With many scholarship application deadlines around the corner (including the FRCC Foundation Scholarship), now seems a perfect time to offer tips for writing a compelling scholarship essay, which can mean the difference between getting a scholarship and not.
I sat down with Ryan McCoy of the FRCC Foundation to get some of his dos and don’ts on scholarship essay writing. Here are a few of his top suggestions:
1. Follow directions.
Amazingly, too many students ignore the essay question(s) being asked on the application, Ryan says. The FRCC Scholarship application is quite simple, and applicants are requested to write one essay—the answer to which determines what types of scholarships one might be eligible for. It asks three questions:
- Why should the Foundation invest in you?
- What are your academic and professional goals?
- After achieving your academic goals, how will you give back to the community?
Pretty simple. So should you go into extreme detail about your childhood? Probably not.
2. Be concise. Be clear.
“Sometimes we find that students jump around a lot in their essays,” says Ryan. “Whatever you do, try not to ramble. Have a clear and concise argument on why you’re a deserving student.” In other words, make your point quickly. And do it well.
3. Make sure the essay stands alone, but don’t include every detail.
Another big mistake Ryan sees often is students who assume the reader knows their life story. His advice: “Think like a journalist: When you read a newspaper article, it assumes you don’t know anything about that topic,” Ryan says. “The same goes with your scholarship essay. Assume the reader knows nothing about you.”
But don’t go into extreme detail. If an essay offers up too much personal history, it might be hard to follow (and of course, too long). “You want the essay to be easy to read,” says Ryan. “The reviewer should have a sense of who you are after reading it, but should not be confused or overwhelmed.”
As a writer, grammar geek, and someone who has written a lot about getting into (and succeeding in) college, I have a few tips of my own:
4. Plan it out.
Remember those tedious outlines for essays in high school English class? Dust off your notes and plan out your essay carefully, devising a clear structure that conveys a central point or theme. This outline will help you stay organized in delivering your key message and not stray off topic.
5. Don’t rush.
That essay you wrote this morning might not look as great two days from now. Take a stab at a first draft, then set it aside for a day, a week, whatever you can afford. Reviewing it with fresh eyes will give you new insight into how it comes across. Mistakes will pop off the page in a way they didn’t when you read through it ten times the same day you wrote it.
6. Have someone else read it.
Get a teacher, a boss, or even a friend to read your essay and offer their feedback. Does the essay capture who you are? Your journey? Does it make sense? Is it clear and concise?
7. Read it out loud.
I’ve suggested this before in my post on learning to write better, but you’ll no doubt catch a mistake or two when you read something out loud. Don’t send off an essay that is sloppy or has grammar or punctuation errors. Is that really the impression you want to give people who are making a decision on whether or not to award you money?
8. Make it yours.
Before you write a word, spend time thinking about the question being asked. Brainstorm. Some scholarship applications might pose a very specific question, such as “Please tell us about a significant experience that has had a big impact on your life.” Other colleges may ask more general questions, such as “What are your academic and personal goals.” Whatever the question, make your answer personal. Write it from your heart. And don’t try to second-guess the person reading it by writing what you think they’d like to hear.
If you’re struggling with a scholarship essay, what do you find most challenging in the writing process? If you’ve successfully written a killer essay, what tips do you have?
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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