Three Scholarship Essay Tips

By Ryan Hickey + updated on March 22nd, 2011

While the application season itself is winding down, there’s still a lot of admissions work to be done. Even if you haven’t received a single acceptance or rejection, it’s not too early to start thinking about next steps.

One of those next steps is funding. School is already expensive (there’s an early contender for understatement of the year) and costs show no sign of slowing their never-ending rise anytime soon.

Luckily, there are also many opportunities to earn education scholarships out there today. www.fastweb.com is a great resource for students looking for scholarships, as it offers a gigantic searchable database that can help you find scholarships that match your needs and qualifications.

Lots of scholarships ask you to write an essay as part of the application process. In the rest of today’s post, I want to provide three tips that will help you write those scholarship essays.

1. Pay attention to what they’re asking

Just as with any writing assignment, you need to begin your scholarship essay by building a clear understanding of what exactly you’ve been asked to write. Scholarship essay prompts span a broad variety of topics ranging from targeted questions to requests for more general biographies.

When you sit down to write an essay as part of your scholarship application, make sure to give the prompt or instructions careful consideration. Doing so will make the writing process both effective and efficient, since you’ll focus on appropriate content without wasting time on things that are irrelevant.

2. Don’t exaggerate or plagiarize

Scholarship essays are similar to admissions essays in that they can encourage writers to stretch the truth. Because you’re directly competing against others for something, whether admission to a school or a financial award, you try to present yourself in the best light possible.

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on positives and working hard to write well. There is something wrong with exaggerating your accomplishments or credentials or paying someone to write for you. Beyond the moral implications, lying or plagiarizing will ultimately hurt your chances.

The people who read scholarship essays are masters at identifying work that is plagiarized or falsified. If they even suspect that your essay fits one of those criteria, they’ll simply drop you from consideration. Masses of applicants compete fiercely for almost every scholarship out there, the majority of whom are remarkably qualified. If you give them a reason to cut you, they’ll take it since there will still be dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of impressive candidates to choose from.

Finally, exaggeration and plagiarism directly lead to writing that is impersonal and clichéd. Essays like that aren’t going to impress anyone.

3. Save and Reuse your OWN Work

I need to be very careful in explaining what I mean here. As just discussed, plagiarism in admissions, whether for scholarships or applications, is wrong. It’s immoral, causes bad writing, and is increasingly easy to spot.

However, there is nothing wrong with reusing your own work whenever possible. In fact, doing so is one of the hallmarks of a smart applicant. Because you’ll almost certainly apply for more than one scholarship, there’s a good chance that you can write an essay that will work for more than one application. Keep an eye out for such opportunities. You may need to spend some time making small adjustments to the essay so that it fits the new scholarship instructions or prompts, but that’s much less effort than writing an entirely new essay.

So long as the work is 100% your own, there’s no reason you shouldn’t look for new ways to use already-written essays.



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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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