Mary Gates Endowment For Students

Guidelines for Completing your Leadership Application

The following are guidelines for completing your Leadership Scholarship application. These ideas will help you to think about how to structure your essay, what to include in your essay, and how to prepare for an interview if you are selected. They are not meant to be step-by-step instructions, nor are they given in any particular order of importance. If there is anything unusual about your timeline, project, or circumstances, please talk about this as well. In addition to reviewing these tips, you may wish to attend an information session before writing your essay. 

Writing your application essay

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:

Write your essay in your own voice:

  • There is a clear and consistent voice of the writer that lets the reader connect on a personal level.
  • 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.
  • These thoughts on leadership are tied to personal narratives and experiences within the essay.

Effectively illustrate a clear plan and timeline for your project:

  • 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 essay is organized well with a natural flow between sections and is not cobbled together.
  • For previous applicants/recipients: Acknowledge your prior application/award and cite the major goals you will set for yourself with this new application. Reviewers and interviewers will want to know what you have accomplished since your last application, as well as your plans for the new award period.

Show your enthusiasm and commitment to the work:

  • 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 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!

Describe how your mentor guides/supports your role in your project:

  • The essay explains clearly how the mentor was chosen and why.
  • There is also a clear sense of how your partnership with your mentor will evolve through the project.

Adhere to provided formatting guidelines

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

Application timeline

The application review process may take up to 8 weeks. If you are selected as a finalist, you may be contacted to schedule an interview with members of the Mary Gates team as well as a committee member. After your interview is completed, we will contact you to let you know whether you have been awarded the Leadership Scholarship.

Interview questions

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

  • How do you plan to grow/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 on your project? With your mentor?
  • What do you hope to learn or gain from this project?

Ask for critical feedback before submitting your application

Ask your mentor and someone who is not involved in your project to review your essay

Your mentor will provide you with the best feedback on your essay’s representation of the work you are doing and how it fits into a larger framework. Someone else – a peer, another instructor, or adviser – will be able to tell you if your essay is clear to an outside perspective, and if you have conveyed a sense of enthusiasm and commitment for the work you describe. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to get feedback from these key people before submitting your application.

Schedule an advising appointment with us

If you would like to discuss your application/proposed leadership project with a Mary Gates team member before submitting, we highly encourage you to schedule an advising appointment with us. For first-time applicants, we recommend that you schedule a ‘First-time Applicant Advising Appointment’ or a ‘General Advising Appointment’. For returning applicants/awardees, you are able to discuss your past applications with an MGE team member by scheduling a ‘Feedback Appointment’ with us.

Attend an application workshop

During each application cycle, we host application workshops that applicants are encouraged to attend. These workshops will give applicants more in-depth advice on how to structure their application essay and what to include. Applicants are asked to bring a draft of their application to the workshop as well, as there is allotted time for peer reviews and for applicants to ask specific questions pertaining to their project/application. RSVP here for our application workshops!