You've spent who-knows-how-long finding scholarships. You've searched through books and the Internet, you've contacted local organizations and spoken to your counselors. You have a list of awards that are perfect for you. Now it's time to actually win the money. To do so, you will need to fill out applications and more likely than not, write an essay.
As with applying to college, the scholarship essay can either make or break your chances of winning. This guide outlines the steps you need to take to ensure that your essay gives you the best chance of winning. And winning the scholarship is, after all, what it's all about! Let's get started.
Make sure your essay fits the theme.
Let's say that you are applying for an award based on community service. In the application, you list all of the community service groups that you belong to and service project awards that you've won. But in the essay you vent about your disgust for the homeless and how they should find jobs instead of blocking your passage on sidewalks. Your essay may be brilliantly conceived and written, but if its message is not in line with the rest of your application, it will create a conflicting message and keep you out of the winners' bracket.
So how do you know what the theme of your essay should be? The answer is actually quite simple and goes back to why you decided to apply for the scholarship in the first place:
The theme of your essay is almost always determined by the purpose of the award or why the organization is giving away the money.
Once you know this, you can choose which aspect of your life to highlight in the essay.
Answer the underlying question.
Have you ever been asked one question but felt there was an underlying question that was really being asked? Maybe your mom asked you something like, "Tell me about your new friend Karen." But what she really was asking is, "Tell me about your new friend Karen. Are her 12 earrings and tattoo-laden arms a sign that you shouldn't be spending so much time with her?" In most cases, the essay question is just a springboard for you to answer the real question the scholarship judges want addressed. An organization giving an award for students who plan to study business might ask, "Why do you want to study business?" But the underlying question they are asking is, "Why do you want to study business, and why are you the best future business person we should gift with our hard-earned money?"
For every scholarship that you attempt to win, you will be competing with students who share similar backgrounds and goals. If you are applying to an award that supports students who want to become doctors, you can bet that 99% of the students applying also want to become doctors. Therefore, the goal of every scholarship judge is to determine the best applicant out of a pool of applicants who at first glance look very similar. Use the essay question as a way to prove to the scholarship committee that you are the worthiest applicant for the award.
Share a slice of life.
As you are explaining why you deserve to win, it is important that you also reveal something about yourself. Obviously, in the short space of 500 to 1,000 words, you can't cover everything about you. This is why one of the most effective techniques is to share a "slice of your life." In other words, don't try to explain everything. Just focus on one aspect of your life. If you are writing about your involvement in an activity, it may be tempting to summarize your involvement over the years and list numerous accomplishments. However, this would sound more like a resume (which by the way you should include with every application) and it would not tell the judges anything new. However, if you focus on just one aspect of an experience, you could spend some time going below the surface and share something about who you are, which would be far more memorable. In other words, you would be sharing a slice of your life.
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How to Write a Scholarship Essay
Ten steps to writing a winning essay for a scholarship.
As you know, applying for college is a lot of work. You must complete university applications, financial aid applications, college admissions essays and even an essay for a scholarship.
That’s right! Scholarship applications often require an essay, too.
Don’t worry: Follow these 10 steps on how to write a scholarship essay that could help pay for your college costs.
1. Grab the Reader.
Never underestimate the power of a strong introduction. Look at these two examples of introductory lines. Can you can spot the difference?
- Example #1: Strong leadership skills are important for many reasons.
- Example #2: November 12, 2004, was the day I lost everything.
Example #1 is vague, impersonal and boring. But example #2 is personal, specific and intriguing. It leaves the reader interested and wanting more.
Hit the ground running in your first paragraph. This will help your scholarship essay stand out from the pack.
2. Re-adjust and Re-use Your Scholarship Essays.
Don’t waste hours writing a different essay for all the scholarship competitions you enter. There are many scholarships out there, and essay topics tend to overlap. With a bit of tweaking, one scholarship essay can fit the needs of several different contests. Recycle as much as you can!
3. Always Surprise.
Imagine that the question is “Who in your life has had the biggest influence on you and why?” Don’t automatically write about your mother or father. Chances are everyone else probably will do that too.
Maybe someone like Gloria Steinem or Superman has had the biggest influence in your life. It may not be 100% traditional, but at least it’s more personalized and, therefore, more interesting.
4. Follow the Essay Instructions.
Nothing turns a scholarship essay reader off faster than an essay that almost applies to the contest guidelines. Don’t write under the limit. Don’t write over the limit. Big money is at stake, so make sure you give them what they want!
5. Stay Focused on the Scholarship Essay Topic.
Judges are looking at hundreds, sometimes thousands, of scholarship essays. They don’t have time to read tangents about your pet hamster Phil (unless Phil helps illustrate your main point!). Which leads us to our next topic …
6. Have a Point!
Make sure your essay for the scholarship has one unified statement, or thesis, behind it.
You can look at your thesis as your one-sentence answer to the essay question.
Let’s say the essay question is, “What is a time in your life when you demonstrated courage?” Your thesis could be, “A time in my life when I demonstrated courage was when I helped save my neighbor’s dog from a tornado.” Your essay for the scholarship would support and elaborate upon this statement.
7. Check Your Essay for Spelling Errors.
Bad spelling: nothing “buggs reeders moore.”
But really, scholarship judges have plenty of essays to read. They are looking for any good enough reason to kick one out of a big pile if it makes their job easier. Don’t give them a reason to reject yours.
8. Use Correct Grammar and Punctuation.
This one could have been lumped in with spelling, but it deserves to have its very own spot. You’d be amazed at how easy it is to overlook improper use of homophones like “it’s” and “its” and “their” and “there.”
Have another person — preferably someone who knows the difference — look over your essay once you’ve finished. Check pronoun agreement, commas and anything else that could confuse the reader.
9. Care About What You’re Writing.
Readers can sense when you have a genuine emotional investment in your scholarship essay. When you don’t, your essay is sure to be a one-way ticket to Snooze City.
Remember: Don’t write about what you think you should write about. Write about what interests you.
10. Avoid Redundant Conclusions.
Keep your essay conclusions interesting instead of simply rephrasing—or worse, restating—your original thesis. Your conclusion should explain why the rest of your essay was important — it should answer the question, “So what?”
Now you hopefully know more about how to write a scholarship essay. You can practice by entering the contest for University Language Services’ own scholarship! Good luck!
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