College scholarships are there for the taking, we’re told, but what if the application requirement is an essay? How, in a vast sea of essays the jurors must read, can you get your college scholarship essay to stand out?
Scholarship juries (the people who read the essays and applications and are ultimately responsible for choosing scholarship winners) are inundated with hundreds of essays to read, so let’s make it easy on them.
5 Quick Tips For Writing a Killer Essay
1. Pay attention to word counts
If the essay requirement is 500 words, stick to 500 words. It doesn’t matter if you learned to craft a perfect 5-paragraph essay in junior high; if this scholarship is asking for short, keep it short. In some cases, that may mean a simple 1-paragraph statement.
2. “If you confuse, you lose”
This is the working motto of a very successful marketing agency, and it applies perfectly to the subject of scholarship essay-writing, as well. After all, you are attempting to market yourself to the people reading your words.
Think in terms of clear, concise, and direct. If you are meaning to communicate your passion for the history of opera, tell them straight up: “I became interested in the history of opera when I saw Pavarotti perform on television.” That’s a lot easier to grasp than, “The storied history of the Italianate operatic art and its focus on Bel Canto really spoke to me as I began to study its merits.” You might sound knowledgeable, but unless your readers are also well-versed in the history of opera, you’ve probably lost them halfway through the first sentence.
Don’t confuse. Say what you mean.
3. Write an excellent opening sentence
Recently a friend of mine told me that her son had won a full-ride scholarship to a university he applied to, and despite having a less-than-encouraging writing teacher that year, his essay stood out.
“One of the reasons he stood out was his simple, yet kick-butt essay, which of course began with a Star Trek quote”, she wrote.
And who doesn’t love a good Star Trek quote? Point being, if you start with something compelling, you’ll hook your readers, who will likely have already read a dozen self-promoting paragraphs that began with a less-than-interesting description of the applicant’s merits. You’ll stand out.
4. Write what you know
If your passion is tennis, tell me how tennis has changed your life. Show me how tennis has grown your character, helped you see the world differently, given you discipline in other areas of your life, taught you to serve and help others, and given you the drive and passion to enter into the course of study you are hoping to pursue in college.
Conversely, if you know nothing about tennis, then don’t write about tennis. That’s pretty self-explanatory, isn’t it?
My friend whose son began his winning scholarship essay with the Star Trek quote is an avid Star Trek super-fan. He was being true to himself and writing what he knows. She stated, “[He wrote] 500 words of being himself.”
5. Start now
If you don’t feel you’re a strong writer and you still have some time between reading this article and submitting your essay, start writing. Sure, you’ll probably toss a few of your ideas into your desktop trash can, but those failed attempts only make your best attempt better.
If you need examples of winning essays, check to see if the scholarship you are applying for has a website where they post past winners‘ essays and read them. By doing so, you’ll get a solid idea of what the jury is looking for.
If you need extra help with your scholarship application, read College Scholarship Applications for Homeschoolers.