Tackling the Bank of America Foundation Fellowship Unique Essay, #4

As you write your Bank of America Foundation Fellowship essays and work to make them the best they can be, you are probably wondering about the best way to approach these essays and are interested in seeing some examples of past successful essays. This blog post will discuss essay question #4 in the BOAF fellowship application, the one question that is unique to the BOAF fellowship application, in detail and feature two past essays from successful candidates. You can read the blog post on how to write essay #1 here and the blog post on how to approach essay # 2 here.

First of all, you can access all 7 components of the BOAF fellowship applications, see a summary of every single former fellow’s project, read a history of the fellowship, and get more application specifics on the fellowships website here. The application is due on Tuesday, September 18 at 5 PM eastern and your application is considered complete when all 7 components, including both letters of recommendation, are emailed in PDF format to me, Katelynn McBride Barbosa.

BOAF application essay #4

The format of this blog post is as follows:

  1. Lists the essay question
  2. Describes my approach to the question
  3. Provides examples of actual past successful essays and why they are effective

BOAF Essay #4: How does your work advance community sustainability and which of Bank of America Foundation’s funding priorities does it fall under? How will your fellowship prepare you to be a leader in your community?

My approach to this essay question:

This essay poses three explicit questions and you must address all three. First, you need to address how your project will advance community sustainability. It is easiest to address this in conjunction with the second question, which of BOAF’s funding priorities does your project fall under.

As the BOAF Fellowship website describes, BOAF has three key funding areas:

  1. Jobs: Workforce development and education
  2. Housing: Community development
  3. Hunger: Basic human services

You can read and most definitely should read more about these three funding areas on the BOAF fellowship website and the Bank of America Foundation website.

Your essay response must choose 1-3 of the Bank of America Foundation’s key funding areas and explain how your project fits under them.

Make the tie very explicit. It is even acceptable if your essay starts “My project fits under two of Bank of America Foundation’s funding priorities, jobs and hunger.” No matter what, be sure to make it unquestionably clear which of the key priorities your project falls under. Do not leave the committee to guess. Make it as easy as possible for the Bank of America Foundation to know that your fellowship project is in line with their funding priorities.

You can tie in your answer to how your project advances community sustainability with your answer to how your project fits within the funding priorities because the two are connected. The Bank of America Foundation sees a community as stable when it has strong jobs, housing, and basic human services. If your project clearly falls under only one funding area, that is perfectly fine and perhaps even advantageous. Do not try to stretch your project to fit funding areas that it does not fit. Sometimes, the best projects just fit one funding area and the candidate uses this essay space to explain why,  in detail. The Bank of America Foundation eagerly funds projects that fit with one of its funding areas so don’t try to make a case that isn’t there.

Next, you must also address how your project will prepare you to be a leader in your community.

The Bank of America Foundation wants to fund public interest leaders. They don’t want you to work on your project for two years and then leave to pursue work that no longer focuses on advancing community sustainability. Talk about facets of your project that will teach you to be a leader. You are developing your project so it is likely you are developing a new practice area or expanding on an existing practice area at your organization. What will you be leading?

If you will be handling your own case load, that requires leadership. If you’re meeting with community leaders to make sure they are educated on the resources your organization provides, that requires leadership. Talk about the aspects of your project you will be managing and how the project will prepare you for your career down the road. This is also a good place to show your ties to the community that you are serving so that the BOAF can see that you are invested in your community for the long haul. If you grew up in rural Kentucky and your project serves citizens in rural Kentucky, mention that. Describe your history and growing up in rural Kentucky.

This essay question is also a good opportunity to sneak in more detail about your project that you would have liked to put in your response to essay question #1 if the word count had been higher. As you are explaining how your project advances community sustainability, this is your chance to provide more detail on your organization, the specific tasks you will be doing in your project, and other details you did not have room for in essay question #1. Make good use of that space.

To recap, at a minimum, state explicitly which of BOAF’s funding areas your project falls under and explain how your project will tee you up to be a strong leader.

Let’s look at some actual responses to see how applicants have approached this question in the past.

