College tuition is no joke. It’s a serious investment to pursue higher education, but those willing to work hard and make the most of it will find their efforts rewarded. They’re also likely to find a mountain of student debt waiting for them upon graduating. Both current and prospective college students should apply for as many scholarships as possible — from any source possible. You could win a scholarship in your major or a textbooks for a year scholarship, for example. First, you need to write a quality essay for each contest that will set you apart from the competition.
1. Understand the Prompt
If you fail to understand what the essay is asking you to write about, you fail the competition —regardless of your essay’s quality. Read the prompt question several times and take notes. Ask yourself the following:
- How does this prompt differ from similar questions? If it’s fairly vague and generic, why do you think the provider of the scholarship chose this prompt? How does it tie into their cause, business or organization?
- What does the prompt ask of you? Make a checklist.
- What themes does the prompt emphasize?
2. Consider the Audience
One of the most important questions to ask yourself after reading the prompt question is, “Who’s the intended audience for this essay?” If you don’t know anything about the judges, think of the cause the essay is promoting. In other words, if a duct tape company offers a scholarship in association with a charitable cause, such as foster children’s homes, your audience will consist of people who want to promote a product as well as children’s happiness and stability. Subtly incorporate these aspects into your essay.
Before you write the first word of your introduction, spend a few days brainstorming. Look over your notes, consider the audience and come up with an essay topic that you can back up with at least three points. Write an outline and include what you’ll use to prove each point. Once you’re ready to write, refer back to this outline to confirm you’ve covered everything.
4. Be Personal
Balance being personal and professional in your essay. Dr. Kay Peterson explains that adding the right amount of personal anecdotes helps you stand out among other essays that use generic examples. On the other hand, don’t reveal too much about yourself or come across as overly dramatic or conceited. Stick to stories that are relevant to the prompt and the audience.
For example, if an essay asks you to consider the benefits of community service, elaborate on your experiences volunteering. You can even elaborate on instances when you or your family benefited from community service and how it inspired you to want to repay the favor to others. Substantiate your anecdotes with research and more general observations as well.
5. Revise Thoroughly
The closer you are to a work of writing, the less likely you are to find typos, missing words and unclear passages because your brain fills in the gaps. You may also need help with grammar and spelling if they aren’t your strong suit. To increase the chances of your essay becoming one of the winners, allow yourself ample time to edit. Let the essay sit for a few days before you begin revisions. Don’t even look at the essay in that time; when you return to the essay, you’ll have a fresh perspective.
In addition to conducting your own revisions, find another person to edit. If permitted in the contest rules, a teacher or someone you know who works as an editor or is good at editing would be an ideal candidate. If not, a family member or friend can at least help you catch glaring typos and misspellings and point out passages where you may not have clearly communicated your ideas to the reader.
The earlier you start working on your scholarship application, the better. The more time you allow yourself, the more time you have to consider the essay to brainstorm and to edit once you’ve finished writing. Hundreds or even thousands of dollars are at stake, so take your time to craft a prize-winning piece of writing. Scholarships are often open for students regardless of financial need, so there’s no excuse not to strive for getting all the financial assistance you can.
About the Author: Michael Der has worked for My Book Buyer, an online book buyback site, since 1999. When not actively scouting for books, Michael can be found spending time with his family and two mini dachshunds.