Tackling a Scholarship Essay: Tips to Perfect Your Application

Master Any Essay with Well-Honed Writing

Scholarship applications aren’t for the faint of heart — they require answering hundreds of questions, both about the student in question and their high school career, detailed background information, and, of course, lengthy essays. In order to determine which students best deserve to win hundreds or thousands of dollars towards their college education, scholarship organizations often ask student applicants to share stories about their lives, their experiences, and other outside material. Yet the essay doesn’t have to be a pain or deterrent; with easy-to-follow tips, any student can craft a well-written work that answers any scholarship committee’s concerns.

Follow Every Last Direction

It sounds like silly, straightforward advice, but the first and foremost step of writing a scholarship essay is to read every single bit of the application instructions. As FinAid writes on its website, following the directions to a T ensures the essay fits the prompts listed, clarifies any details applicants may be unsure of, and shows the scholarship judges panel that the student pays careful attention.

Additionally, as FinAid continues, reading the directions helps students double-check their application essay’s quality. Does it actually answer what the organization is asking, and is it clearly answered? Or, do the directions allow students to take greater creative liberties, perhaps even encouraging applicants to break and bend the rules a bit? Perhaps there’s a word count that needs to be strictly adhered to. Give the directions one more read-through, and you’ll know.

Go Ahead, Get Personal

Scholarship applications can be distant and unrelated to the applicants, asking for just the bare minimum of details — but chances are, if you’re writing an essay, the committee wants to get to know the student vying for the funds at stake. Although appearing professional and intelligent is extremely important, breaking down a few barriers and writing in a personal, approachable manner is an excellent choice, according to U.S. News.

Often, students who don’t truly care about their application submit impersonal, one-essay-fits-all pieces of writing. They don’t want to write another essay; they just want to win with word count, wit, and strong writing. Yet the purpose behind these scholarship essays is showing how you stand out within the entire applicant pool — so only unique essays will work. Judges are trying to understand why you, not anyone else, deserves to win. So, get personal and tell them why. Offer emotional, visual, meaningful stories that show who you are as a person. Stay away from listing accomplishments, excellent grades, and various accolades; instead, share how each of these has made you a strong individual. Tell readers how you’ve developed a passion for working with children after a volunteer experience, or how your love of swimming led you to a summer lifeguarding job that gave you new responsibility. It’s about more than the basics, but the details that make the student a memorable, vivid person.

Beware Exaggerated Facts

So, what happens if you don’t have any memorable moments to craft into a touching or exciting story that fits the scholarship’s essay prompt? As tempting as it may be to feign an accomplishment, or craft a false story about overcoming fears, avoid doing so. As FinAid warns, not only will scholarship essay readers be able to tell a genuine story from a fabricated one, but you’ll run the risk of sending your entire application into the nearest trash can. Selection committees and judges are well-versed in reading student essays, so they can tell when something isn’t quite true. If your essay is perceived to be dishonest in any way, you will be immediately disqualified from the entire process.

Additionally, when students list various activities and accomplishments on their scholarship applications, they often include these in their essays. If you mention accomplishing scientific feats in your essay, but exhibit no science-based awards or projects elsewhere, things may begin to appear disconnected and dishonest.

Practice Your Best Grammar Skills

Nothing detracts more from an essay than messy mistakes. From misspelled words to missing commas, readers quickly grow distracted and disinterested when they discover a writer cannot master basic English skills, like the sample essays found on FastWeb. After all, if you’re attempting to display just how much you deserve to win a scholarship, you will need to ensure your essay is the best of the best in every way.

After writing your initial draft, work through each sentence individually. Does it read correctly — and smoothly — when you read it silently? A good way to check the grammatical flow is to read your words aloud. While doing so, note any pauses in your speaking that are missing commas in your written draft. Do sentences grow long and unwieldy, winding on and on without any point? Delete or rework these to make sure they have valuable information to add. If you know grammar and spelling aren’t your strongest attributes, the next step is the most important before submission.

Always Perform a Double-Check

If there’s one thing students should make sure to do before submitting any scholarship essay, it’s proofread. According to FinAid, U.S. News, and FastWeb, one last proofread is an absolutely crucial step. Perform this final check either yourself, printing out the essay and reading it carefully with a critical eye, or ask a parent or teacher to help you do this. Here, students can catch any errors missed in previous editing sessions, and ensure that they are truly proud of the final product. Imagine: how would you feel sending in an essay with missing commas or run-on sentences? If you wouldn’t hand in poor quality to a teacher or college, stick to the same standards for your scholarship essays. When your eyes are too familiar with the material to catch any final errors, a second set of eyes will be of extra help.

Helpful Resources

Before you begin writing your crucial scholarship essays, visit Scholarships.com to find a comprehensive list of mistakes to avoid while writing. Remember to stay clear, concise, and on topic throughout your essay.

Find example scholarship essays and formatting tips on CollegeScholarships.com, a site dedicated to scholarship applicants. Make sure your essays are perfectly formatted for any reader, in a legible font and appropriate sizing.

If you need a little extra help filling out the applications themselves, head to the Sallie Mae website to find information on these important details.