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A Breakdown of Work: Scholarship Application Essays

Two weeks ago, I broke down some advice often given to students approaching college scholarship application essays upon request. As someone who has written those essays and as a mentor to writers of those essays, I felt that I could offer a substantive amount to the conversation. This week, I want to break down an accepted application essay.

The task for this essay was: "Who is (or what makes) a good doctor?"

The student working on this essay might begin with addressing the question directly, possibly in short form. In some cases, they might not be able to get to that point until they elaborate on their experiences with doctors. In other cases, their takeaway might change as they plan and write.

There is no wrong way to approach this.

In no way is my advice absolute. I do have biases with regard to writing based on my background, education, the types of style guides that I'm most familiar with, and my overall experience with writing and editing.

Here is one students' opening paragraph:

"Had you asked me the same question one year ago, my answer would have been vastly different to the one I will give today. In the summer of 2012, with my first year of medical school completed, I embarked upon my last official summer vacation with two things in mind: a basketball tournament in Dallas and one in Atlanta. My closest friends and I had been playing in tournaments for the past 10 summers, and it was a sacred bond forged together in the name of competition. However, two weeks before our first tournament, I became instantly and overwhelmingly short of breath. Having been born to Korean immigrant parents, I was raised to utilize the hospital in emergency cases only, and I knew this was such a case. A few scans later, doctors discovered numerous pulmonary emboli (PE), caused by a subclavian deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and just like that, I was lying in a bed of a major hospital for a life threatening condition."

This essay tells a compelling story, and it's understandable that we're beginning with background information. It's clear that this student is ambitious and has passion and talent. This student's background and culture has informed their views on medical care. It is also clear that the event that they are describing was traumatizing to them, and their vulnerability is admirable.

There is a lot of information packed into one short paragraph, and while they are telling a very compelling story, a more detailed introductory sentence would have helped the pacing and structure. Otherwise, that first sentence could be removed entirely. Ideally, with any written work that has a prompt, that work should be able to stand on its own without the backing of that prompt. The introductory sentence used a lot of vague language that held the piece back from that goal.

"In the summer of 2012, with my first year of medical school completed, I embarked upon my last official summer vacation with two things in mind: a basketball tournament in Dallas and one in Atlanta."

This could work as an introductory sentence. Immediately, the story begins.

"Having been born to Korean immigrant parents, I was raised to utilize the hospital in emergency cases only, and I knew this was such a case."

Both this sentence and the sentence that follows are equally compelling and, to my mind, seem to introduce two different narratives, one that would possibly be sideswiped in favor of the other. However, since neither sentence deserves that treatment, this sentence could be its own paragraph and could be an interesting reflection point.

If something like that sentence began the next paragraph and further elaborated on the student's culture, the following paragraph could redirect to the event and experience that culminated into their current understanding of what encompasses a good doctor.

However, as this paragraph stands, we have a lot of highly transformative factors packed in at once.

Here is one of our takeaway paragraphs, where they directly address the question:

"Lastly, the 'good' doctor understands that as our patients are human, so are we. This means we will make mistakes, some of which can result in life-threatening consequences. With that said, the “good” doctor practices humility and honesty, apologizing and sharing as much information with patients as possible. Although no one strives to make mistakes, they will happen, and how one reacts to them is a distinguishing feature of the 'good' doctor (II)."

Reading this right after the first paragraph, one may assume that the doctor this student had made a mistake in operation, but thankfully, that was not the case. This student explained the kinds of conversations that they had with their doctor, how their doctor spoke with them and kept them and their family informed in a way that was accessible. The doctor even directed them to a method by which their major surgery could be covered by the hospital. Again, it's an incredible story.

I can't say whether I "buy into" this takeaway because I didn't go through this experience. I definitely agree that there are a lot of ways in which medical care could be improved. I agree that medical professionals should ideally have empathy for their patients and keep them informed.

However, I notice that their might have been more to the transformative experience. Since this student came from a culture that only went to the hospital in absolute emergencies, did they adopt this view and did that change when they went through this experience? Did their view of medical professionals change? The essay would have benefited immensely from this information, and it would have built on to the question very well.

Students can definitely choose how vulnerable they want to be and they don't have any obligation to divulge in that way. This student should definitely be praised for their storytelling. They have a good foundational grasp of what an essay should look like because they made the right mistakes (let me know if you want a post about that!). The suggestions I gave here are to enhance and not eclipse the skills that have already been exhibited.


Thank you so much to everyone who has given feedback on Purposeful Prose thus far and once again to V.G. of Greer Editorial Services for their amazing suggestion!

If you would like to see something specific covered on Purposeful Prose, feel free to contact me through any method available on this site including my live chat. If you become a member of Purposeful Prose, I will see your suggestions first. You will also be able to engage with my posts and make use of my forum.

In the future, look forward to more collaborations with friends and colleagues and a deeper dive into Loaded Language.

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Mailhot, B. (2022, March 28). Scholarship Essay Examples That Actually Worked: Sample Essays. Going Merry.

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3 bình luận

Vita Viviano
Vita Viviano
03 thg 5, 2022

Such a nice and informative illustration! Writing essays can be so excruciating for some of us. You do such a wonderful job with balancing the clinical and creative aspects of this task! Thank you!


29 thg 4, 2022

Really good analysis of the letter, I thought. I really like the point about the opening sentence. So many student writers use their first sentences to rev their engines before putting the car in gear!

Phản hồi lại

Thank you so much! I see this happen so often!

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