There is no surefire method of writing a winning scholarship essay. If you collect a hundred of essays that managed to hit the mark and try to find a common denominator that would be responsible for it, you will find out that its absence is exactly what set them apart. Each winning essay is unique, each is written in a very distinctive style characteristic of the author.
But while there is no particular approach that will guarantee the success, you may certainly follow some principles that will greatly improve your chances of finding your unique voice and, therefore, getting where you want to get.
Types of Scholarship Essays
There are two main types of scholarship essays; in addition to that, hybrids that combine the qualities of both are possible, as well as more experimental ones.
A personal statement is supposed to give a picture of you as an individual. It usually deals with your family background, personal history, what kind of education you have, what influenced your intellectual and ideological development, notable experiences and the ways they changed you, special interests and abilities, plans for the future and so on. When writing this kind of essay, it is important to remember the following:
- Avoid repeating things that are listed in other parts of your application.
- These essays are usually short (sometimes as short as 150-200 words), which means that you should be very careful with what you choose to write about. Don’t spread yourself thin – choose 2-4 points to cover and be concise.
- Due to their size, personal statements usually are written in bulk, which makes standing out even harder than usual. Don’t just boringly enumerate your abilities, show them through an interesting example.
Intent statement should show why you have chosen this particular course of study or why you think you deserve to receive the scholarship. It is hard to give any particular advice concerning it, as writing prompts may be quite varied. The main idea is to prove that giving you a bunch of money is a good idea and a sound investment.
Choosing the Topic
You won’t get to choose to write about whatever you like; you will have to respond to a particular question. The questions vary greatly in the amount of freedom they give you. They may deal with any topic, but mainly they touch upon your academic plans, personal achievements, things that influenced you, your goals and so on. Here are some tips that can help you turn any question to your advantage:
- Analyze the prompt carefully and single out the key concepts. For example: “Tell us about yourself and why you apply for this scholarship. Make sure to tell how this scholarship will help you achieve your personal and professional goals”. This prompt clearly calls you to concentrate on your future goals and how they can be furthered by this scholarship. You have to tell about yourself, but shouldn’t spend too much space on it.
- Understand your audience. Every scholarship provider has certain criteria according to which they evaluate the applicants. Before you can write a successful scholarship essay, you should know what exactly they want and value most. Do they pay attention to classroom performance or leadership qualities? Or perhaps concentrate on community service? Do a bit of research: try to read between the lines of prompts, analyze the prompts used in previous years, try to find some previous recipients of this scholarship and understand what they had in common. This will certainly give you an edge over those writing identical essays for every scholarship they apply for.
- Write about something you know and love. Feigning enthusiasm is far harder than you may think, and if your essay sounds faked, it isn’t going to add points to your argument. Make sure you can support what you declare with specific details and examples that will show that you care about the subject.
Structure of a Scholarship Essay
Structurally, a scholarship essay usually doesn’t differ from most other essay types: it consists of the introduction, the main part and the conclusion. The difference lies in what you write in any of them. Remember that each word and sentence should further your goal: introduction should make sure the judges are immediately interested in your person, the main part should present your case in the most favorable light, and the conclusion should provide a dramatic ending to your story.
Introduction: Grasping the Reader’s Attention
As with any other kind of writing, the main purpose of the introduction is to make sure the reader gets interested in the subject matter and reads the text up to the end. Therefore, your should begin with something that is bound to catch the reader’s attention, something that will stand out from hundreds upon hundreds of essays your judges have to read. How can it be done? That’s the problem. It is very hard to pinpoint what it means to be original. There are, however, a few tips and principles that can bring you closer to the ideal:
- Avoid generic openings in the line of “It is not widely known that…”, “Leadership skills are extremely important for numerous reasons” like plague. Instead, be personal and specific.
- Go for a surprise. When you are asked a question, try to think what the others are going to write in answer to it, and how to avoid being the same as everyone else. It may be worth choosing something purposefully unconventional – if, of course, you are capable of continuing on the same note.
- Go for a shock. A logical development of the previous tactic is to start your essay with a statement that would make the reader wonder if his eyes are deceiving him. Say something that nobody in his right mind would say – and then subvert it with an explanation that makes it meaningful. Don’t overdo it, however – it is all too easy to say something that is offensive rather than shocking.
