If you’re in high school and applying for college scholarships, there are some things you have to get right on your essays, such as addressing the prompt head-on and hitting the word-count range.
But if you really want to increase your chances of winning scholarships, avoid these five mistakes too.
1. Simply summarizing your high school experience
Although your scholarship essay is likely tied to a prompt, it’s your opportunity to share something that can’t be found elsewhere on your application.
The scholarship committee already has a handle on the basics, such as your grades. So, steer clear of summarizing your resume or listing every accomplishment throughout your high school career.
Instead, use your essay to zero in on one experience that shows something new and flesh it out.
If you can’t identify a meaningful experience, you could write about the future, whether it’s your desire to avoid private student loans or study a particular major in college. Just ensure that your personality — not your list of accomplishments — shines through.
2. Falling into a thesaurus trap and hiding your voice
When you put your fingertips to a keyboard asking for money from someone you don’t know, you might be tempted to overwrite. Resist the urge to search for impressive-sounding words using a thesaurus.
If you wouldn’t use a word like “quite” or “rather” during an in-person interview, don’t type it. That will ensure your essay reflects your voice, not someone else’s. You can use a free online editing tool like Hemingway to ensure your writing is clear, concise, and easy to read.
Instead of trying to impress readers with a certain number of syllables, cater to your audience by doing some research. If you’re applying for a scholarship from a foundation, for example, research its history and try to incorporate what you learn into the essay. That could go a long way.
3. Writing entirely about someone (or something) else
Scholarship committees want to know who their money is going to, and rightly so. They’re less interested in learning about your parent, friend, or pet. So, ensure you’re the main character of your essay.
It’s possible to write about someone who inspires you. But spend the majority of your essay talking about how they inspired you to do something in the past or what they’ve inspired you to do in the future.
Similarly, if you want to spend your essay talking about a particular issue in society, explain how it relates to your life.
Say you’re passionate about income inequality, for example. Instead of waxing poetic about the issue in general, you could write about your side hustle and how it helps you make ends meet. After all, your personal struggles, challenges, goals, and achievements will be a lot more interesting to read about.
4. Following a writing template
After three-plus years of high school English classes, you might be trained to write a certain way. Pen a strong thesis statement, your teachers might have said. Support your introduction with three body paragraphs, they probably advised, and finish with a powerful conclusion.
Your instructors equipped you with a format to focus your writing, but don’t be afraid to try something new with your scholarship essays. You might start with imagery or your conclusion to draw your reader into your essay. Then, you could dive into the beginning of a narrative story, tying a thread back to your introduction later.
That could be a better way to explain how you met a challenge (or failed to) and how you grew from the experience.
With that said, put other parts of your teachers’ writing advice to work. Follow the show-don’t-tell rule. Avoid cliches, be specific, and write with authority.
5. Pressing send without a second thought
You might be tempted to turn in your first draft without a second thought so you can cross another scholarship essay off of your list.
However, take the time to turn your first draft into an improved second version. Ask for a review from your mom or dad, a teacher, or anyone with the ability to provide honest and helpful feedback. Then, apply it so you can submit the best version of your scholarship essay.
Be your own critic too. Proofread your essay for basic spelling and grammar errors using a free online app like Grammarly.
Before you hit send, ensure that your unique qualities come across. A scholarship essay is a great chance to show who you are outside the classroom and who you could become in the future.
Once you’ve done that, move on to other tasks, such as securing great recommendation letters to strengthen your applications even more.
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