of others. There's no I in team.