8 Important Tips for Writing Scholarship Essays
An analysis performed by The New York Times suggests that more and more students are applying for and receiving merit-based aid. In fact, the number of students getting merit aid rivals the number of students getting need-based aid. That’s remarkable, and it suggests that students are becoming adept at both seeking out and applying for scholarships.
Those that do apply for scholarships may find that all sorts of factors play a role in the selection process. There are long application forms to fill out, and specific attributes that students don’t have control over may play a role in how much money students get. For example, at the University of Rochester, experts suggest that living outside of the state of New York is worth about $2,000 in aid. Students can’t really move to get that aid, but it is important.
But there is one thing students do have control over: the scholarship essay. This is the point at which students can really boast about their work and their personal attributes, and they can make their name and their fame shine through to the selection committee. Here’s how to pull together an essay that turns heads.
1. Follow the Instructions
Scholarship essays are somewhat freeform, in that students are encouraged to get creative and use their own words. But most organizations also provide rules pertaining to these essays. They might ask students to:
- Type their responses, or write them with black ink
- Stay within a word-count range
- Submit the materials by a specific deadline
- Stick to a specific topic
These rules can seem pesky and annoying, and it’s tempting to ignore them altogether. But as officials from Furman University point out, essays are typically read quite quickly, and officials have a number of applications to plow through. That’s true when officials are working with admission essays, and it’s absolutely true when scholarship money is on the line.
Students who break the rules might find that their essays are simply never read, as officials don’t have the time to wade through documents that stray from the guidelines. Students who do stick to the rules, on the other hand, prove that they’re serious about their college experience, and they’re willing to do the work that results in a paycheck. That could make all the difference.
Students often apply for many scholarships at once, hoping to piece together funding for school from many different sources. As a result, most students have many different scholarship essays lying around, and it can be tempting to reuse the same essay in two, three or even four different scholarship packages.
This is certainly efficient, but unfortunately, it’s not very effective. Many scholarships are designed for a small subset of students, and the administrators of those programs might have a particular set of passions they’re funding with their scholarships. Sending a group an essay that’s clearly made for someone else can be a bit of an insult, as it indicates that the student isn’t willing to do the work required to obtain the funding.
Each essay should be unique to the organization that’s willing to offer funding, and the essay should be written with that group in mind. This method might be time-consuming, but as a whole, it tends to be more effective.
Use Academic Language
There are a number of rhetorical flourishes students might use in their personal lives that have no place in a scholarship essay, including:
Winning essays have personality, of course, but they’re also deeply professional. They use the sort of language an adult might use, and they allow administrators to grasp a student’s thoughts in mere moments, with no translation required.
4. Be Original
Just because essays must be professional doesn’t mean they can’t be original. In fact, students are encouraged to stretch and grow, showing the administrators who they really are and what they are all about. This means that pulling down essays from websites and submitting them as an original work is a terrible idea. Students should use this opportunity to let their originality shine through.
Winning essays contain some nugget about the student’s life that’s original and compelling. It could be a story, a quote or a personality trait. It could be a challenge the student has overcome, or a goal the student hopes to achieve. In short, there’s a story in the essay that pulls the administrator’s attention. That’s an original essay with power, and it’s not the kind of thing that can be randomly pulled from the Internet.
5. Be Factual
While students are encouraged to be original, they should also stick to the verifiable facts, rather than delving into fiction. Each thing they mention should be something that really happened, or some memory the student can access in a moment’s notice. Lies on applications can disqualify students from consideration, so they should always be avoided.
6. Take Time
Writing a compelling, factual, correct, targeted document isn’t easy, and it’s not the sort of thing that should be rushed through in an hour or so. Students who really want to win should set aside several days for their writing, pulling together an outline in one day, writing in another and editing the document in yet another day. These are the essays that contain all of the elements a student needs in order to win that scholarship.
Excellent essays contain all of the elements of strong writing, including flow, structure and excellent grammar. Unfortunately, scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress suggests that about three-fourths of American students don’t have excellent writing skills. In fact, many struggle to pull together a document that experts would even consider passable.
Asking for help may be an excellent step for students who don’t excel in writing. Students who are already enrolled in college might be able to access writing help through the guidance department, and high school students may be able to do the same. Coaching like this can help students to create a document that wins, and students may emerge from the process with a strong set of skills they can use if they ever choose to apply for another scholarship.
8. Ask for a Review
It’s easy to get buried in the details of writing, obsessing over specific words and revising sentences over and over again. There’s a lot at stake, and students might reasonably change a document hundreds of times before they think it’s ready to send in for a review. Each of these edits might be important, but they might also allow little errors to creep in. Punctuation might move or shift, spelling errors may crop up, and other difficulties might be introduced.
Students might be blind to these problems, but an outside reviewer might see them right away. That’s why handing off the document to someone else is such a smart idea. By letting someone else read the work and spot any problems, students may have a much better chance of turning in a final document that is absolutely flawless.
Help From SimpleTuition
While we might not be able to help you write your scholarship essay, we can help you to find scholarships to apply for. In fact, our “Scholarships” center contains hundreds of scholarships you could use in order to pay for school. Just click on that page, tell us a little about the school you’re planning to attend, and start searching! In just a few clicks, you might find all kinds of funds for school.