By Deborah Vieyra
Constructing a successful fellowship application is often a lonely journey. Knowing whether you’re on the right track can feel like shooting around in the dark to try and hit a bullseye. Is your writing clear and concise? Does it flow in a way that tells the story that you want to tell? Have you communicated your passion for your future endeavours and your appreciation for what has shaped you? The best thing to take you out of this solitary state is to ask for feedback from an outside source — but who do you ask and, perhaps more importantly, how do you ask so that their feedback positively impacts the application you submit?
The problem is, sometimes we don’t ask the right people for feedback . We ask our best friend, colleague or mom. These are the people who, regardless of what we have composed, will always tell us “this sounds great!” While positive reinforcement is useful in bolstering your motivation and self-esteem, it only goes so far as constructive critique. It can be frightening to get critical feedback, particularly about work that is very close to you, like your personal statement. But while it is daunting to be critiqued, it is also incredibly important.
Regardless of whom you ask for feedback, these approaches will help you get the kind of feedback that is genuinely useful to you.
Ask them the application questions.
Whether your friend, family member or colleague reads your essay, ask them the questions that the fellowship selection committee would want to know. Is it clear why you want the fellowship? See if they easily understand from your application what might set you apart from other candidates. Does it come through that you would be the ideal applicant for this particular fellowship? If they have the time to spend with you on this, ask them to go through your application in detail to find what might be missing or unclear.
Ask what can be improved.
Constructive feedback has to move past simple compliments like, “Nice work!” This is where you have to leave your ego at the door and ask what can be improved. Take a deep breath before hearing their feedback and try not get defensive about your work. Remember, they are doing you a favor by reviewing your work. Their aim is to help you improve.
Ask if it’s memorable.
Ask your reviewer this one telling question — did you learn something new about me after reading this? If the person reading learns nothing new about you, you might be missing the mark on creating a memorable essay. Think of that huge pile of essays that lands in the laps of the selection committee. For a successful application, yours has to really jump off the page. If it doesn’t do so, find that special ingredient that will make your writing stick with your readers for some time after they have read the last word.
Ask what questions they would ask you on an interview panel.
Now it’s time to play pretend. Set up a mock interview so that your reader can really grill you on your application to see if it’s ready for submission. Ask your reviewer if reading the essay or applications leaves any questions about your motivations, skills or project proposal. These questions can be eye-opening in terms of what things you need to strengthen or clarify. Remember that the committee that receives your application knows nothing about you. If you have not communicated what you want them to know in your application, they will not be privy to these details in any other way. This is the chance to tell your story. Make sure you have done so effectively.
Learning to accept constructive feedback is an important skill that will stand you in good stead in a range of situations in your life. Use this moment to allow someone you trust to boost the strength of your application through their honest feedback.
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved.