Writing Scholarship Essays
Like a Pro
Read your prompt. No, seriously, pay attention to your prompt. Make sure you understand completely what you’re being asked to write. If you don’t, ask others what they think the prompt means. In this case, the majority is usually correct.
Who’s your audience? Just like comprehending the prompt, you need to tailor your essay to the person or organization who’ll be reading it. If you’re asking for a scholarship from a conservationist board, you really don’t want the essay to be about your life-changing trip to hunt elephants in the African wild.
Make an outline. You were taught this in grade school for a reason. A solid outline doesn’t have to be long, it just needs to be concise to keep you on track and make sure you hit your most important bullet points.
Read it again. Once you’ve finished your essay, go back and read the question again, then your answer. This will help make sure you eliminate any tunnel vision in your writing.
Let someone else read it. One of the quickest ways to have your essay ignored is for it to be rife with spelling and grammatical errors. Having another person read over your work (especially if it’s a teacher or someone you know who has a keen eye for errors) limits any mistakes that could slip through and ensures your writing is comprehensive.
Be Passionate. It helps if you choose a topic that is personal to you, one that you could gab on for at least twenty minutes about to someone else. This not only gives you plenty of factoids to fill the character count, but ensures your personality and passion will shine through. A good way to tap into that passion is to focus on the feeling your topic gives you. It’s easy to say you love your favorite television show, but you only open up dialogue to others when you get into the nuts and bolts. Why do you love it? What kind of feeling do you get when a new episode premieres? What are the nuances of characters and storylines that keep you coming back? These are questions to ask yourself that can easily translate to any topic that interests you.
Just remember that it isn’t necessary to include everything in your essay response. Most are limited to 1,000 words or less, so it’s important to focus on what you feel is the strongest aspect of your response. Using the television show example again, you might find that your answer to why you love it is too vague and the feeling you get when a new episode premieres is not expressive enough. That leaves the nuances of storylines as your most expressive answer, rich with both your personal mark and passionate response.
Proof for Perfection. As mentioned in the quick tips, an essay response filled with errors and sentence structure that leaves the reader scratching their head won’t get you anywhere near that scholarship. Don’t try to catch all your errors the first go around—first drafts are meant to be messy and hilariously bad. That’s the time to pour out all your thoughts; you’ll delete the filler later.
After you’ve got your ideas down, the first thing you want to do is read through it again. Decide what’s taking up space by eliminating sentences that do not put you any closer to answering the essay’s question. From there you can reform sentences to make sure your topic flows without detours.
The final draft should be read as slowly as you can possibly manage it. Spending time drawing out each word will help make you more aware of spelling errors and swapped words (imagine submitting an essay where you wrote hare instead of hair!). Run it through a spellcheck and grammar check before sending it off to a friend or teacher to proof for you.
Ready to apply?