Writing a Strong Scholarship Essay
The race to obtain scholarships can be fierce, and a well-written essay can place an applicant ahead of the competition. While each scholarship application will have its own unique requirements, understanding the basics can help with the process.
Analyze the Organization
- Begin by researching the organization offering the scholarship; learn about its values and purpose in offering the award.
- Read the organization’s mission statement to learn about core values and to understand the background of those making the decision. Gathering these facts will help to identify points in your own character or experiences that should be emphasized in your essay.
- Locate background information on websites or on printed material published by the scholarship sponsors.
- Contact the organization via email or phone for any additional information that is needed to complete the process.
Understand Your Purpose for Writing
- Read the essay prompt several times to ensure a clear understanding of key elements.
- Follow the guidelines for the topic, deadlines, and format for the essay in order to provide the scholarship committee with the information they expect.
Create Goals for Writing
Clarify the goals of the scholarship essay.
- For example, the goal in responding to an essay might be to:
- Demonstrate personal traits that are similar to the personal traits of the person for whom the scholarship is named. For example:
- The Bill Buck Memorial Scholarship asks for a one-page, double-spaced essay on the applicant's career and personal goals and how his or her disability has impacted his or her life. Knowing about Bill’s altruistic character will help to focus the essay on how a disability has not kept the applicant from giving back to the community.
Begin the Writing Process
- Begin by writing down the essay question, highlighting key words and instructions.
- Break the prompt down into sections, looking for the specific elements required in each section and the required information.
- Determine if the essay should be based on research or self-analysis.
- Identify the purpose of the topic and what the audience (judge) is looking for.
The evaluation of character is based on more than just grades; the approach to challenges and evidence of a strong work ethic are also important factors. GPA may be some indicator of potential, but the ability to reach that potential is the characteristic that will set applicants apart.
- Create a concise outline highlighting major points that demonstrate the qualities asked for in the prompts.
- Use present tense and optimistic phrases to demonstrate community and civic involvement and highlight your personality.
- Weak: I have worked with several health care agencies.
- Stronger: I currently enjoy interacting with patients as a volunteer Nurse’s Aide at Flower Hospital and delivering food for Meals on Wheels.
- Begin writing using vivid examples rather than just “telling.”
Example: (Note vague adjectives creating nonspecific job activities)
- Weak: I am really interested in medicine, so a lot of my time was spent on various activities of different natures at both the Red Cross and at the Toledo Hospital.
- Stronger: My interest in medicine began when I was a Candy Striper and logged in over 500 hours of volunteer work at Toledo Hospital. It has grown in other capacities such as food delivery and transportation of patients, as well as volunteering as a first responder for my local Fire Department.
- Use active verbs and precise nouns, and be concise.
- Weak: I really like medicine, so for a long time I have worked with the Red Cross and at the Toledo Hospital.
- Stronger: Because I am passionate about medicine, for over three years I have volunteered thirty hours a month administering screening questionnaires at the Red Cross Blood Bank and conducting patient orientations at the Toledo Hospital.
- Create a strong introduction that pulls the audience in by raising a question or creating surprise.
Here is a possible opening for a discussion of a student’s work with a Habitat for Humanity Project:
- I am a Habitat for Humanity volunteer. I did not decide to do this work because studies report that 444,000 may experience homelessness or because 39% of these people are children. My reason for becoming a Habitat for Humanity volunteer was much simpler; I was one of those children.
- Create logical transitions
- Show the reader where he or she is going next and why it’s a logical next step.
- Don’t use standard transitional phrases like, “Secondly” or “As a consequence.”
- Try repeating the prior thought and connecting to the next task.
Once I saw a smile in the eyes of the shut-in, I was hooked. I thought I could not spend enough time delivering meals to the ten lonely shut-ins.
- Develop a compelling conclusion as in the introduction; don’t summarize.
- Re-emphasize the main point or circle back to the beginning and tie the loop.
- The body of the essay on delivering meals-on-wheels should have been about the student’s efforts as a volunteer, feelings about the difficulties faced by those who are homebound, and recognition of the importance of human contact. This story begs for a conclusion that answers the question, “Did the person continue to serve?”
- One possibility:
I continued my weekly visits to the ten shut-ins for over two years. Over that time period, I became very attached to the men and women on my route and looked forward to listening to their stories. Through my visits, I learned not only the importance of giving, but, more importantly, the value of human contact.
- One possibility:
- Take a break between drafts and read each one out loud. This process will help you catch misused or missing words.
- Use the Writing Center for trained reader feedback.
Take Time between Revisions
The most important component of the process is taking time to polish your writing.