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The Three C’s of Great Essays

During my career, I have been a scholarship judge, supervisor, and mentor. Those roles required me to read hundreds of student-written documents. Based on those experiences, I have distilled what matters most in making a written piece of work stand out. I call it “The Scholarship Lady’s Three C’s.” A well-written essay includes dozens of positive traits, but, at a minimum, it is: Clear, Consistent and Compelling. Let me share details about this.

Scholarship judges sometimes disagree when reviewing the essay, if they are not given specific guidelines on how to judge it. Some folks think that grammar and punctuation are less important than the ideas that the writer is trying to convey. Other judges are sticklers for grammar and punctuation. Regardless of your writing ability, you are being judged compared to the other applicants. The following insights might help you. Here a few questions that I am thinking about as I review scholarship essays:

  1. Is it clear? Has the student followed the directions and answered the question that was asked? Can they form coherent phrases, sentences and paragraphs? Does it follow a sequential pattern or logical thought process? Is the message clear, or am I interrupted by typos, poor grammar, wrong word usage or other intrusions during my reading?
  2. Is it consistent? Does the material covered in the essay reflect the answers in the student profile or personal information? For instance, if you mention traveling the world in the essay, but indicate that you are financially needy in the personal data section, that inconsistency might make me question the validity of your answers. There are plenty of circumstances in which both worldly travel and meager finances are possible, especially for college students, but you should explain that so there is no question in the judge’s mind.
  3. Is it compelling? Frankly speaking, after reading 100 answers to the same question or reviewing 100 essays to the same topic, judges experience fatigue. We are looking for candidates who stand out. We are looking for people who not only follow the rules, use proper grammar, and remain consistent in their answers, but we want the “Wow!” factor. We are waiting to read a piece that compels us to read it, much like a good story or book. The stand-out students are those who tell their personal story or answer the essay in a way that makes judges feel engaged, feel like we know the person, and feel empathetic about their situation, topic, or cause. Notice I didn’t say “sympathetic.” Writers who simply tell their sob story are unappealing because everyone has a sob story, of some sort. Make your writing memorable even if it requires you to get assistance, tutoring, or critiques of your work because the scholarship judging process favors good writing.

Lastly, most scholarship essays are supposed to follow a general five-paragraph format where the first paragraph is the introduction, the next three paragraphs are the body and the final paragraph is the closing. If you are not aware, you should always follow the word limits or page limits when writing your answers and essays. While some scholarship providers are flexible, others are not, and you don’t want to be automatically eliminated because you exceeded the limit. If you remember to follow the “Three C’s,” then you will set yourself apart in the scholarship judging process.

More information on writing is available in the Frequently Asked Questions section of the University of Phoenix scholarship website.