College Scholarship Application Tips
By Nan Werther
, last updated December 22, 2011
Writing a scholarship essay can be a daunting experience, and is easily one of the hardest parts of applying for aid. Scholarship committees rely heavily on the written portion because of the heavily competitive environment many applicants face. Typically there are thousands of worthy individuals attempting to earn recognition for their efforts, achievements, and other laudable qualities and the essay is a way for the committee to distinguish those who truly merit the money from the rest of the pack.
Don't get left behind. Instead, get noticed with a winning essay that demonstrates why you're worthy of a scholarship.
A strong record of volunteering, community service, and consistently high test scores is important, but it's not enough anymore. The biggest difference between the application and the essay is that the latter shows, or demonstrates, what the former tells. You want to write a compelling account of what sets your achievements apart from the rest in a way that demonstrates considerable investment or leadership on your behalf. For instance, while your application might state that you spent four years working at the local animal shelter; what your essay should mention, if applicable, is your efforts to raise money for the shelter, educate potential adoptive parents about the importance of neutering, or how you found several dogs’ new homes through your organized outreach efforts. This is your chance to truly demonstrate where your passions and interests lay and how your extracurricular activities reflect that beyond simply listing them.
It's important to strike a balance in tone. While it's not necessary to gloss over your accomplishments, make sure that you resist sounding judgmental about others or overly involved in yourself. Committees want to hear you speak candidly about yourself while balancing your account with stories and facts that explore your humanness and personal path honestly and humbly.
Overcoming adversity of some sort is something many committees look for. That's not to say you need to be wheelchair bound or someone who has lost their entire family in a house fire just to get noticed. What you do want to do is focus your essay around an experience that challenged you and over which you prevailed honorably. How you handled the lessons speaks more about you as a person than the fact that anything happened at all.
This should go without saying but writing the essay is just the first part. Reviewing, editing, and critiquing are all essential elements of the process. Most importantly, use spell check to make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Then read it aloud to yourself to see how the writing flows. Once you feel you've done all you can to catch obvious changes and edits, have someone read over your essay to make sure you've said your piece as clearly and eloquently as possible.
Lastly, be open to constructive feedback. Ask someone you trust if the conflict or lesson is clear, and whether or not you've achieved the right tone. Ask them if there's any vagueness that can be cleared up.