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Scholarship Essay Guide
contains three parts:
Scholarship essays vary dramatically in subject. However, most
of them require a recounting of personal experience. These tips will be more
helpful for writing personal essays, like for the National Merit Scholarship,
than for writing academic essays.
The most important aspect of your scholarship essay is the
subject matter. You should expect to devote about 1-2 weeks simply to
brainstorming ideas. To begin brainstorming a subject idea consider the
following points. From brainstorming, you may find a subject you had not
considered at first.
What are your
major accomplishments, and why do you consider them accomplishments? Do
not limit yourself to accomplishments you have been formally recognized
for since the most interesting essays often are based on accomplishments
that may have been trite at the time but become crucial when placed in the
context of your life. This is especially true if the scholarship committee
receives a list of your credentials anyway.
attribute, quality, or skill distinguish you from everyone else? How did
you develop this attribute?
favorite books, movies, works of art, etc. Have these influenced your life
in a meaningful way? Why are they your favorites?
What was the
most difficult time in your life, and why? How did your perspective on
life change as a result of the difficulty?
Have you ever
struggled mightily for something and succeeded? What made you successful?
Have you ever
struggled mightily for something and failed? How did you respond?
in the world, what would you most like to be doing right now? Where would
you most like to be? Who, of everyone living and dead, would you most like
to be with? These questions should help you realize what you love most.
experienced a moment of epiphany, as if your eyes were opened to something
you were previously blind to?
What is your
strongest, most unwavering personality trait? Do you maintain strong
beliefs or adhere to a philosophy? How would your friends characterize
you? What would they write about if they were writing your scholarship
essay for you?
What have you
done outside of the classroom that demonstrates qualities sought after by
universities? Of these, which means the most to you?
What are your
most important extracurricular or community activities? What made you join
these activities? What made you continue to contribute to them?
What are your
dreams of the future? When you look back on your life in thirty years,
what would it take for you to consider your life successful? What people,
things, and accomplishments do you need? How does this particular
scholarship fit into your plans for the future?
If these questions cannot cure your writer's block, consider the
1. Ask for Help from Parents, Friends, Colleagues, etc.
If you cannot characterize yourself and your personality traits do not
automatically leap to mind, ask your friends to write a list of your five most
salient personality traits. Ask your friends why they chose the ones they did.
If an image of your personality begins to emerge, consider life experiences
that could illustrate these particular traits.
2. Consider your Childhood
While scholarship and aid officers are not interested in reading about your
childhood and are more interested in the last 2-4 years of your life, you
might consider events of your childhood that inspired the interests you have
today. Interests that began in childhood may be the most defining parts of
your life, even if you recently lost interest. For instance, if you
experienced extreme poverty, the death of a loved one, immigration, etc., you
might want to incorporate this into your scholarship essay. Analyze the
reasons for your interests and how they were shaped from your upbringing.
3. Consider your Role Models
Many applicants do not have role models and were never greatly influenced by
just one or two people. However, for those of you who have role models and
actually aspire to become like certain people, you may want to incorporate a
discussion of that person and the traits you admired into your scholarship or
financial aid application essay.
4. Read Sample Scholarship Essays and Admissions Essays
Before writing a poem, you would certainly read past poets. Before writing a
book of philosophy, you would consider past philosophers. In the same way, we
recommend reading sample application essays to understand what topics other
applicants chose. EssayEdge maintains an archive of over 100 free sample
application essays. Click
here to view sample essays
5. Goal Determination
Life is short. Why do you want spend 2-6 years of your life at a particular
college, graduate school, or professional school? How is the degree necessary
to the fulfillment of your goals? When considering goals, think broadly. Few
people would be satisfied with just a career. How else will your education fit
your needs and lead you to a fulfilling life?
If after reading this entire page you do not have an idea for
your essay, do not be surprised. Coming up with an idea is difficult and
requires time. Actually consider the questions and exercises above. Without a
topic you feel passionate about, without one that brings out the defining
aspects of you personality, you risk falling into the trap of sounding like the
90 percent of scholarship applicants who will write boring essays. The only way
to write a unique essay is to have experiences that support whatever topic you
come up with. Whatever you do, don't let the essay stress you out. Have fun with
the brainstorming process. You might discover something about yourself you never
Two - Selecting an Essay Topic
Having completed step one, you should now have a rough idea of
the elements you wish to include in your scholarship essay, including your
goals, important life experiences, research experience, diversifying features,
spectacular nonacademic accomplishments, financial need, etc. You should also
now have an idea of what impression you want to make on the scholarship
You must now consider topics that will allow you to synthesize
your important personal characteristics and experiences into a coherent whole.
