Students in the 2016-17 school year received $125.4 billion in grants to help pay for higher education, according to College Board. Countless organizations award millions in scholarship money every year. If you want to get your hands on some free college funding, you might need to learn how to write a scholarship essay.
To narrow down applicant pools, many scholarships require candidates to write an essay. These essays often carry a lot of weight when deciding who receives a scholarship — you’ll need to write a good one to maximize your chances.
But how can you do that? “Show why you deserve the scholarship through a story that is unique to you,” Andrea Friedlander, a college essay consultant at The Write Angle, advised. “Stories that reveal the person behind the application are powerful and memorable.”
Of course, showing who you are through an essay is easier said than done. To help you out, follow these five tips for writing the best scholarship essay you can.
1. Follow directions regarding the scholarship essay format
One of the quickest ways to lose out on a scholarship is to fail to follow the directions, according to Carol Drummer, an admissions consultant with Accepted. “An example would be ignoring the word count or page limits.”
To make sure you don’t make this easy-to-avoid blunder, read the instructions for the scholarship application and follow them exactly.
Adhering to the guidelines about scholarship essay formatting is important. Eliminating those who don’t comply with the rules is an easy way to narrow down the pool of eligible candidates.
2. Make it memorable
Readers of your essay play a significant part in deciding whether you land the scholarship or not. When they’re considering applicants, you want your name to be first on their minds — which means you want your essay to stick with them.
As the Philadelphia Tribune wrote: “A generic and bland submission, especially one riddled with spelling and grammar errors, is not even worth your time to compose.”
“Make it memorable is my top tip for answering college scholarship essay questions,” Drummer advised. “Open the essay with a story, anecdote, or memory that immediately engages the audience and shines a spotlight on your unique strengths.”
Friedlander echoed Drummer, adding, “You want the reader to relate to you, like you, and remember you.”
Friedlander also suggested telling a story that shows how you think, how you feel, and how you deal with obstacles or problems. “Write about a single incident and use specific details to paint a full and memorable picture,” she said.
3. Skip the platitudes
Your essay is your chance to speak directly to the reader about why you’re the best candidate. You want the essay to be in your voice.
“Don’t write in generalities and platitudes,” advised Friedlander. If your essay sounds like a stock essay that could have been written by anyone, it will quickly be forgotten. “Vague generalities are not memorable; vivid details make an impression.”
But, while you want to paint a picture for the reader, you’ll want to avoid prose that is too fussy. “Use clear, concise and simple phrases or language,” Drummer said. “Stay away from the thesaurus.”
4. Avoid rehashing your application
Essays are just one part of your application — you’ll likely need to provide your resume and academic transcripts, too. Your essay should offer something additional on top of the other credentials you provide.
“Do not use the essay space to repeat information already contained elsewhere in the application,” Friedlander warned. “The essay should be used to enhance the application and provide information about who you are that is not available elsewhere.”
She explained that your essay is a chance to show “how you think, how you deal with problems and obstacles, and what is truly important to you.”
You should also shy away from including long lists of your accomplishments, Reann Ritland, a consultant at Iowa State’s Writing and Media Center, told Iowa State Daily. She indicated this was one of the biggest mistakes she sees applicants make.
5. Proofread and take the time to do it right
Taking the time to write the best essay possible increases your chances of actually getting free money for school.
“Carefully allocate enough time to brainstorm multiple ideas before beginning to write,” Drummer advised. After you’ve narrowed down your ideas to a great topic, she also recommended beginning with an all-inclusive outline before moving on to the draft phase.
After you’ve completed your final draft, you’ll need to proofread carefully. Errors in grammar and spelling are common mistakes that could lead to an application rejection.
To make sure your essay is perfect, check for typos, misused words, or failure to follow the scholarship essay format. Asking someone else to read your essay and provide feedback is also helpful. Friends, parents, and teachers can catch any mistakes you might have missed, as can online tools such as Grammarly or Scribens.
Follow these tips when writing a scholarship essay
Knowing how to write a scholarship essay isn’t that hard if you think about the process as a chance to tell a story about who you are. You can follow this simple checklist to make sure you’ve got the process down.
Ideally, the readers will come away feeling like they know you, like you, and want to give you money to help pay to further your education.
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