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How to Write a Great Scholarship Essay

April 3, 2020

Writing essays can be challenging. While there are those who can crank out a ten page essay in a few hours, for a lot of us, it takes a few hours just to write a page. This can make writing scholarship essays pretty difficult for some people especially when you are asked to write about yourself and what your aspirations are because you might not even know what you want to do! So what are the keys to writing a good scholarship essay? Here’s a list of tips and tricks to help you write the best scholarship essays that are sure to make you stand out!

  • Keep it organized. Sometimes we can be tempted to ramble when writing but it's best to stay organized and coherent. This can help direct your stream of consciousness into a point so you and your readers don’t get lost. Organization also maintains the clarity of your paper so your point(s) gets across better. To help your essay be more organized, try starting off by making an outline for yourself. This will also help you brainstorm what points you want to include and will help you think of details that you may have missed. Starting with an outline can ensure that your paper is well organized and flows better as well.
  • Make sure you have a killer intro. If you don’t have a good intro, chances are readers might not even make it to the rest of your essay. Having a good intro goes all the way back to your first middle school english course. I always remember my teacher emphasizing that we needed to have a killer intro and a punchy conclusion. Having a good intro can also increase the likelihood that the reader will remember your essay. Your intro is a “hook” that will pull your readers in and make them want to read more. Having a good intro can also set you apart from the rest because it’s another indication that you care about the scholarship and that you are really trying.
  • Details. Unless the prompt asks you to be concise, include details. Details are the spice of life so don’t be afraid to use a few adjectives and give some more description to what you’re writing about. Details can also help sway your essay reviewers more because details can create one of the three rhetorical appeals: pathos, logos, and ethos. Pathos is an appeal to emotion, logos is an appeal to logic, and ethos is using credibility to gain trust with your audience. You will likely use any one of these when writing though using pathos can be one of the most powerful. Pathos can play on their emotions and help the reviewers to empathize or sympathize with you. It might sound a bit manipulative but one of the biggest goals with writing is to get your reader to side with you. 
  • Keep it relevant. If your love for your pet has nothing to do with the prompt, then don’t talk about your pet. That may mean you need to rewrite your essay but it will be well worth the rewrite because it means that you won’t go off into the weeds with some side story only to realize (regrettably) that it had nothing to do with your original point. 
  • Write confidently. If you aren’t confident, people might not take you seriously most especially in writing. Confidence is different than being cocky but a good confidence is necessary to win over your audience especially when all they have is your writing. Confidence is part of respect and people will respect you if they can see that you’re confident but not cocky.
  • Follow the instructions. Be sure to follow the instructions outlined in the scholarship because those are things the people reviewing your essay will be looking for specifically. This means that those are the most important pieces of your essay so be sure to include everything they ask for. Leaving one thing out could mean your essay being dismissed. 
  • Review again and again. Look over your essay and have someone else read it as well. It needs to be free of any and all typos or grammatical errors.Typos can leave a really negative impression with your reader, especially if there are a lot of mistakes and if they’re pretty frequent and obvious. Getting a second pair of eyes can give you insights, give a new outlook on your writing, give you advice and also help you determine if you’ve met all the criteria of the essay. Mary Christopherson, a technical records specialist from Idaho State University's Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships also adds that you should “Take your time in writing your statement. Committees look for statements and essays that are well written and address the topic(s) outlined in the scholarship announcement.”
  • It’s okay to recycle essays. Don’t be afraid to reuse essays you’ve already written if they fit the essay criteria but be sure that they address the prompt directly and aren’t generic enough that your essay reviewer would know that it is generic. There’s no reason why you should rewrite an entire essay if you’re essentially saying the same thing but if you don’t at least go over it, change a few things, and tweak it to work with the essay prompt, your score could be lowered. Ashley Larson, an undergraduate advisor at the Idaho State University College of Business says that “When I read an essay that only loosely addresses the prompt and I can tell it's a generic essay they are using for multiple purposes, I am immediately inclined to mark their submission with a lower score. I believe this is so important because it indicates the student's seriousness about the scholarship, as well as their ability to read directions and follow through on assignments. If I read an essay that doesn't address the prompt, I wonder if the student is really in need of the scholarship in the first place.”

The point of these essays is to give the reviewers something more personal. Larson adds, “The essay also allows the review committee to learn more about a student's experiences, goals, trials and accomplishments. Oftentimes, this type of knowledge creates a much clearer picture of the student for the committee, and allows them to make more informed decisions about who to award funding to.” These essays are your way of telling the reviewers who you are and why you need the scholarship. There are many students on campus who vye for funding so be sure that you give the committee the most compelling reasons why you should be the one to get the scholarship.

If you’re still stuck or need some additional help, ISU also has a Writing Center which is part of the University’s tutoring program. It’s a system where you set up an appointment with a tutor and they will review your paper. This resource is also available for any kind of paper in general. They currently have video appointments on Monday to Thursday from 9AM to 7PM and on Friday from 9AM to 2PM. For more information, please visit their website. 

One last tip: Be sure to fill out your Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA)! It’s not a scholarship essay but it is an easy way to get free money especially if you come from a lower income background. According to Scholarship Points, “about three million students in 2013-14 who did not file their FAFSA would have qualified for a Federal Pell Grant.” Federal Pell Grants are essentially free money that the government will give you to go to school. Don’t forget it and don’t put it off because along with other scholarships, it can make a big financial difference for you.

Still unsure about conquering scholarship essays or feeling less than motivated to put in the effort? One of Larson’s tips is to “...think about applying for scholarships and writing these essays, as a ‘job’. If you spend, say a total of five hours (which is probably excessive for most essays), writing and you end up receiving a $500 scholarship for your work, you have just essentially made $100 an hour.” Seems worth it, right?

Writing scholarship essays can be a little daunting but with the right start and the right steps, it can be as easy as pie. And don’t sweat too much over it. Even if writing these takes you a little longer, it will be worth it down the road when you end up with enough money to pay for your college tuition or at least a good chunk of it (including your books).