Scholarship Essays: Yes, You Can!
by Jocelyn Johnson, on Jan 22, 2015 12:52:00 PM
College is expensive. Being able to pay for college—all of it, not just the first year—is equally as important as getting into college itself. Most college application deadlines have passed, so many of you have probably turned your attention to applying for scholarships. The deadlines for many of these scholarships are coming up in the next few weeks, so now is the time to get them done!
These scholarships are competitive to get, but the good news is there are thousands of scholarship opportunities out there, with many different requirements and application processes. When you’re applying for a scholarship that has a required essay or response to a prompt, here’s what you need to do to write a winning scholarship essay:
1. Use the prompt to your advantage
Unlike the Common App personal statement prompts, which are pretty broad and can lend themselves to many different topics, scholarship application prompts can be very specific. Even though you may be applying to many different scholarships, you should still approach each one individually. Before you get started, ask yourself two questions: “what is this particular scholarship for?” and “what is this prompt really asking?” The answers to those questions should guide your response. Use the specific scholarship and prompt to your advantage to avoid getting stuck on finding a topic.
If a scholarship has a more open-ended prompt, like “How do you define a hero?” research the company or organization that is providing the scholarship to see what qualities and values are most important to them. You can probably find this information very quickly on their website by searching for their mission and values. Once you know the company’s values, think about the times in your life that you have exemplified those values through your actions.
2. Pick one moment
Your first instinct may be to use your essay to explain every activity on your resume, every grade on your transcript, and/or every time you’ve ever exhibited a quality. That is a trap! (Don't worry, you’re not the only one who’s been lured in that direction.) But, that pathway leads to your essay being non-distinctive among all of the many other applications in the pile. How can you avoid this? Pick one moment and tell that story.
Studies show that storytelling is the most effective way to change people’s minds. Even as a high schooler, there’s just no way to explain all of your life experiences in one essay (unless you’re planning on writing a memoir) without using interpretations or generalizations. And, using interpretations and generalizations makes it impossible to establish an authentic and meaningful connection between you and the person reading your application.
Be memorable. If you share your story, your readers won’t forget you. But, don’t just tell a random story—make sure your story answers or reflects the question asked in the prompt!
3. Focus on your actions/Stay in the action
While I may not be the person who reviews your application, I know that whenever I read a book or essay that lacks action, I quickly go from reading to skimming. Do everyone a favor, keep your essay based in your actions!
What do I mean by this? There is a difference between writing “I am a very motivated, hardworking, and driven person. When I set my mind to something, I will do whatever it takes to get it done. One example is when I served as student council president,” and “Beep Beep Beeeeeep. I lifted my head off my pillow to look at the clock, and saw that it was 5:30 am. I forced my heavy eyelids open, rolled out of bed, and began getting ready. I needed to be at school 2 hours early to lead our student council meeting.”
However, this does not mean adding tangential scenes or plot elements to your story—they will quickly be discerned as inauthentic. Incorporating the real Details, Dialogue and Description of the moment will bring your essay to life.
Scholarship committees are tasked with deciding who are the most deserving candidates to receive their awards. Make it easy for them! The best way to show them that person is you is to use what you’ve done in the past to create a case for who you’re going to be and what the scholarship will enable you to do.