Generally, most applications require you to write at least one essay. While this component can be the most difficult, it may also be the most fulfilling as it requires you to answer many of the most challenging questions. A thorough essay will help you to evaluate your goals and ambitions, how you plan to accomplish them, why they are important to your past, and how they might influence your future.

Many "research project" essays are straightforward in that they link directly to a students past academic experiences, interests and extracurricular activities. While these essays tend to be rather cerebral and academic, other essays entail more soul-searching and self reflection. Essays that require you to describe why you want to pursue a given proposal are sometimes difficult for students who are not comfortable writing openly about themselves and their passions. For this reason, personal essays can prove a more challenging task.

Personal writing allows you the freedom to express your values, unique gifts, and beliefs – a freedom that some find paralyzing. While there is no "right" way to express these important entities, by avoiding generalities you can separate yourself from a pool of stellar candidates. Instead of telling them you are passionate about human rights, show them by using examples or past experiences. Instead of being the student "interested in human rights," you then for example become the student who volunteered with the UN peacekeepers or organized Amnesty International Committees at high schools throughout Maine. Rather than opt for the general aspects of your candidacy, personalize it. This is your chance to tell people who you are, what you stand for, and who you want to become.

Write, write, and rewrite. You should share your essay with your recommendation writers, your professors, and others to get their feedback, hear their suggestions, absorb their compliments, and listen and respond to their criticisms. Anticipate and plan the time for three or even four drafts.

The Director of Student Fellowships and Research can usually provide examples of past essays upon your request, and also identify an individual on campus with whom you can work on this important piece.