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Writing a Good Scholarship Essay

A great many scholarship competitions require a written essay. Scholarship committees do this for a variety of reasons. One of the main ones is to get an idea of what the person who’s applying for the scholarship is like. Yes, GPA, community service, volunteerism and leadership are important qualities, but by the time you’ve gotten to where you’re being considered, everyone you’re competing against will also have strong records in all these areas. And so the scholarship committee will read your essay to see what sets you apart from the crowd, looking for a reason to select you over all the others.

So, the essay can be the make or break portion of your application. A winning scholarship essay can mean up to tens of thousands of dollars for your college education, so you need to do your best to make a real impression with your words. So when you’re writing your essay, keep asking yourself if you’d find your essay compelling if someone else had written it, and you were on the final awards committee and reading it. You want to make it clear that you’re a unique individual, without coming across as self absorbed, or judgmental of those students less accomplished than yourself.

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And while you don’t want to make it sound as if you’ve had a tough life if that’s not the case, if you really have had to overcome some serious adversity in your life, by all means mention it. If you were left in a wheelchair due to a car wreck, or if you’ve triumphed over a terrible disease, or if you came to America from your war ravaged country at the age of 5 speaking no English… the essay is the time to mention it. The ability to overcome tragedies like that are exactly what these committees are looking for.

Don’t have a pity party, but let them know you’ve prevailed over difficult circumstances. And don’t simply mention your memberships in different groups-write about things you did that demonstrate leadership and initiative, and any active role you played in addressing a need in your community. It’s one thing to help out at a community recreation center a few hours a week; it’s a completely different thing if you took it upon yourself to suggest, recruit, organize, and lead a fund raising drive for new playground equipment at a local park.

Of course, besides these ideas, there are the basics, which you can’t forget about. It should go without saying, but spell check and proofread your essay, and have at least one other person proofread it before submitting it. Editing software and spell checkers are great tools, but they don’t catch everything. Read it out loud-you may catch errors that don’t stand out when reading it. Check your word length, and edit if necessary-scholarship committees don’t look kindly on applicants who ignore their rules.

Avoid slang at all costs, but don’t come off as a pseudo intellectual, either. And ask someone whose opinion you trust to read your essay and give you constructive criticism. Again, potentially tens of thousands of dollars in college aid are riding on your scholarship essay, so make it sparkle. And there are books available on the topic if you’re having trouble. Go to the library and borrow one, and use the tips you just read here, and you’ll be ahead of your competition.

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