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How to Write a Compelling Scholarship Essay in 6 Steps

Once you know you have been accepted to a college or grad school, you might want to lean back and relax after all that hard work. Think again—now you have to figure out how you are going to afford your education. Scholarships are a great option for education funding, as it is gift aid that doesn’t need to be paid back.

You might have already received a grant or aid based on need or merit from your school, but if that doesn’t cover the total cost of attendance you might need to apply for other scholarships separately. If you don’t know where to start your search, check out a scholarship database or reach out to your school’s financial aid office for suggestions.

Read more: How to Read Your Financial Aid Award Letter

A key requirement of most scholarship applications is the essay portion. Take a look at our tips for writing a scholarship essay that stands out from the crowd.

Start Writing and Applying Early

Starting your essay the night before you have to submit means you will likely not be thrilled with the outcome and settle for being done, rather than being done right. Remember that this is an application for funding your education. You might have crammed for a test before with acceptable results, but the stakes here are higher.

Starting early also allows you to submit your scholarship application earlier than others. Being one of the first to apply may help you stand out while funds are still high, and will show your interest in this particular scholarship.

Understand and Follow the Application Instructions

Before you get attached to a thesis or theme for your essay, make sure it fits the requirements. A well-written essay that doesn’t fit the prompt will likely still get declined. With so many other applicants out there, reviewers will skim by if your piece doesn’t fit the bill.

If you are required to write between 500 and 1000 words, don’t submit an essay outside of that range. If the deadline to submit an application is June 1st, don’t submit your application on June 2nd. With so many applications coming in, these are easy reasons for the reviewer to pass your application by.

Grab the Reader from the Start

Not only will you need to fit in the guidelines of the prompt, but you need to also stand out and capture your reader’s attention from the start. Think of all the best books you have read and how early you got invested in the outcome.

It isn’t unlikely that essay reviewers will make a snap judgment and move on if they are not engaging with your content early enough. You want to stand out for the right reasons. Once you have a strong introduction, you have to keep that momentum up.

Read more: How Much Does College Cost in 2019?

Make it Personal

Usually, prompts are fairly open-ended and give writers a lot of freedom on how to respond. The more individual details that you can include, the more you can stand out from other applicants. You want the person reviewing your application to connect with your thesis and root for you.

Cater to Your Reader

Take into account the values of the organization that you are applying to, and align your essay with those themes. This is an easy way to show whoever reviews your application that you really understand the organization and did your research before writing.

Don’t Submit Your First Draft

As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect, and your first draft is never your best draft. Making an outline as your first draft so you aren’t tempted to submit right away and have to take the time to revise further.

Before asking anyone else to review, read your own piece out loud. Chances are you will find a couple of errors that you would have missed otherwise.

Have an Editor Review

When you have a draft you are happy with, find a trusted editor to review. This should be a teacher, parent, or friend who you think is a strong writer and who will help improve your writing.

Don’t put all your faith in spelling or grammar check programs, as they do miss things, especially proper nouns. It would be pretty embarrassing to misspell the name of the school you are attending in your essay.  

Re-work Your Essay for Other Scholarship Applications

You have completed your first essay, congratulations! But now you have more applications waiting for you… One way to make the investment in your first essay worth the extra effort is to repurpose sections of your content into other essay applications.

This doesn’t mean copy and pasting your words exactly into a new form. Rather, take the lines that make sense with the prompt and craft the rest of the essay around the prompt. It will feel better than starting from scratch and save you time.

This article was written by Carolyn Pairitz Morris, Senior Editor at Earnest.

Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.