Applying for Scholarships: Writing Your Essay

May 16, 2012

Writing EssayYou’ve filled out the application and requested copies of your transcript. Now comes the final step in the scholarship application process… the dreaded essay.

It’s understandable why so many applicants hate writing scholarship essays (you’ve already written so many essays in the process of applying to school!), but I always encourage folks to view the essay portion of any application as an opportunity. In many ways, the essay is the “great equalizer” of the scholarship submission process. Don’t have a stellar GPA that makes your transcript stand out? Or maybe you had to work instead of volunteering every weekend? The essay provides you with a great opportunity to sell yourself to the selection committee and make them see just how much YOU deserve this scholarship.

In order to make sure you’re submitting an essay that best presents your case for receiving the scholarship, keep these tips in mind:

  • Make sure you answer the underlying question of the essay. Before you start writing, it’s a good idea to draft a one-sentence answer to the essay question. For example, if the essay question is “What is the greatest obstacle you’ve ever had to overcome?” Your sentence could be “The greatest obstacle that I’ve ever overcome is having to change schools every 18 months while my father was in the military.” You don’t have use those exact words in your essay, but make sure you get that point across very clearly.
  • Create an outline. Based on your answer to the underlying question, build an outline that speaks to your entire essay/story. Identify your introduction, your supporting points, your main answer to the question and your conclusion. From there, it will be easier to draft the essay in an organized fashion.
  • Start strong! Depending on the scholarship, the selection committee may have to read hundreds of essays. Grab the reader from the first sentence (e.g., “My life changed forever on August 14, 2010” is way more attention grabbing than “My community is important to me” or “I believe I deserve this scholarship.”
  • Make sure the theme of your essay aligns with the theme of the scholarship. For example, if you’re applying for a scholarship based on community service, make sure your essay talks about all your community service accomplishments, why you love your community, etc.
  • Authenticity trumps drama. The selection committee wants to hear about you and why YOU deserve this money. Don’t feel pressured to include every challenge that life has thrown at you in hopes that it will sway the committee. Be real and speak to your real life experiences.

Most importantly, don’t forget to proofread! And then get someone else to proofread it for you.

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