While most scholarship essays allow great latitude in topic selection, you must
also be sure to answer the questions that were asked of you. Leaving a lasting
impression on someone who reads 50 essays a day will not be easy, but we have
compiled some guidelines to help you get started.
Consider the following questions before proceeding:
selected a topic that describes something of personal importance in your
life, with which you can use vivid personal experiences as
Is your topic
a gimmick? That is, do you plan to write your essay in iambic pentameter
or make it funny. You should be very, very careful if you are planning to
do this. We recommend strongly that you do not do this. Almost always,
this is done poorly and is not appreciated by the scholarship committee
unless a creative approach is explicitly recommended. Nothing is worse
than not laughing or not being amused at something that was written to be
funny or amusing.
topic only repeat information listed elsewhere on your application? If so,
pick a new topic. Don’t mention GPAs or standardized test scores in your
essay if they are mentioned elsewhere.
Can you offer
vivid supporting paragraphs to your essay topic? If you cannot easily
think of supporting paragraphs with concrete examples, you should probably
choose a different essay topic.
Can you fully
answer the question asked of you? Can you address and elaborate on all
points within the specified word limit? If you plan on writing about
something technical, make sure you truly can back up your interest in a
topic and are not merely throwing around big scientific words. Unless you
convince the reader that you actually have the life experiences to back up
your interest in neurobiology, the reader will assume you are trying to
impress him/her with shallow tactics. Also, be sure you can write to the
scholarship officers and that you are not writing over their heads.
Can you keep
the reader's interest from the first word. The entire essay must be
interesting, considering scholarship officers will probably only spend a
few minutes reading each essay.
Is your topic
overdone? To ascertain this, peruse through old essays. EssayEdge's 100
free application essays can help you do this. However, most topics are
overdone, and this is not a bad thing. A unique or convincing answer to a
classic topic can pay off big.
topic turnoff a large number of people? If you write on how everyone
should worship your God, how wrong or right abortion is, or how you think
the Republican or Democratic Party is evil, you will not win the
scholarship or aid award. The only thing worse than not writing a
memorable essay is writing an essay that will be remembered negatively.
Stay away from specific religions, political doctrines, or controversial
opinions. You can still write an essay about Nietzsche's influence on your
life, but express understanding that not all intelligent people will agree
with Nietzsche's claims. Emphasize instead Nietzsche's influence on your
life, and not why you think he was wrong or right in his claims.
In this vein,
if you are presenting a topic that is controversial, you must acknowledge
counter arguments without sounding arrogant.
scholarship officer remember your topic after a day of reading hundreds of
essays? What will the officer remember about your topic? What will the
officer remember about you? What will your lasting impression be?
After evaluating your essay topics with the above criteria and
asking for the free opinions of EssayEdge editors, of your teachers or
colleagues, and of your friends, you should have at least 1-2 interesting essay
topics. Consider the following guidelines below.
1. If you are planning on writing an essay on how you
survived poverty in Russia, your mother's suicide, your father's kidnapping, or
your immigration to America from Asia, you should be careful that your main goal
is to address your own personal qualities. Just because something sad or
horrible has happened to you does not mean that you should win a scholarship.
You don't want to be remembered as the pathetic applicant. You want to be
remembered as the applicant who showed impressive qualities under difficult
circumstances. It is for this reason that essays relating to this topic are
considered among the best. Unless you only use the horrible experience as a lens
with which to magnify your own personal characteristics, you will not write a
2. "Diversity" is the biggest buzzword of the
1990's. For this reason, so many applicants are tempted to declare what makes
them diverse. However, simply saying you are a black, lesbian female will not
impress scholarship officers in the least. While an essay incorporating this
information would probably be your best topic idea, you must finesse the issue
by addressing your own personal qualities and how you overcame stigma, dealt
with social ostracism, etc. If you are a rich student from Beverly Hills whose
father is an engineer and whose mother is a lawyer, but you happen to be a
minority, an essay about how you dealt with adversity would be unwise. You must
demonstrate vividly your personal qualities, interests, motivations, etc.
Address specifically how your diversity will contribute to the realm of campus
opinion, the academic environment, and the larger society.
3. Don't mention weaknesses unless you absolutely need to
explain them away. You want to make a positive first impression, and telling a
scholarship officer anything about drinking, drugs, partying, etc. undermines
your goal. EssayEdge editors have read more essays on ADD (Attention Deficit
Disorder) than we would ever have imagined. Why admit to weakness when you can
instead showcase your strengths?
