How to Write the Forty Acres Scholarship Essays

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As we covered in our Forty Acres Scholarship Guide, the Forty Acres scholarship is a full-ride merit-based scholarship to the University of Texas at Austin, awarded and administered by alumni of the school. We encourage many of our students to apply to this scholarship, as it not only helps with paying for college, but also provides a support network and enrichment activities.

As with college admissions, your grades and extracurriculars are important when they decide who gets these scholarships, but the essays you write are a key piece. There are many students with perfect grades, and it is their essays which differentiate them. To help you when composing your own essays, we have examples from past Ivy Scholars students who wrote stellar Forty Acres essays. We’ll discuss what they did well, and what the program is looking for from applicants. 

The Forty Acres scholarship asks for three short essays. One on diversity, one on how you have benefited from mentorship, and one on how you will benefit from the global perspective offered by the program.

Diversity Essay Example

Our scholar community is a collection of high-achieving students with a wide range of diverse experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, and talents. This diversity strengthens our program and supports an open and supportive environment. As you consider applying for a program that values a community enhanced by the diverse contributions, perspectives, and experiences of our scholars, please share what you think can be gained from having a diverse community of peers and ways you believe you would contribute to our community of scholars. (300 words)

Every Sunday for the past 5 years, I’ve led group discussions at Hindu school. After an hour-long guided mantra meditation, we crack open our Bhagavad Gitas, ready to delve into our religious heritage.

When I entered St Agnes, I started to compare my notes from Catholic theology with my reflections on the Bhagavad Gita. I was startled to find continuities . The similarities between the New Testament’s “love your neighbor as yourself” and Bhagavad Gita’s verses on selflessness were uncanny.

I decided to take a more comparative approach in Sunday school.  Initially nervous about how other religious texts would be received, I was pleasantly surprised by our smooth transition. People appreciated juxtaposing Hinduism with other traditions because it gave a broader perspective on their own. Our first comparative class contrasted the Catholic emphasis on charitable works as a means to salvation with the Hindu cycle of knowledge, good deeds, and devotion. By the end, we found many similarities between the two despite the evident incompatibility between Christian heaven and Hindu reincarnation.

As I grappled with making the lessons of the Bhagavad Gita palpable and concrete, while introducing the sacred texts of other faiths in my Sunday class, I felt like a real theologian but also a mediator between different perspectives.

After 50 classes of in-depth comparative analysis and hundreds of hours of annotating scores of texts, I’m no closer to finding a magic formula for reconciliation. Instead, digging deeply into different traditions to unify divergent viewpoints gave me confidence in my ability to convincingly articulate how our similarities are greater than our differences. I will contribute what I have learned to the diverse community that UT offers by building bridges between religious communities and traditions on campus.

Diversity Essay Analysis

This prompt is asking for two separate, but related, things. The first is how you have experienced diversity, and the second is how your own unique knowledge, viewpoints, and experiences will contribute to the broader campus environment at UT Austin. 

In the example above, the author talks about their ecumenical experiences, how they foster interfaith dialogue, and their conversations about religion, spirituality, and morality. They show their experience in melding disparate traditions, and in seeking connections between faiths.

The author shares knowledge two ways, bringing their own Hindu faith to the environment of a Catholic school, and returning to their Hindu discussions with concepts from the Catholic faith. This is not a passive absorption of the ideas of others; the author is actively seeking new viewpoints, and trying to see how differing views fit together.

The author concludes by stating their desire to continue on this path at UT Austin. The community at the school is larger and more diverse still, and their prior experience at bridging these gaps will be helpful when facilitating discussions or trying to find connections between different faiths.

Your own answer to this essay does not to be based on faith; any experience with differing opinions and ways of thinking is relevant. Ideally you should show how you took an active role in exploring these differences, and what you learned from doing so. The Forty Acres program is specifically looking for how you will contribute to the community at UT Austin, and the best way to demonstrate a future ability to do something is by already having done it. Thus by showing how you contributed to the diversity and communication of a community in the past, your readers will understand how you will do so at UT Austin.

Mentorship Essay Example

As the only program of its kind administered by an alumni association, Forty Acres Scholars develop a unique connection with their alma mater. Scholars meet, mingle with, and hear from alumni who can serve as a powerful network and resource. How have you been impacted by older individuals in your life (teachers, classmates, coaches) and what do you hope to gain from alumni while in college? (300 words)

My Grandmother started volunteering at Tamana Special School in 1995; later she was appointed as the principal of the School of Hope. Tamana was created to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. One day, I expressed my curiosity about where she worked and brought me along to the school.

I was somewhat taken aback when I saw kids my age and above who were completely non-verbal working diligently on various arts and crafts. My grandmother explained to me that to interact with them, I had to relinquish the many expectations we tend to impose on people in our daily lives. None of those standards were applicable here, which made communication a puzzle. I was impressed with my grandmother’s ability to take the challenge in stride, effortlessly turning moments of friction and confusion into opportunities for meaningful expression.

Along with inspiring me with her unflagging selflessness, my grandmother has been extremely influential in shaping my interests. When I was fourteen, she inspired me to volunteer at The Nai Disha School in Delhi, and then later, back in Houston, to join an autism advocacy group. She urged me to find continuities between my academic interests and service to my communities.

