Writing the Scholarship Essay
Writing the Scholarship Essay/Personal Statement
The scholarship essay or personal statement is a very common requirement on scholarship applications. For many people it is also the most dreaded part of the application process. And for some, it is the reason why they will not even bother to apply.
We know that many people struggle with the writing process. However, with the following tips and resources, we hope to demystify the scholarship essay and make the process manageable.
Starting an essay is the most difficult part of the process. This is true even for professional writers, so do not be discouraged if you have trouble with this – you are not alone. However, there are a few things you should do before you even start putting pen to paper (or typing):
- Analyze and break the question down into manageable pieces – Are there multiple parts to the question? If so, does it suggest that you should follow a sequence in answering the question?
(1)Describe a piece, or pieces, of art, literature, music, or film which you have created or in which you have participated. (2)Why is it meaningful to you? (3)What did you learn?
In the above example, we have a question with three parts. By breaking it down from 1-3, you now have your sequence in which you should begin answering the question in your essay. Make sure you address each part, giving it the attention that it deserves.
- Analyze the Organization – Take some time to do a little research on the organization that is awarding the scholarship. You should first find out what the scholarship is about and who founded it. Also, look at the mission of the organization: what do they try to accomplish? Why are they awarding these scholarships, and who do they wish to help with these awards? This insight will prove useful in writing your essay, as it will help you convey to the organization that you are worthy of receiving a scholarship.
- Start setting goals for your essay – There are usually specific points or ideas that you should try to get across in your essay, so it would be best to list those items so that you can start creating an outline.
(a) To demonstrate personal traits in you that are similar to the personal traits of the person for whom the scholarship is named.
(b) Show how my strong family support contributes to my success.
- Develop a Theme – Now that you know more about the organization and have a set of goals that you want to accomplish within your essay, it’s time to start developing your theme. In some cases, the theme should be obvious from the essay question. In other cases, you may have to come up with your own theme. Many times, your theme may originate from those goals you set prior.
Using the goals listed above, one possible theme would be how family appreciation and support can be the foundation for individual success.
- Create an Outline – Now that you have your goals and theme, it is time to create an outline. Write down what you want to say- (This way, you won't forget the point you want to make.) The outline will be the "skeleton" of your essay, which you will "flesh out" later on.
(a) Introduce theme.
(b) Lead the reader into first body paragraph.
II. Body Paragraph 1
(a) Discuss first point, or answer first part of question.
III. Body Paragraph 2
(a) Discuss second point, or answer second part of question.
IV. Body Paragraph 3
(a) Discuss third point, or answer third part of question.
(a) Re-emphasize theme, or tie any lose ends left from intro.
Writing the Essay
Now that you have your theme, goals, and outline, it is time to write! Start filling in your outline one step at a time. To avoid writers block, allow yourself to “write badly,” keeping in mind that the first draft WILL NOT be perfect. Here are some tips for putting things together:
- Introduction – The purpose of the introduction is to invite and entice your reader to continue reading your work. This can be achieved by posing a question, or stating an interesting fact that is relevant to the rest of your essay. Starting with an interesting, relevant quote can be a great way to begin as well. You should also introduce your theme at this time. However, do not summarize the piece here.
“I am a literacy volunteer. I did not decide to do this work because studies report that 21% of adults (over 40 million) in this country are functionally illiterate or because 43% of people with reading deficiencies live in poverty or even because 70% of people with reading deficiencies have no job or only a part time job. My reason for becoming a literacy volunteer was much simpler. My Dad couldn’t read.” (Taken from ScholarshipHelp.org)
The example above is successful because it entices the reader to read further by stating interesting facts, and leading them in to the rest of the story. Also, the author successfully introduces her main point: that she, inspired by her own father’s struggles with illiteracy, seeks to help others who are also illiterate.
- Body – Now it’s time to craft the bulk of your essay. This is where your outline will come in handy because it is a blueprint of what each paragraph of your body will address. Follow your outline, and be mindful of making transitions from paragraph to paragraph, so that your essay maintains a singular flow. Show your reader where they are going and why. You should try repeating prior thoughts, and connecting them to the next point. Avoid using such standard phrases as “Secondly” or “As a consequence” if possible.
Example (of a transition):
“Once I learned how to scale rocks on the artificial rock face, I needed to try out my skills on a real mountain.” (From ScholarshipHelp.org)
- Conclusion – Since most essays will generally be short in length, there is no need to summarize your entire piece in the conclusion. Rather, you should reiterate your theme/main point, and “tie the loop” to your introduction.
“Dad may never read Dostoyevsky but we are both thrilled that he can now read his sister’s letters from his hometown in Romania, and doesn’t have to pretend to read the newspaper anymore.” (From ScholarshipHelp.org)
Here, the author ties up any loose ends left over from the introduction while re-iterating his/her main point; without going into a summary of the entire piece.
Things to Keep in Mind Throughout the Process
Here are some things that you will want to think about as you are writing the essay:
- Am I staying on topic? – When you are asked to write the scholarship essay you will always be provided with a theme or instructions to follow. Read these instructions very carefully - AT LEAST TWICE. You want to be sure that you remain consistent with your writing, and that you can always tie your thoughts to the main idea.
- The essay is really all about you – Although you may be writing about a given topic, the judges really want to know about you, your ideals, and/or your opinions. Make sure that, ultimately, your own viewpoints come across in whatever you write, so that the judges can get an idea of who you are and why you deserve the scholarship.
- Am I writing too much? Too little? – There is a common misconception that if you write more than is required by the scholarship application that your essay will be viewed in a more favorable light. Often, that is not the case. When there are set words or page limits, adhere to them strictly. “Write an essay of 500 words or less” really means “Don’t write anything longer than 500 words.” Stay within the set guidelines, and your application won’t earn a one-way ticket to the rejection pile.
- Don’t “thesaurize” – Simply put, complex words have their place. Use them sparingly. Trying to use too many “big” words in your essay can backfire, as the more obscure your vocabulary becomes, the harder it is to read.
Revising the Essay
- Review - After completing your first draft, let the essay “sit” for a while. Come back to it a little later on, and read through it with a fresh set of eyes. Review the essay for any grammatical and/or spelling errors. Then, look over the content for things you like, and for things that you could improve upon. Use your outline as a guide to make sure that you stuck to your goals and addressed each of your points, but do not be afraid to rearrange things as you see fit to make the essay “read” better.
- Have it proof-read - Once you have reviewed the essay yourself, have others read it. You may visit the Writing Lab or use your teachers to help you edit your essay. Another set of eyes may catch errors that you missed, and they may provide valuable insight. Make any necessary revisions, and finally…
RELAX!! You’ve just completed the most challenging portion of your application. Give yourself a pat on the back, and enjoy the fact that the most difficult part is over. Now you just have to make sure to complete the rest of your application and submit it on time!
- ScholarshipHelp.org is a great resource for information on how to apply for scholarships. They also have excellent tips on writing the scholarship essay.
- Christopher S. Penn’s free e-book, “Scholarship Search Secrets”, is another excellent source of information on applying for scholarships, as well creating an efficient workflow to decrease the amount of time spent on the application process. Get your copy at the Scholarship Office, room S-343, or online at: http://www.studentscholarshipsearch.com/ebook/
- Want to see how long an essay should/will be? Lipsum.com generates random text to a given number of words.
- BeatTuition.com has some great examples of scholarship essays, both good and bad! They are definitely a good source of help with both the scholarship search and essay.
- You may also go to the Writing Center, located in room S-500, for assistance with any writing assignments you may have.
Our guide was put together primarily from the information obtained from the following websites: