Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Tips for a Successful Leadership Application

Apply When You Are Ready

Most students who are successful in the leadership scholarship application process are those who are beyond the “idea” stage and have begun planning or implementing their ideas. Planning may include activities such as making contact with involved persons, scheduling and organizing meetings, recruiting volunteers or participants, writing a mission statement, or getting elected to office. The scholarship committee members need to be able to imagine you in action.

Focus Your Essay

Below are some questions to think about as you develop your application essay. Use these and other questions you identify about your own learning and leadership goals to help you develop an integrated statement. Essays that are merely a list of separate answers to these questions will not be competitive.


  • What does leadership mean to you?
  • What experiences have informed these understandings?
  • How will your activity and your role in that activity deepen your thinking about leadership?


  • What activity do you propose to undertake with this scholarship? (Be specific)
  • What is your unique role in this project – how does your individual initiative and creativity shape your project?
  • How does this project or activity provide a way for you to develop as a leader?


  • What do you hope to learn through your involvement in the activity you describe?
  • How does your activity foster this learning?
  • How does this learning connect to your larger educational and/or life goals?


  • What do you hope to know, be able to do, or become as a result of your experience with your proposed activity?
  • How will you know you have achieved these goals?
  • What difference will accomplishing these goals make in you and your role in a community?

Write a Compelling Essay

The writing of a Mary Gates Leadership essay calls for a balancing act between describing your ideas on leadership and personal development as well as the project or idea that you are using to move your leadership development forward.

Here are some components that we have found make for a compelling leadership essay:

  • There is a clear and consistent voice of the writer that lets the reader connect on a personal level.
  • The essay is organized well with a natural flow between sections and is not cobbled together.
  • The reader has a clear sense of what the writer feels about leadership on a personal level.
  • Readers also have a sense of how the writer identifies themselves as a leader even to explaining why they are not comfortable with the word leader.
  • These thoughts on leadership are tied to personal narratives and experiences within the essay.
  • There is a clear description of the project or set of ideas within which the leadership experience will be framed.  Your essay gives the reader confidence that you have thought carefully about how to approach the project, have  the necessary support to carry it out, and that the project will be challenging but ultimately do-able (at some level).
  • The writer describes how they know they will have accomplished what they are setting out for themselves both personally and concretely.
  • There is mention of how this project/process is connected to the writer’s ultimate goals.
  • The essay explains clearly how the mentor was chosen and why.
  • There is also a clear sense of how the partnership will evolve through the project.
  • The reader is left with a clear understanding of the passion that the writer feels about their leadership project and is excited to meet with them to learn more!

Essays should be no more than four pages (double-spaced, in 12 point font or equivalent
size, standard margins). One additional page may be included for references, images, and/or figures, if applicable – this page will not be included in the page limit.

Prepare for Your Interview

In an interview, committee members will ask you to expand upon your essay. Some real questions that committee members have asked in the past include:

  • What do you need to learn as a leader?
  • Is this “project” something that this community wants or needs?
  • How are you planning to work with others? With your mentor?
  • What do you hope to learn through this project that you didn’t gain from your previous Mary Gates leadership project?

Get Feedback on Your Application

If you are planning to reapply for a Leadership Scholarship after an unsuccessful attempt, you must get feedback on your application. A member of the review committee is available to provide that feedback and looks forward to the opportunity to talk with you about your proposal. Even if you are not reapplying, we strongly encourage you receive feedback since you may find it valuable to hear what aspects of your proposal or interview could be improved if you are planning to apply for other scholarships, graduate school, grants or even a job.

To receive feedback on your application or interview, contact the person named in your letter. If you have lost that information, you can email for help.