Writing Leadership Essays 

This page has been adapted from University of Michigan, Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships, Writing Leadership Essays by Henry Dyson. 

A number of national scholarships and fellowships ask applicants to write about their leadership experiences. Here are a few prominent examples: 

  • Truman Scholarship - “Describe a particular example of your leadership.”
  • Marshall Scholarship - “Describe a situation in which you recognized and responded to a need for leadership.”
  • Udall Scholarship - “Describe a leadership experience in which you made a difference on your campus or in your community.”

Other scholarships (like Knight-Hennessy, Rhodes, Mitchell) might not have an essay specifically on leadership, but they expect you to incorporate your leadership experience into your personal statement. 

How to Make an Impact with Very Few Words 

The word limit for these essays is typically very short. As with any personal statement, the particular experience you discuss should be an illustration of your abiding character traits.  Provide the essential information about the context, but keep the focus on examples of how your traits interacted with the context to produce a leadership experience. It might be helpful to organize your notes for the essay under three headings: 

  • Problem (or Opportunity) – What is the essential problem or opportunity that  you and/or your group's action sought to address?
  • Action – What did you (as an individual and as a group) do to address this problem or capitalize on this opportunity?
  • Results – What were the tangible results of your action? How did it solve the problem or benefit others? Can you provide numbers to demonstrate the impact of the action? Is the solution ongoing and sustainable?

Remember you don’t have to include every detail. In many cases, the example that you discuss should be coordinated with the writer of your “leadership” letter of recommendation who can provide additional information.