It goes without saying that the best kind of money for college is the kind that’s free. Scholarships are coveted because they don’t need to be paid back, but with all those hundreds of students vying for awards, are there ways to make a scholarship essay stand out? Experts say there are. There are definitely some strategies to keep in mind when writing that perfect college scholarship essay. Below are some tips for making the most of your time and efforts.
1. Follow directions on the scholarship essay.
This seems like a given, but when students are applying for multiple scholarships, the details of each can get jumbled together and sometimes to save time, students will use the same essay but tweak it a little. The best advice is to instead tailor the essay to the prompt because repurposed essays won’t stand out as well as something that is fresh and purposeful. If there is a word count, stay within that limit. If there is a specific question to be answered, make sure to reference that question in the writing and let them know that you are submitting your best work.
2. Do your homework.
Some scholarship websites will show past winners and post essays, artwork, or photos of those who have won. To get a feel for what the grantor is looking for, take some time to see what kind of work they have awarded in the past. With that being said, the essays that will stand out will show authenticity. Be yourself. Scholarship committees value diversity, experiences, and individual uniqueness. Help them understand who you are without being able to actually meet you in person. Behind a committee are actual human beings reading through hundreds of essays. You don’t want yours thrown aside because of boring conformity.
3. Begin with a hook.
Compelling essays sometimes tell something personal to hook the reader. A hook attempts to grab the reader’s attention so they are eager to read more. An example scholarship essay question is: Tell about a time when you demonstrated a random act of kindness. If a student simply begins the essay by stating that they enjoy helping others, the essay will not stand out. Real life examples and stories will paint a picture for the judges. Who are you as a student? What are the circumstances surrounding the act of giving and what compelled you to do it? Grab the reader with a hook and try your best to keep them interested.
4. Tell a story.
Just like telling something personal can hook a reader, telling a story can do the same thing. Good stories have a way of drawing a reader in and judges will appreciate tangible details and descriptions of unique settings and experiences. Stories have a way of connecting people and sparking connections. Telling a story will help you convey what’s important to you and show a piece of your life. Additionally, stories have the ability to stick with the scholarship committee with deeper thoughts and ideas unlike facts and information. Simply put, stories have some power of persuasion.
5. Edit and revise.
It’s always a good idea to have another set of eyes proofread your work. Correct grammar will be expected for college scholarship essays. Spellcheck software programs cannot be relied on to detect grammar mistakes so it’s better to have someone with strong writing and editing skills take a look at your work. A perfect example of this is the difference between the words “effect” and “affect.” This example and other common English grammar mistakes are easy to make but it’s critical to have a polished essay if students want to be considered for an award. Similarly, misspellings, missing punctuation, capitalization mistakes, and run-on sentences are all ways to ensure disqualification.
6. Emphasize a career plan.
If you have a clear career plan, major or minor emphasis established, background experience or training, use this to your advantage – especially if you are applying for a very specific scholarship. For instance, as the demand for those graduating in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) goes up, there are multiple opportunities for students pursuing degrees in that field. Students can explain how they have already committed themselves to a discipline with examples from jobs, volunteer experiences, classes or clubs while in high school. Any other potential leadership qualifications could also be good to reference including 4H, Boy/Girl Scouts, church affiliations, or any certifications. Certifications could include lifeguard, first aid, or driving safety certifications. In Wisconsin, for instance, there’s a supplemental course that students can take in addition to driver’s ed. The course teaches everything from car maintenance to driving safely in inclement weather. Writing some leadership or certification details into your essay and tying in past achievements is definitely something to consider.
7. Get organized.
If you are writing a scholarship essay, you are likely looking for more than one opportunity. Staying organized is essential for keeping track of information. One way to keep track of scholarship opportunities, applications, requirements and deadlines is to use a working document or spreadsheet. This will help to keep information all in one place and will streamline important information.
8. Be mindful of your social media.
HR departments sometimes utilize social media platforms to see what an applicant’s online presence is like. The same rule of thumb applies for scholarship applicants. If students are using social media profiles on a regular basis, they might consider how posts, photos, and information align with their values and the image they would like to convey to scholarship committees. Benefits of social media sites can include communicating with friends and family, doing research, sharing thoughts, photos, links, music and more. However, students should be aware of sharing information that could seem negative or question their moral character. Disqualification for this reason would be disappointing and students would likely not even know why. Tidying up an online presence would be a good strategy for any student applying for scholarships and could even serve as good practice for later on when students will apply for professional positions with employers.
9. Make use of local connections.
Prospective students and those already enrolled in college may have resources at their fingertips. Friends or family members may be part of organizations that could have scholarships available, including employers and community groups. Some examples of community organizations include: Kiwanis, Lions Club International, The Salvation Army, United Way, and Habitat for Humanity. Students should brainstorm about connections they may have in the community. Additionally, students could ask friends and family members if their employers provide scholarships. If they haven’t in the past, perhaps the prompting could lead them to establish funds for the cause. Local credit unions, law firms, chiropractic offices, and other local businesses have been known to provide scholarships and sponsorship. If an essay is required, it may serve you well to be affiliated with your community as you can expound upon your connections while writing.
10. Create a website.
Going above and beyond may be just the effort that sets you apart from the rest. One way to do this is to create a website or page specifically dedicated to education. Students can include information like grades, sports or academic achievement, and community service. Letters of recommendation could also be beneficial. This link should then be shared/linked into the essay so potential judges can view the information. In the 21st century, people are used to visual information, which gains attention and creates meaning. It’s also a clever way to get more information into the hands of the scholarship judges when the word count for the essay may be limited.
11. Use humor.
All too often, professionalism has students overlooking something that has won over many selection committees. Humor! Experts agree that humor is a key to writing a winning scholarship essay. Writing that is fun to read will definitely stand out and promote self-awareness. You will need to know exactly what kind of organization you are writing to, however, because this could be risky depending on the audience. However, if done in good taste, judges will appreciate playfulness in writing and even something that makes them laugh. At the end of the day when all the essays and words start jumbling together, a memorable essay that pries a smile or a laugh from the reader will stand above the rest. A tip if going this route. Let several people read your essay first. See if your bold enthusiasm elicits the kind of response you are going for.
Writing scholarship essays certainly isn’t easy, but there’s a lot of helpful advice out there for writing something that will stand out. Imagine that payoff (literally) if you have a scholarship essay that gets selected. You will thank yourself for doing the work and it will help you financially on your educational journey. Writing practice is always beneficial as you will be doing a lot of it in college. Be optimistic, do your best, and good luck. The power of positive thinking cannot hurt.