Successful response #1 to BOAF essay question #4 from a real successful applicant

My project advanced community sustainability by making sure that homeless children have access to a quality education. Primary education is essential to help children thrive, especially those without stable housing. Because of this, my project falls under Bank of America Foundation’s funding priorities. By working to make sure that homeless children have access to education my project will address issues of unemployment, housing, and hunger. My project will work to eliminate barriers for homeless students to access education in the suburbs of Chicago and reduce barriers for homeless students to access preschools and selective enrollment schools in Chicago. According to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, stable quality education is crucial to children being able to have steady employment and housing as adults. The central goal of my project is to ensure that homeless students have access to quality education, which will allow them to stay connected to useful programs that provide resources such as food and other needed essentials for their well-being.

My fellowship will prepare me to be a leader in my community by providing me with practice on how to advocate for and serve some of the most vulnerable children and families in society. Homeless students do not have many advocates and through my project I will have an opportunity to be a voice for these children. By participating in back to school fairs and interacting with schools and other service providers, I will develop relationships with families and community members, creating a strong personal network. Through my project I will be able to learn from the families I interact with how best to serve them and the neighborhoods I go into. This will allow me to thrive in my legal aid work in Illinois after my fellowship has ended.

Why this essay was effective: 

The best thing this essay does is leverage facts from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth that show that when youth have access to education, their employment and housing prospects improve. The candidate’s project focuses on helping homeless youth get access to quality education so if the stats show that quality education improves access to two of BOAF’s funding areas, that is definitely worth mentioning.

The candidate could have also approached this essay by emphasizing how her project fit predominately under workforce development, citing specific statistics from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, but also touched on the other two areas as well.

The candidate also explicitly addresses in a separate paragraph how the project will prepare her to be a strong leader. She emphasizes how she will need to build up a personal network, manage relationships with both parents and community leaders, and that she intends to continue her legal aid career in Illinois after her fellowship has ended.

In short, she specifically addressed which funding areas her project falls under and how her fellowship will prepare her to be a community leader.

Successful response #2 to BOAF essay question #4 from a real successful applicant

The work I will perform at the Sugar Law Center will advance community sustainability by providing access to economic opportunities and legal representation that are not typically afforded indigent communities in urban areas. The ravages of the Detroit bankruptcy are still felt to this day and the ordinary Detroit citizen is being left behind by the economic advances made by the city since the bankruptcy. I will fight for a more just and humane society be ensuring the economic and social rights of the common man are addressed and protected by the fullest extent of the law.

The work I will perform at Sugar Law falls under all three of Bank of America’s funding priorities: Workforce Development and Education, Community Development, and Basic Human Services. My work falls under Workforce Development and Education because I will provide legal services to workers and union members through the Sugar Law Center while educating indigent citizens on how to access economic opportunities in their local communities. Community Development is implicated in my work because I will be directly engaging the economic conditions of indigent communities through the legal representation of underpaid employees, which would allow them greater access to wages and community benefits, thus creating financial stability for individuals and families in the Greater Detroit area. Finally, Basic Human Services will be incorporated in my service by actively alleviating poverty through legal means in the Detroit community.

My fellowship will prepare me to be a better leader in my community because I will be able to serve the undeserved and be a direct influence on the economic well-being of my community. I will become an avid defender of civil rights and economic justice through my fellowship opportunity. My immense passion to help those who are unable to help themselves will be well served by the fellowship opportunity afforded to me by both the Notre Dame Law School and Bank of America Foundation. It would be an honor and a privilege to serve my community as a Bank of America Foundation Fellow.

Why this essay was effective:

As with the first essay, this essay explicitly addresses the key components of the question. The candidate argues that his project falls under all three funding priorities and addresses them each individually. As to the leadership part of the question, we get a strong sense from this essay that the applicant is from Detroit and is going back to serve his own community.

Both essays are strong and respond to all of the necessary components of the essay prompt. Both argue that their project falls under all three funding areas. Both essays could have argued that their project fell under one funding area. That would have given the candidate the chance to go into more detail about their project instead of devoting space to explaining why their project fell under all three project areas. There are pros and cons to both approaches.

If you would like a CDO counselor to review your essay, do not hesitate to reach out.

Good luck!

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