How To Write a Winning Scholarship Essay
Posted: Feb 16, 2015
Writing the Scholarship Essay – a "How To"
If you are seeking scholarships, you know by now that you have to write at least one scholarship essay for each application you submit. And if you have never written one of these "puppies" before, you are probably wondering how to write a scholarship essay that will "knock the socks off" of the decision committee! You will want an essay that:
- Is completely unique
- Presents you as the most exceptional candidate
- Will exhibit creativity in style
- Will be grammatically perfect
The Scholarship Essay Format
You have certainly written essays before, most probably in English classes in high school and/or undergraduate school, if you are currently seeking a scholarship for graduate studies. The format for scholarship essays is essentially the same – and introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Many organizations will have a minimum/maximum word limit, so be certain that you check that carefully and stay within the range of allowance.
All scholarship essays will have a prompt, and that prompt will give you the topic. One of the biggest mistakes that applicants make is to veer from the prompt, because there is information that they just feel a need to include. So, when you choose your prompt (there are usually options), be certain that you completely understand what the prompt is asking. For example, if the prompt is something like "Describe a time in your life when you failed at something; how did you react to that failure and what did you learn from that failure?" You must stick to that topic and speak to the failure you have selected. Speaking to a success may only come at the end, perhaps following what you learned. And that ultimate success would be a good point to make in your conclusion.
Your essay on this topic will have the following components:
- An introduction which will introduce the topic – possibly speaking to failure in general. My advice is always to skip the introduction until the rest of the essay is completed.
- A paragraph describing the failure itself.
- A paragraph explaining how your reacted to that failure
- A paragraph highlighting what you learned from that failure
- A conclusion, perhaps speaking to how you have learned to use failure as a learning experience and as a springboard to meet future challenges with success.
How to Start a Scholarship Essay
As with any essay you have ever written before, you will have to begin with a brainstorming session. Do this on paper, not on your desktop because you will want to cross out, combine, and prioritize. For example, if you were to write the essay on "failure," you will want to list several of the failures you have encountered thus far in your life. As you list those failures, put details in under each one. Picking the right failure will be a matter of those details. Which one has had the most impact upon you; which one has changed you in some way?
Once you have picked your failure, you are ready to construct your outline. It does not have to be formalized – it just needs to make sense to you. But in this outline, you should have all of the detail that you will be including in each paragraph! If another type of graphic organizer works better for you, by all means use it, but NEVER start writing your essay without it! It is your blueprint. And like a blueprint for building construction, it is flexible. As you begin to write, you may want to change it a bit, but at least you have the basic skeleton!
The Rough Draft
During this phase of essay scholarships writing, I recommend that you do not worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation. Your concern should be style, tone, and vocabulary and, above all, personalization. Many applicants make the mistake of trying to be too formal and, in doing so, they lose the personal aspect that committee members want to see. You have to find the middle-ground between being too formal and being too conversational. This, I believe, is achieved through the use of appropriate vocabulary – avoid stilted, high-brow words and terms, and avoid slang as well! Be somewhat conversational.
Once the body is finished, you are ready to write your introduction – the most important part. Here, you must grab attention immediately and compel the reader to move forward. Two of the best methods are:
- Tell a short anecdote and tie it the body with a solid transition sentence at the end of the paragraph.
- Write a short, bold, and/or shocking statement – one that will cause a reader to sit up and take notice! Again, there must be a good transition statement at the end, leading logically into the first body paragraph.
The Editing, Revision, and Proofreading
Do not do this yourself. By the time you have shared an intimate experience, you are emotionally attached to what you have written. You will be prone to overlook obvious errors in fluency, coherence, grammar and mechanics. Have several people read it and make suggestions – people whose opinions you value – perhaps an English instructor as well. You want the finished product to be compelling, really of high interest content, and impeccably composed!
A lot is riding on your scholarship essay, and the competition is tough! Do not skip any of these critical steps, and do not think you can just "bear your soul" without utilizing all of the tools of good writing. Start long before the deadline, so that you have the chance to reflect on what you have written, obtain the opinions of others, revise, and polish!
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