College is Expensive

By Ryan Hickey + updated on January 26th, 2010

Money. It’s all about money. The admissions process is no exception, as the cost of higher education has continued to skyrocket in recent years. The price tag of a B.S., M.A., or Ph.D. has not only increased in the Ivy League and at other esteemed private institutions, but also at public schools. Tuition at many popular state and public schools, such as the University of Michigan and University of California institutions, can cost in excess of $10,000 per year for residents, while the total cost of attendance (including room, board, and supplies) can exceed $20,000 annually. If you’re applying to one of those institutions and lack residency, you’ll likely pay nearly double those amounts.

As a result, for many prospective students, earning admission to such a school is really only half the battle; the other half is figuring out how you’re going to pay for everything. Many schools offer generous financial aid packages to help defray their daunting costs. Other possibilities include low-interest student loans and private scholarships. In today’s post, we’ll take a look at this last option, as an essay can often play a vital role in helping you secure scholarship funds.

There are countless scholarships available, from ones recognizing general academic or athletic excellence to ones that award you for being tall or a fan of Ayn Rand. Many scholarships, including those latter two, require students to write an essay. Thus, don’t put your laptops away just yet – you may still have some writing to do, even if your applications are all submitted. So now, using the tried-and-true bullet-point format, let’s note a few important points to consider when writing a scholarship essay.

- Carefully analyze the prompt or directions. Scholarship essays can take countless forms, and are even more diverse than admissions essays. Some ask you to talk about yourself, while others want you to respond to a specific question or scenario. Some even ask you to read a book or other work and comment on it (see the Ayn Rand scholarship linked to above). It’s imperative that you pay close attention to the prompt and craft an essay that applies to that specific topic. Don’t try and recycle an essay you’ve already written if it doesn’t really fit what the scholarship essay is asking for. Doing so will pretty much guarantee that you won’t see a penny from that particular scholarship.

- All of the rules about effective writing for admissions essays (which we’ve discussed in previous posts) apply to scholarship essays too. Feel free to review our archives for helpful hints dealing with everything from avoiding clichés to perfecting transitions.

- Consider yourself a commodity or business; why should someone invest in you? The individuals who read these essays will be deciding whether you deserve a financial award. If applicable to the prompt, focus on showcasing why you’re worth the money. What have you done in your life so far that demonstrates you are a good investment? How will the scholarship enable you to achieve your plans for the future?

- Stand out from the crowd. Everyone knows that the admissions process is fiercely competitive, with top schools boasting admit rates around 10%. Scholarships are even pickier, though. Consider that hundreds and thousands of students apply for almost every scholarship out there. If you’re competing for one $1,000 scholarship and even 99 other students apply for it, you only have a 1% chance of earning it. If 999 other students apply, your odds of winning drop to .1%, which makes admission to Harvard seem easy.  Showing that you’re in the top 10% won’t cut it; you need to convince the reader(s) that you’re the one who deserves the money more than anyone else. Thus, originality can pay off in scholarship essays even more than it does in admissions essays. This is a perfect opportunity to take a risk and try something a little bit “out there” in your writing.

- Apply for lots of awards. As noted, scholarships can be even more selective than schools. This selectivity is balanced by the sheer number of scholarships available, though. Thus, take time to apply for as many scholarships as you can. Websites like Fastweb serve as a clearinghouse of sorts for available scholarships and allow you to search through those based on a variety of criteria. You may have to write quite a few essays and fill out quite a few applications, but doing so could end up netting you a substantial amount of money.

EssayEdge can help with your scholarship essay – our editors understand that securing money to pay for school is just as important as earning admission. We’ll help you ensure your essay is as good as it can be.

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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