4. Be honest, but not for honesty's sake. Unless you are a
truly excellent writer, your best, most passionate writing will be about events
that actually occurred. While you might be tempted to invent hardship, it is
completely unnecessary. Write an essay about your life that demonstrates your
Three: Writing the Essay, Tips for Success
Even seemingly boring
topics can be made into exceptional scholarship
essays with an innovative approach. In
writing the essay you must bear in mind your two goals: to persuade the
scholarship officer that you are extremely worthy of receiving college
assistance and to make the officer aware that you are more than a GPA and a
standardized score, that you are a real-life, intriguing personality.
there is no surefire step-by-step method to writing a good essay. EssayEdge
editors at www.EssayEdge.com
will remake your essay into an awesome, memorable masterpiece, but every topic
requires a different treatment since no two essays are alike. However, we have
compiled the following list of tips that you should find useful while writing
the Question. You can
follow the next 12 steps, but if you miss the question, you will not
seemingly boring essay topics can sound interesting if creatively
approached. If writing about a gymnastics competition you trained for, do
not start your essay: "I worked long hours for many weeks to train
for XXX competition." Consider an opening like, "Every morning I
awoke at 5:00 to sweat, tears, and blood as I trained on the uneven bars
hoping to bring the state gymnastics trophy to my hometown."
scholarship committee wants
to learn about you and your writing ability. Write about something
meaningful and describe your feelings, not necessarily your actions. If
you do this, your essay will be unique. Many people travel to foreign
countries or win competitions, but your feelings during these events are
unique to you. Unless a philosophy or societal problem has interested you
intensely for years, stay away from grand themes that you have little
personal experience with.
"Thesaurize" your Composition.
For some reason, students continue to think big words make good essays.
Big words are fine, but only if they are used in the appropriate contexts
with complex styles. Think Hemingway.
Imagery and Clear, Vivid Prose.
If you are not adept with imagery, you can write an excellent essay
without it, but it's not easy. The application essay lends itself to
imagery since the entire essay requires your experiences as supporting
details. Appeal to the five senses of the scholarship officers.
the Most Time on your Introduction. Expect
officers to spend 1-2 minutes reading your essay. You must use your
introduction to grab their interest from the beginning. You might even
consider completely changing your introduction after writing your body
officer need not read the rest of your essay.
Mystery or Intrigue in your Introduction.
It is not necessary or recommended that your first sentence give away
the subject matter. Raise questions in the minds of the scholarship
officers to force them to read on. Appeal to their emotions to make
them relate to your subject matter.
Paragraphs Must Relate to Introduction. Your
introduction can be original, but cannot be silly. The paragraphs that
follow must relate to your introduction.
Applicants continue to ignore transition to their own detriment. You must
use transition within paragraphs and especially between paragraphs to
preserve the logical flow of your essay. Transition is not limited to
phrases like "as a result, in addition, while . . . , since . . . ,
etc." but includes repeating key words and progressing the idea.
Transition provides the intellectual architecture to argument building.
are Crucial. The
conclusion is your last chance to persuade the reader or impress upon them
your qualifications. In the conclusion, avoid summary since the essay is
rather short to begin with; the reader should not need to be reminded of
what you wrote 300 words before. Also do not use stock phrases like
"in conclusion, in summary, to conclude, etc." You should
consider the following conclusions:
upon the broader implications of your discussion.
linking your conclusion to your introduction to establish a sense of
balance by reiterating introductory phrases.
a term used previously in your body paragraphs.
with a famous quote that is relevant to your argument. Do not try
to do this, as this approach is overdone. This should come naturally.
your discussion within a larger context or show that your topic has
your essay need not be so tidy that you can answer why your little
sister died or why people starve in Africa; you are not writing a
"sit-com," but should forge some attempt at closure.
Something Else. Spend
a week or so away from your draft to decide if you still consider your
topic and approach worthwhile.
your Draft to Others. Ask
editors to read with these questions in mind:
is the essay about?
I used active voice verbs wherever possible?
my sentence structure varied or do I use all long or all short
you detect any clichés?
I use transition appropriately?
I use imagery often and does this make the essay clearer and more
the best part of the essay?
about the essay is memorable?
the worst part of the essay?
parts of the essay need elaboration or are unclear?
parts of the essay do not support your main argument or are immaterial
to your case?
every single sentence crucial to the essay? This MUST be the case.
does the essay reveal about your personality?
anyone else have written this essay?
would you fill in the following blank based on the essay: "I want
to accept you to this college because our college needs more
Revise, Revise. You
only are allowed so many words; use them wisely. If H.D. Thoreau couldn't
write a good essay without revision, neither will you. Delete anything in
the essay that does not relate to your main argument. Do you use
transition? Are your introduction and conclusions more than summaries? Did
you find every single grammatical error?
for the evolution of your main topic. Do not assume your subject must
remain fixed and that you can only tweak sentences.
takes time. Consider reordering your supporting details, delete
irrelevant sections, and make clear the broader implications of your
experiences. Allow your more important arguments to come to the
foreground. Take points that might only be implicit and make them
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