Over the past few months, I have been contacted by potential applicants interested in the prestigious master’s-level Executive Diploma programmes offered by Saïd Business School. Many of their questions are related to the Director’s Awards application process, with a particular focus on how to draft the supporting statement.
Oxford Saïd offers two Director’s Awards in each Executive Diploma class. These awards cover £10,000 towards the programme fees and are open to all candidates who can demonstrate how they can enrich the learning experience of their peers during their academic journey at Saïd Business School.
Here I will try to highlight some aspects of my application process, what I focused on when writing my assessment and what I took into account when building my narrative. I am sure I will not be suggesting anything new here. But, perhaps my tips are more like ‘reminders’ of what to do if you find yourself sitting in front of a blank page without any ideas on how to start. Regardless, I hope these reminders may help you!
So, first (and as hard as it can be), just start writing.
Yeah, I know: sometimes good ideas do not come easily. But postponing the writing process won’t help you either. The earlier you start, the earlier you will finish. This sounds logical, but we sometimes struggle to dedicate the time to sit down and think about the message we need and want to convey.
I am sure Mario Puzo’s novel, ‘The Godfather’, was not written in one go. So, don’t blame yourself if you struggle with ideas. To get started, it helped me to write down in bullet points the thoughts and views I wanted my supporting statement to reflect. In the first instance, I just let my ideas flow. It didn’t matter in which order they appeared: I just wrote down anything that came to my mind related to the topic. This then helped me to shape and structure my statement later on.
During this process, it is important to think about any events and facts that may be effective in helping you to create your narrative, present yourself and advocate strongly in your favour.
So, when you finally decide to start writing your statement, think about:
- What have you done that could set you apart from your peers? Why do you deserve or need this scholarship more than other peers?
- Is this information relevant?
- Does it sound honest and personal?
- Which story can you add in your supporting statement to reflect your competencies at their best?
- Are these ideas effectively demonstrating how you can collaborate to the classes’ discussion?
- Are you clearly articulating how you will promote, share and apply the concepts you will acquire during the programme as soon it is finished?
- What will be the long-term benefit of studying the programme to your sector, country and/or region?
Secondly: Structure your information.
Once you have your main ideas written down, start to think of the order you want to present them in your statement. Then, elaborate on your points. Keep in mind that there are many ways to start your supporting statement and each person has a particular way of writing. Personally, I like to start my statements (and even cover letters, when applying for a job position!) by writing short stories to explain, with examples, what I have done that is relevant to what I am applying for and what my main achievements are to date. I think this is a nice way to capture and hold the reader’s attention all the way through my text.
Come up with specific examples, make it personal, but keep it interesting and relevant. Keep in mind that your text will be compared with so many others, so be creative in the way you convey your message. Think: does this sound interesting to the reader? Will it stand out from the crowd?
Write concise paragraphs and make sure you are choosing the best expressions. Try to emphasise key details and highlights that set you apart, and that the selection committee may not find in your CV or accompanying application documents. Remember: you need to strongly advocate in your favour by using only 500 words – choose those words wisely!
Finally: don’t forget to properly connect your paragraphs, integrating whatever information you deem to be relevant. In the end, it is not only about how many words you put on paper, but ‘how’ what you have written was structured and how it makes sense, captivates and provokes the reader.
One way to check this is to share what you have written.
Practice makes perfection. Sharing your essay with family, relatives, working colleagues or academics may also give you different perspectives and insights that could help you to re-draft or simply refine parts of your written statement. So, seek honest feedback. This process may allow you to understand how others may feel when reading your statement.
Honestly, I drafted and redrafted my supporting statement for the Executive Diploma in Global Business Director’s Award application many, many times. I could see a huge difference between my first and my final draft. Many suggestions provided were relevant. However, remember: it is important that you also trust in your gut instinct! You have your own style and no one knows your journey better than yourself.
Also (of course!): read it yourself
Think you have finally finished your essay? Great! Then, read it out loud. How does it sound? Nice? Too academic? Cool? Too flat? Boring? Are there any gaps left uncovered? Are there any other words or expressions you can use to more attractively convey your message and better represent yourself? How do you feel about your draft? Are you happy with it?
Well… if you believe your statement is not ready to be submitted, then… rewrite it! Just be careful to not get stuck in negativity. Sometimes we are our biggest critics. And there is nothing wrong in trying to be as perfect as we can. But we need to make sure we don’t sabotage ourselves in the process. Think: in the end, what is the worst that can happen? That you get the scholarship you want?! Then why not give it a shot?!
And when you finally finish drafting your text, do not forget to dedicate some time to the editing process.
Editing is not a one-time event, but an on-going process. Be mindful about errors in spelling, punctuation and formatting. If you are tired of writing and reading, take a break, have a nice cup of coffee or tea, then come back to your seat and read your text again…entirely! There are many apps that can also help you to check your spelling and grammar. Do what you can to ensure that your text is well presented – you are applying to Oxford after all!
Finally (and most importantly): keep the deadline in mind
You’ve spent hours, days or weeks working on your statement and suddenly… BOOM! You have missed your deadline! To avoid disappointment, stay organised. Create a digital calendar to keep track of such important dates, so you can easily access it and/or be constantly reminded through your favourite electronic device. If you are old school (like me!), spread sticky notes in places around your house, such as the bathroom mirror, the fridge door, etc. Do anything you can to keep a track of the important dates. This way, you will not wake up one morning and panic because you have realised it is the last day to submit your application!
At the end of the day, your supporting statement represents who you are, so make sure to dedicate some proper time to this task. Make the effort – it will be worth it! And when writing, think about the confidence and attitude of The Godfather main’s character Vito Corleone, who once said: 'I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse!' Remember: it is hard for anyone to deny something that is so outstanding. So, may your statement be as strong and persuasive as Corleone’s words!
I wish you all good luck and hope to cross paths with you in the corridors of Said Business School sometime soon!