You've spent who-knows-how-long finding scholarships. You've searched through books and the Internet, you've contacted local organizations and spoken to your counselors. You have a list of awards that are perfect for you. Now it's time to actually win the money. To do so, you will need to fill out applications and more likely than not, write an essay.
As with applying to college, the scholarship essay can either make or break your chances of winning. This guide outlines the steps you need to take to ensure that your essay gives you the best chance of winning. And winning the scholarship is, after all, what it's all about! Let's get started.
Make sure your essay fits the theme.
Let's say that you are applying for an award based on community service. In the application, you list all of the community service groups that you belong to and service project awards that you've won. But in the essay you vent about your disgust for the homeless and how they should find jobs instead of blocking your passage on sidewalks. Your essay may be brilliantly conceived and written, but if its message is not in line with the rest of your application, it will create a conflicting message and keep you out of the winners' bracket.
So how do you know what the theme of your essay should be? The answer is actually quite simple and goes back to why you decided to apply for the scholarship in the first place:
The theme of your essay is almost always determined by the purpose of the award or why the organization is giving away the money.
Once you know this, you can choose which aspect of your life to highlight in the essay.
Answer the underlying question.
Have you ever been asked one question but felt there was an underlying question that was really being asked? Maybe your mom asked you something like, "Tell me about your new friend Karen." But what she really was asking is, "Tell me about your new friend Karen. Are her 12 earrings and tattoo-laden arms a sign that you shouldn't be spending so much time with her?" In most cases, the essay question is just a springboard for you to answer the real question the scholarship judges want addressed. An organization giving an award for students who plan to study business might ask, "Why do you want to study business?" But the underlying question they are asking is, "Why do you want to study business, and why are you the best future business person we should gift with our hard-earned money?"
For every scholarship that you attempt to win, you will be competing with students who share similar backgrounds and goals. If you are applying to an award that supports students who want to become doctors, you can bet that 99% of the students applying also want to become doctors. Therefore, the goal of every scholarship judge is to determine the best applicant out of a pool of applicants who at first glance look very similar. Use the essay question as a way to prove to the scholarship committee that you are the worthiest applicant for the award.
Share a slice of life.
As you are explaining why you deserve to win, it is important that you also reveal something about yourself. Obviously, in the short space of 500 to 1,000 words, you can't cover everything about you. This is why one of the most effective techniques is to share a "slice of your life." In other words, don't try to explain everything. Just focus on one aspect of your life. If you are writing about your involvement in an activity, it may be tempting to summarize your involvement over the years and list numerous accomplishments. However, this would sound more like a resume (which by the way you should include with every application) and it would not tell the judges anything new. However, if you focus on just one aspect of an experience, you could spend some time going below the surface and share something about who you are, which would be far more memorable. In other words, you would be sharing a slice of your life.
Want to know more about this topic?
Though writing an essay for a scholarship application can be a daunting task, think of it as an opportunity to showcase your abilities and talents to the scholarship committee. By accentuating your strengths through your writing, you will be able to effectively communicate that you are a deserving candidate for their award.
Strive to illustrate your strengths and experience when writing essays for a scholarship application. Throughout your life, you continually discover your talents and abilities. As you develop these talents, they become your strengths in life. Try to demonstrate multiple strengths in your essays. Possible topics that you could illustrate in a scholarship essay include service, leadership, academics, arts, athletics, entrepreneurship, creative talent, leadership, diversity, challenges overcome, and community involvement. Decision-makers for the scholarship program will see your strengths and abilities as reasons why you are worthy of a scholarship.
Add Variety to Your Strengths
Convince selection committees that your talents and experiences are expansive. Demonstrate the variety of your strengths by dividing them into categories and highlighting each one. Below are examples of how you can emphasize the following strengths:
- Service by describing service projects you performed for your church, community, and school or work
- Leadership by outlining leadership positions in your church, community, and school or work
- Athletics by highlighting the top three sports that you excel in: football, soccer, tennis, cheerleading, track, field, or other
- Academics by specifying your top three academic subjects in school: math, science, history, civics, economics, English, or other
- Creative talent by explaining your talents: visual arts, music, dance, poetry, or other
- Any other talent or ability by identifying three ways you have demonstrated that strength in your life
Give Your Strengths Magnitude
In addition, you should show selection committees that you have developed each of your strengths extensively. Tell them how your accomplishments set you apart from others. Demonstrate the magnitude of your strengths by sharing at least three accomplishments within each category. We call this method of presenting your skills and accomplishments “powerstatements.”
Two important concepts govern the preparation of power statements:
- Highlight the skill you are presenting by using “power words,” such as motivated, organized, responsible, problem-solver, and other words that describe your particular strengths.
- Describe something you accomplished with the skill you are presenting. You may include a challenge you faced, actions you performed to overcome the challenge, and the results of your actions. Try to quantify the results of your accomplishments to show your value to a scholarship committee.
Some Examples of Power Statements:
I can achieve results. For example, I planned, organized, and led a charity project that packaged over 5,000 boxes of humanitarian supplies for victims of Hurricane Irene. The whole project was completed and shipped in one day.
I have organization management skills. For example, I reorganized my company’s manufacturing department, increasing yield by 15 percent.
I am an over-achiever. For example, I maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout college while working full-time, taking honors courses, and serving as the president of the Education Society on campus.
I am dedicated. For example, I won the city and regional championship in the 5K by training four hours daily to improve my running time by 45%.
I am creative. For example, I designed a new product line that increased my company’s revenue by $25,000.
By expressing the variety of your strengths, you will show that you are a skilled and well-rounded individual. By expressing the magnitude of your strengths, you will prove that you are accomplished in those areas of your life. Using power statements to deliver these messages will communicate your value with greater impact to selection committees. These applied techniques will create an essay that is more impressive and persuasive of your qualifications.
For more information about scholarships, see the following:
Letters of Recommendation
Scholarship Master Application
Topics for Scholarship Essays
How to Strengthen a Scholarship Essay
Finding Financial Aid on LDSjobs.org
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