Your style, choice of words and coverage of the topic may be perfect, but if you write the same things everyone else writes, it isn’t going to help you get the scholarship. Depending on the scholarship you apply for, there may be tens or hundreds of people competing alongside you – and the judges primarily looking for those who look interesting. So, how does one create such an impression?
- Select a topic and stick to it. Sometimes you are given freedom to choose what to write about, sometimes the topic is imposed on you. Either way, make sure you stick to the initially chosen topic and don’t go off tangent halfway through. This alone will make a positive impression on judges having to read hundreds of rambling essays.
- Don’t be afraid to boast. That is, if you have anything to boast of. Although we are normally taught to be modest and avoid speaking about our achievements directly, a scholarship essay is exactly the instance when you have to talk about them without reservations and be able to present them in the most favorable light possible. Things you may want to mention include work, sports, clubs, community work, leadership experience, volunteering and, in fact, anything you may pass as relevant. Just make sure everything your say really happened, and don’t exaggerate.
- Brainstorm. What makes you unique? Give the judges one reason to choose you over all the other applicants. What is special about you? What is your individual talent? What makes you different from others? You may have trouble singling anything out on your own, so feel free to discuss it with family, friends and relatives. They all see you from different viewpoints and can provide surprising insights into your personal qualities. Sometimes what you believe to be insignificant can turn out to be exactly the opposite.
- Don’t whine. A quite common mistake among students is to write a tearful essay trying to convince the judges that the author needs the scholarship most, enumerating their numerous hardships and problems. The judges don’t want to read your tales of woe. They want to learn about your potential for great things, about what you’ve managed to achieve despite your problems, about what you can do if you get the scholarship. Scholarships are given not to those who needs them but to those who deserves them.
- Be creative about your essay structure. Start with a captivating story about yourself. Write the essay in the form of a dialogue. Begin with something seemingly irrelevant and show how it refers to the topic later on. The possibilities are endless once you start seriously contemplating them.
It is impossible to write an essay, especially such an important essay, at the first attempt. You will have to revise it, change some fragments, remove or replace others. Here are 4 tips that can make this process more efficient.
- Read your essay aloud. A lot of otherwise unnoticeable mistakes will suddenly become obvious once you hear them.
- Find an editor. Ideally, you should hire a professional editor with some experience of dealing with similar tasks. However, any editor will do: it may be a friend who is well-versed in grammar, a parent, a teacher, or anybody whom you can trust.
- Take a break for several days and reread your essay carefully. Immediately after you’ve finished writing, you will most likely miss most mistakes because you are too used to the text. Once you’ve taken a rest from it, you will be able to see it with new eyes.
- If you feel that the entire essay is a bit off, don’t hesitate to rewrite it from scratch. Perceive it as a part of the process.
- Scatter the keywords from the prompt and their synonyms throughout your essay. It will accent your determination to address the issue in question and show that you don’t digress from your topic.
- Before you start writing, create a thesis of your future essay – just like when you write normal essays. Simply put, your scholarship essay should revolve around a single idea and a single goal. So, what is the main idea of what you write and what you want to achieve with it? Can you express it in a single sentence? If not, perhaps you are a little fuzzy about the details and have to straighten them up before proceeding.
- The main goal of any scholarship essay is to demonstrate that you understand who you are. How is your past relevant to your future, what are your passions and interests, what are you enthusiastic about, how are you going to change the world? If you are unclear about these issues, why would the judges be interested in a person without a goal?
- Start early. It is a good idea for any kind of writing, but in case of scholarship essay it may give you yet another opportunity to do a bit of research and avoid writing a one-size-fits-all application. Calculate the time you will need to start and begin to work at least a week earlier.
- Follow the directions. If you are given instructions, do what they say. If they limit your essay to 500 words, don’t go over the limit. If you are given a specific question to answer, answer it. Failing to do so may immediately make you ineligible for the scholarship.
- Once you’ve finished writing, reread the prompt and the essay and answer honestly: did you answer the question?
Writing a scholarship essay is a challenging and time-consuming task. Nevertheless, doing it successfully and getting yourself a scholarship is a more achievable goal than many believe. If you approach the task systematically, dedicate a reasonable amount of time to it and be ready to work hard, you already have an edge over the vast majority of applicants, who simply try their hand at it. Follow the tips we’ve given you, do your research on the organizations offering scholarships before starting, and everything will be alright!