Writing your essay

This process of writing your Presidential Scholar essay begins by formulating a project.


Former Presidential Scholars have written stories and plays, recreated archaeological materials or studied sites, developed school curricula, researched diseases or other scientific questions, created art works and demonstrated their unique interests through their projects. Projects are possible in all disciplines.  Check out Current and Past Projects for summaries of earlier projects.

In your essay, you need to convince the Presidential Scholars Steering Committee of three main points:  

  1. You have an original project that contributes to your educational growth and to the academic community,
  2. You are capable of pursuing the project independently of your coursework, and
  1. You have the ability and resources to complete this project in the time allotted.

The goal of the project and an outcome of how your project will be disseminated are important. Consider how you will show your project to the academic community, or how it will be presented elsewhere.  Possibilities for demonstrating your work on campus include setting up workshops/ demonstrations, displays, creating a video and showing it, teaching demonstrations, or presentations of a paper or poster.  Off-campus presentations may occur at regional or national meetings in one’s discipline or even publishing the work. One of the most important parts of the project is determining what your outcome will be.

Your project needs to be relevant to you. We look for projects that are compatible with your scholarly goals and are related to your skills and interests.

Having relevant experience in activities similar to your project proposal is beneficial. This experience could include class projects, hobbies, outside jobs, volunteer experiences, or other extracurricular activities. If you need advice or supervision from other people, either on-campus or off, please talk to them while you are formulating your project statement. Ask them to write a letter of recommendation that specifically mentions your project, their assessment of your ability to complete the project, and their role in your project (this specificity makes a letter much more useful).

Projects must have a timeline that explains the process and important steps you will take to complete the work. Once you have decided on a project, before you write your essay, write out a timeline semester by semester, taking into account when and where you can devote more time to the project, based on your course load and other time considerations. Here is a general outline of the how the process works;  use this as a guide for making your own timeline.

  • Presidential Scholars are chosen in the middle of the fall semester.
  • Shortly after they are notified, Scholars meet with their assigned adviser to plan their project.
  • Students can begin to draw on their funds once they and their advisers have agreed on a plan; this is the beginning of your timeline (Nov. 1).
  • Presidential Scholars present the outcome of their projects at a mandatory Colloquium in April of their senior year, and this marks the culmination of the project. Your timeline ends with this presentation.
  • The project plan will help you outline your essay, and at least a general form of this timeline should be integrated into your essay.

Typographical errors and poor grammar are not characteristics of the high quality work expected of Presidential Scholars. Therefore, proofreading and rereading your application is a critical step in the process. Finally, have others read over the final draft of your essay. Some common problems include:  

  1. Noun-verb agreement
  2. Any use of contractions (formal writing doesn’t does not use contractions)
  3. Incorrect use of apostrophes
  4. Spelling (their and there are not caught by spellcheckers).

You are welcome to meet with any member of the Presidential Scholars Steering Committee for more advice on formulating your project and writing your application. We encourage you to seek advice from within your discipline and from the committee.