College will present me with a whole host of new opportunities to explore and act upon my passions. I hope to encounter alumni who have had similar goals of joining their academic research to local outreach. I know that bridging the gap between “town and gown” is no easy task, and I will need all the guidance I can get from those who have done so. I am eager to have an impact on the future of UT that extends beyond my own academic career as a 40 Acres mentor, helping students turn their budding interests into exciting opportunities.

Mentorship Essay Analysis

While this essay prompt does not explicitly use the word “mentor,” that is the kind of relationship they are asking about. They want to hear about how a relationship with an older individual impacted your life and studies, and how you will make use of the network the scholarship will provide for you at UT Austin (as this is one of the core benefits of the scholarship alongside the funding they provide).

The exact relationship you discuss is less important than why you choose to talk about it. What about the relationship specifically was important to you? What did you learn, and how did you grow and change as a person? While the question asks about an external mentor, you should still be the main focus of this essay. You are the one vying for the scholarship, not your mentor.

In the example above, the author discusses their relationship with their grandmother, and how their grandmother’s worldview and values shaped their own. The author learned of community service and selflessness from their grandmother, along with how to communicate and empathize with those who are frequently shunned or othered by society.

In the conclusion of the essay, the author expresses a desire to continue serving their community, and in helping to build communication and other bridges with that community. They further want help in doing so; they do not profess to know everything already, but instead point to how the guidance of alumni will help them to accomplish their desires. This use of concrete details makes their ideas seem more thought out, and makes the essay more impactful overall.

The exact values you express in your essay can and should vary. Whatever lessons you have learned, you should clearly express how your mentor impacted you, and how you will interact with alumni to continue this personal path. You should have a clear through-line in the essay, from your past experiences to your future plans. You should also reference UT Austin explicitly in some way, though the depth of this will vary based on the values you are exploring.

Perspective Essay Example

Forty Acres Scholars benefit from the opportunity to go abroad in order to expand their view of the global society—whether in the form of study abroad, a service trip, or a professional experience. What do you think can be gained from this global perspective? (300 words)

As soon as the Golden Calf is overturned, a Hebrew priest is already rebuilding the tabernacle with gold-plated cherubim. A centuries-old Christian Orthodox church is reduced to rubble by the Bolsheviks to allow for the construction of a massive KGB headquarters building. A community always has one foot in the past and one in the future, simultaneously negotiating between its cultural heritage and the demands of the present.

I want to use my degree to resolve conflicts between cultural values and the demands of modernity. At St. Agnes, we sometimes struggle to reconcile our social norms with the norms of new students from the Middle East and China. The idea that we can all eventually resolve our cultural differences through reasoning misses the point – traditions, habits, and practices aren’t about reason. If we are to arrive at a unified viewpoint, we must start with each person’s different perspective. That requires a communicator who has an intimate understanding of both sides of the equation. To gain such understanding, we have to be willing to widen our own perspective by delving into both party’s pasts to understand how both viewpoints evolved.

Traveling to different countries to work within the very cultures that I am studying will help me to use my academic knowledge to conduct conversations that might normally run the risk of communicative misfire. For instance, if I am moderating a dialogue between Hindus and Muslims to address political frictions along the border between India and Pakistan, I would need first hand knowledge of how those cultures operate within their respective countries, not just in the U.S. Whatever my future brings, an international perspective will help me build foundations to resolve conflict while doing justice to all perspectives.

Perspective Essay Analysis

This essay is again asking how you will benefit from what the scholarship offers besides the money. Forty Acres students get opportunities to study abroad; in what ways are you deserving of these opportunities? How will you put the benefits of this to use? The foundation awarding the scholarship wants to ensure that the students who receive it will put it to good use.

They don’t, however, want to hear about your plans to go abroad, but more generally about why going abroad at all will benefit you and your studies. Travelling to foreign lands and experiencing cultures other than your own broadens your horizons, and gives you a new perspective on the world. Forty Acres wants to know how that expanded perspective will benefit you.

In the example above, the author begins by discussing their current view of the world, one built from layers of time intersecting each other, with cultural mores pushing and pulling. From there, they elaborate on why a broader perspective is important, pulling from details of their life. The importance of perspective while communicating with classmates from different regions of the globe shows the influence of time and place on a person’s perspective.

Finally, the author talks about how they want to be a communicator, able to facilitate dialogue between people with different ways of seeing the world. In order to do this, they need to understand multiple perspectives, to be able to see clearly how others view the world, and empathize with that.

Your own essay should draw on your own experiences which taught you the value of perspective, and discuss what you hope to gain or accomplish from having a more global perspective. Selfless goals look best here; a desire to help the world at large is what caused this scholarship to be founded, and they like to see that echoed in the students who are awarded it.

Finally, if you have past experiences which gave you global perspective, you should consider tying those in. This can either come from your own travels, or from meeting people from around the world, and learning from them. Having past experience with broadening your perspectives can show how you value it, and that you understand what you can gain by broadening your horizons.

Final Thoughts

Nobody likes writing college essays (well, we do, but it is our job), but they are still important, as they let you speak directly to the people who will decide on your application. This is true for scholarship essays as well; here you get to argue your case for why you deserve this scholarship, and how you will benefit from it.

Writing these essays can be challenging, especially on top of everything else required for college admissions. If you want help writing your own essays, or keeping your application process on-track, schedule a free consultation with us to learn how we can help you.

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