You have worked hard for the exceptional grades you have earned; you have held leadership positions in a variety of activities; your SAT or ACT scores are superior. Now, it is time to seek scholarships, either from your intended university or from a host of other organizations that provide such awards. With the scholarship applications are essay assignments, and these will be used be decision-makers to distinguish among the often equally qualified applicants. Given the critical importance of these essays, then, scholarship essay writing will require a great deal of thought, careful planning, and writing that is both exceptional and creative.
STEP ONE – the Topic
Generally, you will not be allowed to “free write” your scholarship essay. Institutions and organizations want answers to specific questions, and they will provide essay prompts which will all determine the general topic of the essay. Typically, the applicant will be asked to respond to one or more of the following:
- What personal qualities have resulted in your success as a student and as a person?
- What three people have influenced you the most in your life thus far?
- What are your short-term and long-term goals?
- Describe one or two life events that have impacted you greatly and explain how they have changed your thinking or perspectives?
- Provide three principles by which you live. Discuss the importance of these principles to your personal development.
- How will you use your education to improve society?
You may have options, such as, choosing two of the several prompts for example. Select those about which you are the most enthusiastic.
STEP TWO – Brainstorming
Once you have your topic(s), begin the brainstorming process. List every thought and every experience you have had that could relate to the prompt. Obviously, you will list far more than you will actually include, but the point of brainstorming is to allow the free flow of ideas.
STEP THREE – Narrow the Focus
Carefully study the list(s) you have generated. Eliminate those items that are irrelevant, less important, and about which you may not have enough for expansion. Narrow down to the most relevant and important three – these will be the sub-topics for each paragraph.
STEP FOUR – Prepare your Outline
The outline is generally for the body paragraphs only. Your introduction and conclusion will be created only after the body of the essay(s) is complete. What will be your topic sentence and supporting detail for each paragraph? Remember, paragraphs may vary in length dependent upon the topic, and this is fully acceptable.
STEP FIVE – The Rough Draft
Write the body paragraphs, keeping in mind that for this first draft you are focusing only the coherency and fluency of your thoughts. Do not be concerned with grammar, mechanics, or vocabulary at this point – these will be addressed in revisions. The purpose of the rough draft is to translate your thoughts from the outline into organized, structurally sound paragraphs.
STEP SIX – Introduction and Conclusion
Once the body paragraphs are in rough form, you will be able to generate ideas for your introduction and conclusion. Certainly, you want to create a bold introduction – one that will hook the readers immediately and yet provide a preview of what is to follow. A short impactful beginning sentence is always good. A short quote that is directly related to the content of your body is another possibility. Your introduction should not be more than 5-7 sentences, often the shorter the better.
Your conclusion does not need to wrap up the content of your body paragraphs. Rather, it should point the reader toward your perceived future, based upon what you have stated in the body. Again, an impactful statement will cause a reader to remember you!
A candidate for medical school, for example, used his childhood passion for playing baseball as a springboard to the development of principles by which he now lives. His introduction provided a very brief anecdote about a memorable baseball game in which he finally managed to hit his first home run. The body paragraphs dealt with perseverance, optimism, and fair-mindedness. The conclusion of this essay wrapped back to baseball, and the essay was a “hit” with the decision-makers.
STEP SEVEN – Revise and Revise Again
Your scholarship essay will require many revisions before it is polished enough to submit. Once you have made the obvious revision of grammar, sentence structure and mechanics, set it aside for at least 24 hours. When you return to it, re-read carefully to be certain you have said all that you wanted and that you have done so in a coherent, fluid manner. This is also the time to look at your vocabulary choices. Certainly you want to impress the committee with your use of language, but do not overwhelm them with the use of thesaurus-generated words. You will not sound credible. Are your transitions between paragraphs smooth? Be certain that the last sentence of a paragraph moves the reader into the next one.
Have trusted teachers and/or mentors read the essay and provide suggestions; run it by your family members. In short, get as many “eyes” on the piece as possible.
STEP EIGHT – The Final Draft
Be certain that the final draft is typed in an acceptable font and size. Nothing irritates readers more than having to struggle with unusual scripts and/or tiny print. Re-check this final draft for mechanical issues, particularly spelling and punctuation errors. Do not rely wholly on spell and grammar checks – they are not fool-proof. Find an English expert to proofread it!
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