College students are facing ever higher student loan debt – and that’s not just students with advanced degrees such as medicine or law, either. The average student who took out loans for school graduates with over $27,500 in debt; that’s a hefty burden for someone just entering the job market.
There has to be a better way – and there is.
It’s called a scholarship. But in order to get a scholarship – free money for college that you don’t have to pay back after graduation – you’ll need to be able to write a winning application essay.
Most scholarships require some sort of essay, because the program administrators want to know about who you are, and how their investment in your education will be used, as opposed to just a simple application. Obviously the money will pay for tuition or other college fees, but who are they awarding their money to?
That’s what the essay is designed to answer – and it’s your best way to ensure your application is at the top of the list. Writing a stellar scholarship essay doesn’t have to be difficult; it just requires that you approach in with a certain mindset and make a plan that sets you up for success.
Having a killer essay will help stand out from other applicants and will definitely increase your chances of winning the scholarship.
Outline Your Essay
It may sound odd, but you should approach your essay the same way you’d approach a paper you need to write for school. An essay is easier because your central idea is already assumed; they know that your essay is meant to answer the question “Why you should choose me as your winner.” Writing an outline, however, helps you organize your thoughts and make sure you’re meeting their requirements while still showcasing your achievements and eligibility for the award.
This is where fully understanding the program’s individual requirements comes into play. If you’re applying for a scholarship that is awarded for outstanding leadership, for instance, you’ll want to organize your essay to highlight specific events and achievements you have in that area while still being concise and professional. A scholarship offered to minority students facing hardship will require a different type of essay, and you’ll want to talk about your experiences as a minority student and the specific hardships you’re facing that the scholarship would help with.
Whatever program you’re applying for, take the time to write an outline. Your resulting essay will be much cleaner, easier to read, and will be that much better for it.
Don’t Write One Essay For All of Your Applications
You probably figured out this point just from reading the previous paragraphs. Each scholarship is different, with contrasting requirements and target demographic. You don’t want to have your application fall through the cracks or be treated like just another essay, so you can’t treat the scholarship program you’re interested in as just another program, either.
That means your essays need to be individualized. If you are applying for several scholarships with very similar targets (such as awards geared toward LGBT students), your essay outline may come in handy, and you’ll be able to tweak the outline for each program, saving you time when writing the essay itself. You might also be able to take one essay and alter it slightly to match each program. Whatever you do, don’t write a boilerplate essay and send it off with all of your applications.
Show Your Personality
This essay is the scholarship committee’s first glimpse of you, and as the saying goes, you only get one first impression. Let your personality shine through your words. Don’t be afraid to use G-rated humor, but stay away from sarcasm. You are unique and you want the reader of your essay to know that. Go ahead and let your personality show.
Don’t Be Afraid to Write Something Unique or Odd
Scholarship committees read a lot of essays; as a result, they’re used to seeing the same types of phrasing over and over. After a while, all of those similar essays can tend to run together. Since you want yours to stand out, don’t be afraid to go out on a limb and write something unique or even quirky. If you can send them an essay that isn’t like everyone else’s, you increase your chances of making it to the winner’s circle.
Show How Your Experiences Helped You Grow
The people who decide whether they’ll give you a scholarship or not want to see that their money is going to someone who will appreciate it, and who is mature enough to use it in a productive manner. Don’t be afraid to speak about personal faults or experiences if you can also show how you’ve grown as a person because of them. Everyone goes through hard times, but if your story is one of perseverance and courage, share that!
Proofread, Proofread, and Proofread Again
If there’s any advice for a scholarship essay, it’s that you need to proofread several times. Aside from missing requirements, errors in a scholarship essay are a sure-fire way to miss out on getting that award. Use grammar tools, read it slowly, and then read it aloud. Look for mistakes like skipped words, using the wrong homophone (like you’re/your or there/their/they’re), and even those blatant misspellings that you might miss after reading your essay over and over. Take a fine-toothed comb to your essay, and you’ll be glad you did.
Have Someone Else Proofread It
There’s no substitute for having at least one other person read your essay before you submit it. You’ll want to get someone who is a parent, teacher, friend who’s an English nerd, or some other person who will be able to find anything you missed. If you’re applying to multiple scholarships and have written more than one essay, you can always spread them out and have different people in your life look at them. There’s no need to dump your entire stack of essays on one teacher (unless they are willing!).
Once you’ve written your essay, proofread it, and had it edited by someone else, you’re ready to send. Give it one last read, and submit it! If you’ve used these tips, you will probably have a fantastic essay you can be proud of.