Many scholarship competitions will require the applicant to submit a finished essay in order to be considered for any awards. The scholarship essay is often the deciding factor for the review board, and a well written submission can be the difference between winning and losing a much needed scholarship award. Many students may find the idea of writing and submitting an essay to the scholarship review board to be a daunting prospect, but put away your fear. A few judicious tips can help you produce a well written, and successful, scholarship essay.
Follow the Directions
First and foremost, students must follow all of the directions on the scholarship application. A misunderstanding of the application can lead to a faulty submission, and you will be immediately out of the running for the desired scholarship award. If the scholarship for which you are applying has a prompt for an essay, read the instructions and the essay question carefully. It may be helpful to rewrite the essay question in your own words to help you better understand it. The review board is looking for someone who can follow instructions, is attentive to the task at hand, and can produce a solid essay that is on point and adheres to the criteria set by the original essay question.
Make An Outline
Whenever you approach an essay, either for a scholarship submission or for you college admissions application, you should always prepare an outline before beginning to write. An outline will help you focus your thoughts, and will help you plan the overall structure of your essay. A detailed outline will allow you to produce a coherent, well thought out essay that expresses your main points cogently and in an orderly manner. The scholarship review board is looking for students who can support their arguments with clear and concise points that relate directly to the topic being addresses.
Many scholarship applications will give you a choice of essay topics. Select the one you find the most interesting. Many students make the mistake of choosing the topic they think will appeal most to the review board, but if you are bored by the topic of your essay it will be reflected in your finished submission. By choosing a subject for which you are passionate, you will be able to complete an engaging essay that will grab the review boards attention.
When writing your essay be sure to develop your ideas along a clear and logical path. Make certain the salient points are connected, and that the transitions flow naturally from one idea to the next. If you are asked to write about your college goals, avoid the cloying or obvious sob story. Scholarship review boards are immune to sob stories, so only attempt to tug at their heartstrings if you have a legitimate reason to do so.
A Few “Polishing” Tips
As Mark Twain once said, “The devil is in the details,” and it is the finishing touches that sets a great essay above a merely good one. Use the following tips to help you polish your essay, and to help you produce a solid and successful submission.
When approaching your scholarship essay, be sure to give yourself enough time write and rewrite your submission. Take time to review your finished essay, and make any appropriate changes you think are needed. Rushing through the process will only result in a less than satisfactory essay.
Expand the ideas you present in your essay with specific, on point, examples. Do not be vague, and avoid generalizations. The review board wants to see that you have solid ideas, and can elaborate on them in a cogent manner. Your attention to detail will produce a more substantial final essay.
While you should always try to present yourself in a positive light, dishonesty in your essay will not help you. By all means talk up your positive points, but do avoid any fabrications. Your initial application and essay, if successful, will lead to a personal interview. If you have included information that is untrue in your essay submission, your interview will consist of trying to remember what lies you told, and to whom. Be truthful and forthright, and your essay will be all the better for it.
Neatness counts in all essay submissions. Gone are the days of handwritten essays, but it is still important to format you pages properly, to double check your spelling and grammar, and to present a finished product that is as easy to read as it is to understand.
Nothing is more helpful when writing a scholarship essay than a second opinion. Have someone you trust and respect, a parent or a teacher, proofread your essay and give you feedback. Often they will be able to catch mistakes or inconsistencies that you have missed, and suggest improvements to the structure and substance of your finished essay. Do not be precious about our work, and take on all constructive criticism. Your goal is to produce the best possible scholarship essay you can.
No subject is more fraught with anxiety for the high school senior than the essay on the college application. Whether it is as bizarre as the University of Chicago’s “How do you feel about Wednesday?”; University of Pennsylvania’s “You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217.”; or Tufts University’s “Are We Alone?”—or whether it is a more mundane question about a formative experience you’ve had in your life, or about some controversial social or political issue, students tremble at the very thought of writing the essay and being judged on it.
We wondered what tips could be offered to ease the pain. For advice, we turned to visiting blogger Jonathan Reider, director of college counseling at San Francisco University High School, who before that was the senior associate director of admissions (and humanities instructor) at Stanford University. He should know; he’s been on both sides of the high school/college door. Here are his 10 best tips.
1. Be concise. Even though the Common Application main essay has only a suggested minimum of 250 words, and no upper limit, every admissions officer has a big stack to read every day; he or she expects to spend only a couple of minutes on the essay. If you go over 700 words, you are straining their patience, which no one should want to do.
2. Be honest. Don’t embellish your achievements, titles, and offices. It’s just fine to be the copy editor of the newspaper or the treasurer of the Green Club, instead of the president. Not everyone has to be the star at everything. You will feel better if you don’t strain to inflate yourself.
3. Be an individual. In writing the essay, ask yourself, “How can I distinguish myself from those thousands of others applying to College X whom I don’t know—and even the ones I do know?” It’s not in your activities or interests. If you’re going straight from high school to college, you’re just a teenager, doing teenage things. It is your mind and how it works that are distinctive. How do you think? Sure, that’s hard to explain, but that’s the key to the whole exercise.
4. Be coherent. Obviously, you don’t want to babble, but I mean write about just one subject at a time. Don’t try to cover everything in an essay. Doing so can make you sound busy, but at the same time, scattered and superficial. The whole application is a series of snapshots of what you do. It is inevitably incomplete. The colleges expect this. Go along with them.
5. Be accurate. I don’t mean just use spell check (that goes without saying). Attend to the other mechanics of good writing, including conventional punctuation in the use of commas, semi-colons, etc. If you are writing about Dickens, don’t say he wrote Wuthering Heights. If you write about Nietzsche, spell his name right.
6. Be vivid. A good essay is often compared to a story: In many cases it’s an anecdote of an important moment. Provide some details to help the reader see the setting. Use the names (or invent them) for the other people in the story, including your brother, teacher, or coach. This makes it all more human and humane. It also shows the reader that you are thinking about his or her appreciation of your writing, which is something you’ll surely want to do.
7. Be likable. Colleges see themselves as communities, where people have to get along with others, in dorms, classes, etc. Are you someone they would like to have dinner with, hang out with, have in a discussion section? Think, “How can I communicate this without just standing up and saying it, which is corny.” Subtlety is good.
8. Be cautious in your use of humor. You never know how someone you don’t know is going to respond to you, especially if you offer something humorous. Humor is always in the eye of the beholder. Be funny only if you think you have to. Then think again.
9. Be controversial (if you can). So many kids write bland essays that don’t take a stand on anything. It is fine to write about politics, religion, something serious, as long as you are balanced and thoughtful. Don’t pretend you have the final truth. And don’t just get up on your soapbox and spout off on a sensitive subject; instead, give reasons and arguments for your view and consider other perspectives (if appropriate). Colleges are places for the discussion of ideas, and admissions officers look for diversity of mind.
10. Be smart. Colleges are intellectual places, a fact they almost always keep a secret when they talk about their dorms, climbing walls, and how many sports you can play. It is helpful to show your intellectual vitality. What turns your mind on? This is not the same thing as declaring an intended major; what matters is why that subject interests you.