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How to Write a Better Scholarship Essay For College

Sep 11, 2008
Writing a better scholarship essay than your peers is critical to establish why you, the college applicant, deserve the money and not somebody else. Listing other valuable scholarship credentials, such as a high SAT score and a solid GPA, do not always personalize the scholarship application as the essay does. When written correctly, the scholarship essay appeals to the emotional psyche of the reader. To achieve this result, you need to write your scholarship essay clearly, concisely and correctly, and with subtle hints of your personality.


First, abolish the notion that only people with talent can write well. If a person can talk, he/she can write well. Because writing involves more thinking than regular talking, it is important to follow these guidelines during the writing process:

1) Read other scholarship essays.

Reading other winning scholarship essays is the best way to get a feel for what scholarship judges look for. It may also provide ideas during times of writer's block or mental stress. Be careful not to copy other people's words unless you properly quote them in your scholarship essay. This applies to direct quotes, indirect quotes, and paraphrased statements.

2) Use outlines, and brainstorm.

Outlines are a wonderful tool for a writer to gather his thoughts. A traditional outline consists of a Roman numeral identifying the main heading; a capital letter identifying a subheading; and numbers indicating topics under the subheading. You can denote further points related to these topics by using small letters. An informal outline works best for the scholarship essay... what matters is the writer knows what he wants to say before he actually starts saying it.

3) Research rules.

Some scholarship essays seem so easy... so why does a writer still encounter mental roadblocks when writing an essay? This is perfectly natural, even on topics that a writer feels he knows first-hand. To get the brain cells fired up and functioning, sometimes it's helpful to research topics directly and indirectly related to the main topic.

4) Write from the heart for emotional impact.

Don't try to sound like the latest best-selling author in your scholarship essay. This includes trying to sound "deep," (unless of course "deep" is your natural writing style), and littering the essay with big words. Scholarship judges can see through this, and you will turn them off if you try to sound like someone else.

5) Be creative and unique.

Don't be afraid to deviate from the "academic style" of the scholarship essay -- as long as creativity doesn't distract from the main theme, and you are using proper grammar. Remember, scholarship judges are human and they tend to notice essays that tug on their emotional strings in some way. The best scholarship essays usually contain anecdotes, emotional personal accounts and even dialogue. If the scholarship essay instructions allow for creative expression, go wild with it.

6) Use proper grammar, punctuation and style.

Scholarship judges will immediately disqualify scholarship essays with too many grammatical errors, even if the content is compelling. You must know the rules of English grammar, and you should know how to write formally. This means you know how to write a sentence with a traditional structure versus a "contemporary" one (the writer should opt for the former). For example, today's sentence structure makes it somewhat acceptable to use "And" or "But" at the beginning of a sentence, but you should avoid it when writing the scholarship essay. Many editors (especially editors in academia) still feel uncomfortable using a conjunction at the beginning of a sentence, so why even take the chance? A writer can play it safe when choosing to write traditionally.

7) Don't reinvent the wheel - use a standard essay format.

A basic essay format consists of: 1) a thesis statement; 2) three or four paragraphs expanding on points detailed in the thesis statement; and 3) a concluding paragraph. This traditional structure, although seen as generic by some college writers, works very well. Why? Because it allows you to clearly lay out your thoughts during the writing process and for the judges who are reading the essay.

8) Follow the scholarship essay's instructions.

It is important that your scholarship essay address the points asked for in the instructions. No matter how brilliant a particular piece is, if it goes off on a tangent discussing irrelevant topics, then you have not achieved the desired objective.

9) Get someone else to proofread your work.

It is very easy for writers to miss many mistakes, whether they are grammatical errors, typos or inconsistencies in the flow of their piece. It is important to have other sources proofread your material, such as friends, family, and other professors who have reviewed winning scholarship essays. Otherwise, use a popular grammar software, such as www.WhiteSmokeSoftware.com.

10) Don't discourage yourself if your scholarship essay is rejected.

Just because your scholarship essay didn't win doesn't mean it was bad. Scholarship judges are responsible for reading hundreds -- sometimes even thousands -- of scholarship essays. Deciding who will win from a pile of many good essays, can be very difficult. Sometimes judges base their final choice purely on emotion... the judges may see factors in an essay that remind them of their personal life. Either way, it is impossible to please everyone. You should apply to as many scholarships as possible.

As long as you follow these guidelines and produce a well-written scholarship essay, the power of numbers is on your side. Your excellent scholarship essay is bound to be noticed eventually.
About the Author
Brian Scott is a contributing writer for http://www.LousyWriter.com, a free website on how to write better. He recommends college students visit http://www.MasterFreelancer.com for english grammar software to help with writing college essays.
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