It's that time of year again! Students across the nation are applying for school and applying for scholarships and grants to pay for school!
One of the easiest scholarship applications you'll fill out all year is ours - for the 3Rivers Scholarship Contest! Along with a simple, general application, we're requesting you submit a short essay (500-1,000 words) that speaks to ONE of the following questions:
- “How do you plan to manage your finances as a college student?” OR
- “As a millennial, why do you value being a credit union member over a bank customer?”
We get that writing an essay isn’t always easy or exciting. And writing an essay for a scholarship or as a part of your college application is quite a bit different than writing one for your English Literature or American History course. Don’t sweat it though, we’ve got a couple of tips and tricks to help you out:
1. Answer the Question
Most of the time, the topic or theme of the essay is pretty obvious because the scholarship sponsor or the school you’re applying to will provide you with it. It can be all too easy, though, to start responding to the question... and end up letting your mind drift elsewhere, leading you fulfill the word-count requirement, but not even respond to the question at hand.
It's great that you're distantly related to Abraham Lincoln, have an impressive Furby collection, and have known since pre-school that you'd be a Boilermaker, but if the essay question was, "How do you intend to use social media as a positive learning tool during your time in college?" then none of those fun facts really matter. Sorry! Constantly remind yourself to tie back to, and stick to, the point.
2. Have a Thesis Statement
You just can't get away from thesis statements, no matter what kind of paper you're writing! Make sure you don't forget that one sentence that sums up the entire point of your essay. If it helps, include terms like "although," "even though," and "while," since these show that you're looking at what you have to say from all angles and not just one.
For example, if you're a fashion lover writing an essay on why you're majoring in Business instead, your thesis statement may read something like, "My lifelong goal is to own my own fashion label, and although fashion design is my favorite pastime, obtaining a degree in Business at NYU will be my key to success because leadership and entrepreneurial skills are the most important elements when it comes to running a company.” Your essay, then, should discuss two to three strong points or examples that support and tie back to this statement.
3. Make Every Word Count
It is incredibly important that you remain within the requested word limit set by scholarship sponsors. If the essay requires 300-500 words, try not to submit yours with more than 50 words above or 50 words below. If it's 500-1,000 words, try to keep it no more than 100 above to 100 below and so on and so forth. Keep in mind that some scholarship sponsors will not accept an essay if it’s too far above or below the word limits they’ve set.
If you're like me, you might have to cut a lot of the fluff in order to meet the word limit requirements - and it might be difficult to let go of what you've worked so hard on, because sometimes every word reads just right. But the cleaner and more to-the-point your words are, the better.
On the other hand, if you struggle to meet the word requirement, get as close as you can, but don't go adding in filler just because you need to get there! Make every sentence and every word count!
This is perhaps the single most important piece of advice we can give you: Read, read, and re-read your essay before submitting!
The best way to proofread? Out loud. You might feel silly doing it, but you're going to catch so many more mistakes and awkward phrasings if you do it this way. In addition, if you can, have a friend, family member, teacher, or advisor proofread it for you, too. The more eyes you get on your first drafts, the better.
5. Get Passionate
We've all been there - assigned paper topics that simply don't appeal to us. They can be the most daunting of assignments and take every last ounce of motivation for us to knock them out if we just don't care about the subject matter. Regardless, you must find a way to be passionate about your scholarship and college application essays.
Although there will be a specific topic or question you have to respond to, YOU ultimately have the answers and the power to turn it into something you can get excited about and believe in. And in the end, you want the judges to believe in you. Be proud of your accomplishments and life experiences and share them as examples in your essays. You have the right to brag a little here! Get passionate, get creative, and let it all out. You can go back and edit later.
Need a little inspiration for the essay topics tied to our Scholarship Contest? Here are a few articles that you might find helpful:
"How do you plan to manage your finances as a college student?"
"As a millennial, why do you value being a credit union member over a bank customer?"
Remember, the 2015 3Rivers Scholarship Contest deadline is Tuesday, March 31 at 11:59 PM EST. Questions? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more advice on essay writing, check out this SuperCollege.com article.
Show passion in your writing.
As a student you have written a lot of essays. And let's be honest—most were probably on topics you didn't care much about. You might be tempted to approach the scholarship essay in the same way that you did when writing about the Roman Aqueducts, but this would be a tragic mistake. The last common feature of all winning essays is that they are written on subjects about which the author is truly passionate. It is very difficult to fake passion for a subject. (Just try to be excited throughout your Uncle Larry's hour-long slideshow of his tonsil operation.)
But when you are genuinely enthusiastic about something, it does not take much effort for that energy to naturally show in your writing. Therefore, when you are choosing a topic, be sure it is something you truly care about and are interested in. Without even trying, you will find that your sentences convey an excitement that the reader can almost feel.
A common mistake in essay writing is to use general statements instead of specific ones. Don't write, "Education is the key to success." Instead, give the judges a slice of your life that shows them how education has impacted your life in a single experience or realization. If you are writing about your desire to become an astronaut, you might explain how this started when your father bought you a model rocket for the Christmas you were five years old. Focusing on a specific example of your life will help readers relate to your experiences and ensure that your essay is memorable and (as a bonus) original.
Have a thesis statement.
It sounds obvious, but make sure that your essay has a clear point—many students' essays don't. Whether you are describing the influence of your father or the effect of World War II on race relations, you must have a central idea to communicate to the reader. To see if your essay has a central thesis, try this simple exercise. Ask yourself, "What is the point of my essay in a single sentence?"
Here are some answers that would satisfy the question for essays on independence and drug addition, respectively:
"Growing up in the country taught me to be independent."
"Treatment of addiction is the only way to win the war on drugs."
If you cannot condense the point of your essay into a single sentence, then the main point may not be clear enough. Or worse, your essay may not have a thesis.
Build on your accomplishments.
Winning a scholarship is about impressing the judges and showing them why you are the best candidate for a monetary award. Your accomplishments, activities, talents and awards all help to prove that you are the best fit. Since you will probably list your activities on the application form, use the essay to expand on one or two of the most important ones.
However, don't just parrot back what is on the application. Use the opportunity to focus on a specific accomplishment, putting it into the proper context. Share details. Listing on the application that you were a stage manager for a play does not explain that you also had to design and build all the sets in a week. The essay allows you to expand on an achievement to demonstrate its significance.
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