Having sat an Army ROTC scholarship board, conducted hundreds of applicant reviews in my role as a PMS and in discussing applicant essay content with my officer colleagues, I wanted to give you my observations about what makes the best impression on these essays.

What I am referring to the following essays prompts for the Army and Navy ROTC.  I believe these are the most important essays for both applications and is why they are the first essay for both Services:

Army ROTC:

Consider carefully, and then state below in the space provided why you wish to enroll in the Army ROTC Program. Indicate in your statement how you believe your own objectives in life are related to the education and training offered by Army ROTC and what a career obligation means to you.

Navy ROTC:

Discuss your reasons for wanting to become a Naval/Marine Officer. Specifically comment on leadership positions you’ve held, the challenges you have faced and the lessons you have learned. 

I firmly believe that what this essay SHOULD NOT be is a laundry list or rundown of what the applicant achieved in high school or why the applicant believes he/she is an outstanding leader.   The attitude that board members get out of essays such as these are: “Hey, I’m a talented wonderful person and you have to select me because of my past accomplishments.”

But—how can the applicant really say this if they have no idea of what life will be like as a cadet/midshipman and future officer?

What should you do instead?

Do your research about the service you are interested in, visit your local ROTC unit and talk to cadre and cadets/midshipmen, visit your local national guard or reserve unit and “shadow” an officer for a few hours, and speak to serving or former officers. Learn all you can about what the challenges are in ROTC and what life will be like as a future officer.

Then, when you write your essay, talk about those experiences in your essay. Be humble. Tell the board members you did your due diligence to understand the challenges ahead of you.   Tell them you have prepared yourself as best you can (here you can speak to your past leadership experiences) and feel confident that based on your past leadership and these visits/talks you are up to the task of being an officer candidate and a future military officer.

If you write this type of essay, you will be in the 5% category of those who have gone out of their way to actually validate the statement that they are ready to be an officer candidate.

Good luck everyone as you work on your applications.