During my three years of seminary, I received the Presbyterian Study Grant (PSG) scholarship. I was asked to serve on the reading committee of the PSG a couple of years ago and wrote down some tips for future applicants at that time. None of these tips are groundbreaking, but each tip addresses an issue I saw repeatedly while reading stacks of applications.
Tip #1: Answer the question
Just like with Ords, one big mistake I saw was people not answering the question. So, answer the question, “Describe your sense of call,” or for returning recipients, “Describe how your sense of call has changed?” After I read each essay, I tried to articulate, “This applicant feels called to…”
Tip #2: Write a “You” essay, not an academic paper
Write an essay about you and your calling, using “I” statements. Don’t write an academic paper about what other people think.
Tip #3: Reread your essay
Sounds obvious, but many essays had simple grammatical mistakes that can cost you. The readers can tell if you took the time to reread your essay or if it was just thrown together at the last minute. I also read a few essays that were really well written, but they were littered with simple mistakes.
Tip #4: Do not copy and paste from previous years
When the reading committee meets, they are given everything you’ve ever written for the PSG. We read your previous years essays to see if your sense of call is growing or changing. So, don’t just copy and paste – even if it is just one paragraph. Once again, I was surprised how often I saw this.
Tip #5: Send out references early
Give your references plenty of time – even if your reference doesn’t fill it out until the last minute, they know that you got it to them in a timely manner so the ball is in their court. This is especially true for your congregation and CPM references. It doesn’t take much time to send these out – so just do it now and check it off your list.
Tip #6: Choose references wisely
Choose the best people to represent you. You really only get to choose one of your references, so make sure it is someone who can write about who you are and what they see in you. It’s astounding when you put two references side by side when one is a nondescript paragraph and the other is a descriptive page about how amazing an applicant is.
Tip #7: Call your references and update them on you
Especially for your CPM (possibly your congregation too), it’s amazing what a phone call can do. Twenty minutes of your time is a small amount to invest for this scholarship and a better relationship with your CPM. Call them up and talk to them about your past year – where have you been and where are you going. Tell them how your call has grown or changed.
Additionally, I sent my CPM an e-mail right after getting off the phone with them – thanking them for their time and attaching a short write up of what we talked about in case they were unable to get to my reference right away.
Tip #8: References should write about your call, not your history
If your reference mainly talks about how you completed CPE this past semester or Greek in the fall, guess what, so did most other candidates. This is why Tip #8 is extremely important. After you give your references some insight into what you have done in the past year – ask them to write about your call. A good question to ask is, “How will your reference look different from the other 100s of references submitted?”
As I said, none of this is groundbreaking stuff, but these are important tips to remember. So, which tip did you find most helpful? Do you have any additional tips? Thanks for taking the time to read MTP and good luck!
FYI – MTP is not financially liable if you follow these tips and still don’t receive the PSG, although, Brian Christopher Coulter may donate a dollar toward your cause.