It’s rare when advice columns about future goals (schools, jobs, fellowships) are narrated like a story. It’s even more rare when they’re enticing.

A post from English professor James M. Lang on Chronicle.com earlier this week beautified the application process. In his words, and from advice from experts, the key to success and standing out in an applicant pool is to “let your ideas simmer.”

Be unpredictable.

Teachers and professionals want to see rich imagery and descriptive details. Those vivid elements clarifies your seriousness and intention for applying to a job, fellowship, or grad school to align your goals both short-term and long-term.
It takes interactive storytelling, clear prose, and no cliché endings.

Lang calls “shopworn language,” the endings to open-topic essays tend to go something like this: “reach for your dreams, the sky is the limit,” a surefire way to homogenize in the applicant pool. It’s Pollyanna type writing. It’s ideal but not tangible.

Lang suggests the best way to approach post-graduate applications to aim for three steps, all three, to go the extra mile and achieve as a savvy applicant. This article includes expertise from the College of Holy Cross, where students have won 30 Fulbright Scholarships.

1. Applicants have to tell their story, with an eye to the opportunity they are seeking.

• Tell your story well

• The selection committee has 10-15 minutes to get to know you. It’s longer than an elevator pitch, but trim down your biography, especially awards and recognitions.

• In that time, focus the reader on parts of your story that relate MOST to your goals.

• Pick original, unique character traits. Almost everyone is going to note creativity and hardworking. o The Career Center has terrific handouts with power words and action verbs to describe yourself and diversify from the norm.

2. Applicants must “articulate a vision for their future.”

• Clear through the fog by thinking of ideal and practical short goals within a 3-year span then 5+ years. If you envision life beyond that, clearly, and know you’re not bound to what your personal statement says, make it noteworthy. That’ll reflect direction and show time invested in thinking about your future.• Committee members know that what you have down on paper does not determine your actual future.

• Think, how can grad school, Fulbright, etc. help you (besides giving you direction for or an answer to where you’re going)?

3. Applicants have to explain how the specific opportunity for which they are applying will connect their past achievements with their future goals.

• It’s answering that question you’ve heard in every English class… “So what?”

• How will this opportunity embellish your story? Better yet, how will it make you a better storyteller by having this valuable, untradeable chance to grow, learn, and explore?

• You’ll be noticed. By intentionally preparing for this last part, the “last paragraph” of your application process. Most students neglect this part and fall short.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Eliot

Demonstrate how the school, fellowship or scholarship will help you in the short and long term. Look at your values – education, family, advocacy, professional pursuits and yourself now. Will you change? Will the idea of your dream shift?
Think beyond your first idea, writes Lang. Contemplate, ponder, ask, think it through. Develop a master plan and envision a Technicolor, textured and layered picture, not just a rough sketch for your future. Keep those ideas simmering. You never know what exciting turns life will take.

Curious to learn more? Read full article here.