5 tips for writing winning scholarship essays
Who doesn’t want scholarships? With cutthroat competition, you need any advantage you can get, and a key to success is mastering the all-important scholarship essay. Here, tips on how to make yours rise to the top of the pile:
Go for the “wow” factor.
“I’ll often read 40 to 50 essays in a sitting, so I’m looking for the one that stands out,” says Amanda Hendricks, external scholarships manager at University of Phoenix.
Hendricks, who has judged many scholarship essays, notes that winning ones have what she calls the "wow” factor. “Winning essays portray the applicant on a deeply personal level, instead of just giving a sob story or an ‘I deserve this’ demand,” she explains.
Show, don’t tell.
“Paint a picture,” Hendricks says. “Don’t just say, ‘I’m poor,’ or, ‘I put my husband and kids through school; now it’s my turn,’ because everyone does that.”
Instead, Hendricks recommends describing concrete examples of what makes you stand out from the pack. “How have you made a difference in the world? Show me what you’ve learned from parenting or financial hardship, how it’s changed you and the impact that it’s made on others,” she suggests.
Your essay’s content is important, but so are grammar, structure, spelling and punctuation. “If your introduction isn’t compelling and the essay is riddled with errors, the judges aren’t going to read further,” asserts Amelia Boan, product director at the University’s Center for Writing Excellence. She suggests using a spell-checker and the University’s WritePoint® online review tool to catch errors.
The University also offers a complimentary scholarship essay review service for current students, Boan notes. “Students can submit their essay draft in Microsoft® Word to firstname.lastname@example.org and get professional feedback,” she explains. Boan also recommends having trusted friends and colleagues review your essay and comment on it before you submit it.
Know your audience.
Many scholarships are established for a specific purpose, according to Hendricks. “Scholarships are often awarded by professional organizations or charities to benefit certain groups or in support of their ideals,” she explains. “Students who do their research ahead of time and tap into these organizations’ missions in their essays can really set themselves apart.”
Other scholarships may be decided based on creativity and originality. “One scholarship is searching for the best essay on how to survive a zombie apocalypse,” Hendricks notes. For similar offbeat contests, using humor and fun storytelling techniques often mean a winning essay, she adds.
Don’t give up.
Some students find scholarship essays intimidating and don’t bother to apply, while others give up after a few losing efforts. “Don’t let an essay requirement discourage you from applying for a scholarship,” Hendricks emphasizes. “The more often you apply, the more essay practice you’ll get — and the greater chances you’ll have for success.”
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