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Writing scholarship essays: Part two — how to say what you want to say

Feb 27, 2017
If you read Education Edge last time, you should be on the right track for figuring out how to approach writing your scholarship essays. The next crucial step is figuring out how to say what you want to say. The experts from Sylvan Learning Halifax have eight tips for communicating your ideas in a scholarship essay.
1. Like any other essay, make sure you have a clear point. Whether you are describing the influence of a parent or your entrepreneurial dreams, you must have a central idea to communicate to the reader. To see if your essay has a central thesis, ask yourself, “What is the point of my essay in a single sentence?” If you can’t condense your essay, then the main point may not be clear enough. Or worse, your essay may not have a clear point at all.
2. Be specific. A common mistake is to use general statements. Don’t write, “Education is the key to success.” Instead, give the judges a slice of your life that shows how education has impacted your life in a single experience. If you are writing about your desire to become an astronaut, you might explain how this started when you built a model rocket. Focusing on a specific example of your life will help readers relate to your experiences and ensure that your essay is memorable and original.
3. Build on your accomplishments. Winning a scholarship is about impressing the committee and showing them why you are the best candidate. 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 repeat what is on your application. Use the opportunity to focus on a specific accomplishment, putting it into the proper context and demonstrate its significance. 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.
4. Choose the right words. Be formal, avoid slang and use proper grammar and spelling. Be precise. If your essay is too lengthy and poorly presented, you will lose the readers’ interest and they will stop reading. Write in the active rather than the passive voice. For example, instead of writing, “The essay writing competition was won by me,” you should write, “I won the essay writing competition.” Use, but do not abuse a thesaurus. While the essay can be a chance to show your excellent vocabulary (and your communication skills), if you do not know what the words mean, it will be very obvious.
5. Avoid the sob story. Many students write about why they need scholarship money to continue their education. While this is a perfectly legitimate topic, it is often addressed with tragedies and hardships. Don’t expect to win if the intent of your essay is to evoke pity by focusing on problems. Scholarship committees are interested in solutions. What have you accomplished despite these hardships? How have you succeeded despite the challenges you’ve faced? This is more significant and memorable than merely cataloging misfortunes. Remember that every applicant has faced difficulties. What’s different and individual to you is how you’ve overcome those obstacles.
6. Show positive energy. Everyone responds to an uplifting story. Because you have your future ahead of you, scholarship judges want to feel your enthusiasm and zest for life. In fact, one reason some people volunteer to be scholarship judges is to meet positive students with big ideas. This doesn’t mean that you have to put a happy spin on every word or that you can’t write about a serious problem. It does mean that you should not concentrate only on the negative. Try to present some solutions. Your optimism is what makes organizations excited about giving you money to pursue your passion for changing the world.
7. Find people to read your essays. Other people will find errors that you missed and they may give suggestions for making the essay clearer to someone who is not familiar with the topic. However, be careful that they do not alter your work so much that your voice is lost. Editing is essential, but your writing should always be your own.
8. Before submitting, triple check that you have followed all the formatting rules from font to word count. One small error may result in your entire application being rejected without a glance. Remember, application reviewers often have so many essays to read, they look for easy ways to reduce the pile. Online application forms might have automatic filtering that discards submissions that are too long or those that don’t use certain key words.
Writing scholarship essays may not be your ideal way to spend a Friday night. But remember that these essays can win you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. This money might mean you do not have to work during the school year, significantly lightening your load in the years to come. Try to keep this in mind when you feel burned out.
If you really get down on writing, take a break. Go outside, get some exercise or read a book. When you are refreshed, get back to your essay. If you need more help crafting your essay or planning your semester, contact Sylvan Learning Centre at 902-422-7323.
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