College Admissions Writing Tips

How to Craft a Meaningful Leadership Essay

Because schools are looking for applicants who will make a contribution, it is becoming increasingly common for programs to specifically ask for an essay about leadership. In this type of essay, the admissions officers are asking you to go beyond your resume, CV or activities list and provide them with a meaningful example that not only demonstrates your skills as a leader but reflects your values, ability to manage setbacks, and resilience in overcoming dilemmas. Therefore, I created these tips to guide you in writing the kind of leadership essay that will help you get noticed in the admissions process.

Choose an anecdote where you played a significant role

Your best anecdote may not necessarily be one where you were at the helm. Just because you didn’t have the title of President, Coordinator or Leader doesn’t mean that you didn’t take a strong leadership role in the project. The admissions officers are looking for results, and that means a situation where you were able to ensure outcomes, overcome obstacles, foster team cohesiveness, and exceed expectations. When brainstorming for your leadership essay, think more about the criteria of leadership rather than the title.

Tackle dilemmas

An essay where you were in charge and everything went smoothly doesn’t make for the most compelling narrative. Instead, focus on anecdotes where you had to face tough choices. This could refer to interpersonal situations regarding assigning tasks, making budgetary decisions that might have displeased certain team members or even superiors, navigating contract negotiations between parties that did not trust each other or even dealing with unethical behaviors. Show the admissions officers that you can persevere despite setbacks and find a way forward to realize success in your endeavors.

Acknowledge the contribution of others

This is the most common pitfall that I see in leadership essays. Yes, a personal statement should be personal. However, when writing about leadership, it is impossible to demonstrate this if you write as if no one else was part of the situation. Be gracious in giving praise to team members for their insights, loyalty, and hard work. Let the admissions officers envision you as someone who can inspire others to collaborate and work as a cohesive whole to achieve common goals.

Highlight organization skills and interpersonal acumen

Depending on your personality type and individual leadership style, applicants tend to focus on either the technical aspects of leadership or the more interpersonal ones. In creating your leadership essay, remember to include both in a way that is as balanced as possible. Usually, I will recommend applicants write an opening paragraph that sets the stage, a paragraph about technical aspects such as assigning tasks and coordinating resources, a third paragraph that discusses obstacles encountered in the project, and then a concluding paragraph. The two middle paragraphs should be approximately the same length. By following this basic outline, applicants are sure to cover all bases and formulate a leadership essay that has a strong logical flow from start to finish.

Reflect on what you would have done differently

If, given the opportunity to do it again, you would have done everything exactly the same, I would advise writing about a different situation. Anecdotes where everything works out perfectly don’t typically provide the admissions officers with the information that they need to help them make a choice about your application. They will want you to engage in self-reflection either in the penultimate paragraph or the concluding paragraph. The admissions officers want to see both growth and willingness to grow. For this reason, be sure to discuss ways that you would like to continue to develop your personal leadership style so that you will be a more prepared and effective leader in the future.

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