The key to receiving scholarship money is to write a great essay. Even if you meet every one of the criteria for the scholarship you’re applying for, other students, possibly many other students, who are similarly qualified are applying for the same award.
Writing a great essay can set you apart from the larger field of candidates. Luckily, like most things in life, creating an award-winning essay is easier if you make sure you’re prepared to do it well.
There are certain things that you should keep in mind when you’re getting ready to write your essay, both in terms of what’s helpful and in terms of what is less so, and they’re worth thinking about before you get started.
Here are some tips on how to get ready to write a first-rate essay for your scholarship application.
Schedules are your friend
It’s easy to push some tasks to the bottom of your priority list when you’re busy, especially tasks that seem like they can be done later than others. Don’t make this mistake when it’s time to start thinking about your scholarship applications.
Pull out our planner and put writing your essay in it. Make sure you schedule it early enough that you aren’t risking running out of time because late applications don’t get considered.
You should also make sure that you give yourself enough time for the actual work. This isn’t a task you want to rush through and give quick, shallow answers.
Do your research
There’s work to be done to prepare for your essay, long before you sit down to do the actual writing. Read the essay questions carefully, and more than once. Think carefully about your answers, and relate them to your own experience.
Once you have a pretty good idea about what you want to say, make an outline with your main points, so that you won’t forget anything important once you’re actually writing.
Know your audience
What are the donors looking for? Pay careful attention to the instructions, which will tell you about how they want it formatted, as well as giving you the questions they want answering and their evaluation criteria.
Are they looking for an emphasis on academic performance, or are they more interested in your character and life experience? Are they looking for evidence of being community-oriented? How does their particular emphasis apply to you?
Donors are going to be the most interested in candidates whose essays say something about them, and aren’t a generic cut-and-paste. That’s another reason why giving yourself ample time to do right is critical.
Make it personal
If you want to stand out from the crowd, you have to highlight what makes you an individual. Don’t brag or try to show off, but do take the opportunity to talk about not just how you think or what you believe, or your priorities, but HOW you got there.
Interested in law school? Don’t just say that the law has always appealed to you, give an explanation about why. Showing who you are, and not just what you can do, is a powerful tool for gaining the right sort of attention from potential donors.
Find and use an editor
Sometimes making sure that everything that’s in your head gets out onto the page in a sensible way can be a challenge. That’s especially true if you’re feeling pressured. Not only should you go over your essay yourself, it never hurts to have another pair of eyes look at it, too.
Finding yourself an editor will not only help you catch any proofreading errors you missed, but has the advantage of having someone who can tell you if what you’ve written has a natural flow, or if there are things that don’t make sense or are overly repetitive.
As important as it is to know what you should do, it’s equally important to know the sorts of things that you should avoid when applying for scholarships, so let’s take a look at some of those things.
Don’t fall for scams
Legitimate opportunities for academic scholarships will not ask you to pay money up front. You should ignore any awards that want you to pay some sort of fee in order to apply. The phrase ‘you need to spend money to make money’ doesn’t apply to this area.
Don’t forget the importance of balance
Don’t apply for every single award you can find, but also don’t pin all your hopes on applying for just one or two high-dollar scholarships, either. It’s a great idea to apply for multiple awards, but it’s an even better idea if those awards are a good fit for who you are and what you are planning on studying.
It’s pretty common for groups in a community to offer small scholarships to local students, so it’s worth it to find out if there are opportunities of that type near you.
You can also contact the university you’re applying to and find out if the department you’re interested in has any awards specific to their programs.
Don’t take shortcuts
Applying for scholarships is work, and like any other work, you can start to get tired of it. Resist the impulse to cut corners.
If you are applying for several different awards, you should write a completely new essay for each one. Don’t try to cut and paste or try to write one that’s generic enough that you can submit it with more than one application.
Not only can reviewers tell when they’re getting a generic response, but you’ll lose the personal touch that will get your essay noticed. Besides, if you are awarded a scholarship, the donors are giving you a gift that can make a huge difference in helping you reach your goals.
Spending a little sincere time and effort to receive that gift isn’t asking for too much. If you find that you can re-use parts of one essay on another application, don’t just cut and paste. Make adjustments that will make it more in keeping with the specifications for the new application and keep it sounding fresh.
Each essay should reflect your goals for the specific scholarship you’re applying for. Also, do your own work. Even if your parents offer to help you with completing your applications, don’t give in to the temptation.
You’re entering the world of adult responsibilities and college, itself, is a lot of work. Accept that the beginning of your years-long commitment to your education starts now.
Writing an effective scholarship essay isn’t easy, but if you give yourself the time and dedication to doing it right, it doesn’t have to be difficult, either. Just keep these tips in mind while you get ready to go work, and the task can be much less stressful.