No, I’m not talking about renting a secluded and sparsely furnished cabin and holing up there, subsisting on little more than coffee as you crank out a piece of literature that makes Moby Dick read like a Dick and Jane story. Nor am I talking about falling for one of those ****Make Trillions of Dollars Working from Home 10 Minutes Per Day Writing Blog Posts (or Filling Out Online Reviews… or Completing Surveys…)**** scams. Instead, I’m talking about applying for scholarships that can provide hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars toward the costs of higher education. Sounds great, right? Of course it does. As with anything that sounds good, though, this won’t be easy; just like applying to schools and programs themselves, applying for scholarships today is a cutthroat process where huge numbers of people compete for a tiny number of available awards.
Now, when we talk about scholarships and essays, there are actually two different ways that they go together:
1) Scholarships that are essay-writing contests
2) Scholarships that require an essay as part of the application
Let’s take a look at each of these in greater detail.
Essay-Writing Contests that Give Scholarships
Writing is easy. Look, I wrote something!
Writing well, though – that’s significantly more of a challenge. And writing something that is good enough to earn you money… well, that probably seems impossible to many out there. If you enjoy writing, have some talent in that area, and are willing to devote the time and effort needed to craft a great essay, however, it is possible to earn a significant chunk of cash toward your college education.
Essay-writing contests are quite self explanatory: you write an essay according to some sort of rules or guidelines and submit it. Submissions are judged, and the winner or winners earn a prize of some sort, in this case a scholarship. Simple, yes. Easy, no.
If you decide to enter a contest like this in hopes of earning money for school, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
1. Originality is everything. If you plagiarize in a competition, you will be caught, you will not win, and you may suffer negative consequences at your current school or even your next institution. Don’t do it.
2. Mistakes are unacceptable. Whether you’re writing for school or work, you should always carefully proofread your work. When hundreds or thousands of dollars are on the line, though, checking your work for miscues is even more important. A submission with problems, whether typos, grammatical errors, or even poor formatting, will torpedo your chances.
3. One essay may work for multiple competitions. Some contests have very specific guidelines about what you must write while others offer more flexibility. A great essay that you write for one competition could work for another, with little or no modification. For others, you may be able (or even required) to use a piece of writing that you composed for a class. Be sure to read the rules carefully to determine what is and is not allowed in each particular case.
If you’re looking for competitions of this type, there are many options out there. Here are a few to get you started, but it would be worth your while to take some time and research others, both on a national and local level; there are more than you think!
WyzAnt College Scholarship Essay Contest (deadline: May 1)
- Scholarships of $10,000, $3,000, and $2,000 available
Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest (deadline: April 15)
- Five $1,000 scholarships available
The Bird Dog Foundation Scholarship Essay Contest (deadline: April 15)
- Scholarships of $1,500 and $1,000 available
Essays for Scholarship Applications
A single outstanding piece of writing can, in some instances, earn you scholarship money on its own. In other cases, the essay is just one part of a larger scholarship application. Such scholarships work much like general college applications, in that you have to submit multiple things – grades, scores, essays, recommendations, and the like – in order to apply. Each of those elements is then considered by a person or group, and the scholarship is awarded to one or more individuals based on that review.
Essays of this type must be approached in their own unique way. Here are three key tips:
1. Read the instructions or prompt carefully. Just as with application essays, scholarship essays almost always have a very specific purpose. Make sure you know exactly what you need to write and how you need to do it (length, formatting, content, etc.).
2. Understand how the essay fits. What kind of scholarship is this? What sort of organization is awarding it? If you’re applying for a scholarship funded by a historical society and you submit an essay talking about exploits on the basketball court, you’re probably not going to win.
3. Do your own work. Again, this should go without saying, but it seems that more and more applicants think they can get away with plagiarizing or having someone else write for them, particularly when it’s not a school assignment. If you’re not a strong writer but are still applying for scholarships that require essays, find someone – a friend, teacher, or consultant – to help you edit and improve your own work rather than cheating.