Writing a successful essay for scholarships and college admissions isn’t up to luck. It’s a combination of good research about the college or scholarship, reading past entries when possible, paying attention to deadlines and rules, and matching essays with both experience and your knowledge base.
Here’s what you need to know, from finding essay and scholarship opportunities to how to write a good essay:
Start by narrowing your scholarship search.
Some people are of the mindset to apply for as many scholarships as possible. This may be true for scholarships that just require a simple application that can take less than an hour. I’ve always been of the mindset that for scholarships that require essays you should focus on the ones you really have a chance at.
How do you determine if it’s a scholarship worth applying for?
- Is it a topic you are interested in? For instance, there are a ton of essay contests for history buffs.
- Does the length inhibit you from having time to apply for other scholarships? For instance, it’s not always the smartest thing to apply for scholarships that require 2,000 words if you’re not sure you it’s the exact right topic.
- Do you meet academic, financial need, or other requirements? Another requirement may be state of residence.
Start applying for scholarships early, even in elementary school.
You can literally start applying for scholarships in kindergarten. Look for scholarships in local community newspapers, with 529 plans, and through your student’s school.
I know a family where the student started applying for essay contests in kindergarten. Her 529 college savings plan had an excess amount of money by the time she was ready to go to college. Her mom is a teacher, who taught her good writing skills early on.
Her daughter who started winning essay contests in kindergarten used these tips to write winning scholarship essays:
- Pay attention to rules. Failing to meet rules such as minimum and maximum word count can disqualify from the scholarship automatically. Missing deadlines is a real that can seldom be broken.
- Read all guidelines carefully. Make sure you understand the subject you are supposed to write about.
- Look over past essay submissions that won. If they are not posted on the website, email the scholarship sponsor to ask if you could see a past winner.
- In past essays, look for details the winner used. Did they provide facts? Where did they come from? Where answers highly personal?
- Also, write an outline of some sort. Discuss the outline points with family and friends. If you can defend your points in conversation, you can also do so in writing. Take notes after each discussion.
- Read it over the next day before turning essays in. You’ll catch grammar errors you may not catch with tired eyes. More than two grammar errors can cost you a scholarship win.
For college essays, narrow down your list of colleges to your top five to ten.
Each essay takes time to craft, and you want to make sure your student has time to write essays tailored to the individual school. For instance, five schools could ask the student to write an essay on the person they most admire. Yet they may be asking for a different reason for why you admire them. For instance, it may be the person you might admire most for their integrity or for work they did. It’s essentially the same question, but it’s tweaked enough to create a different reply.
While you should answer each essay based on the individual wording of the essay, don’t search for the most unique answer. Search for the subject that’s the most true for you and your life. Your thoughts will be clearer when you believe in your choice.
- Limit the number of scholarships you apply for requiring in-depth answers. You’re more likely to win contests when you narrow your search this way.
- Ask for past winners essays to study for tone and types of research used.
- Apply for scholarships, especially essay contacts as early as elementary school.
- Write a new essay for each college application. Use a unique story that’s genuine to your experience.
- Discuss essay outlines with friends and family.