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Writing scholarship essays


Shayna Dix
February 27, 2017

My personal philosophy is to ignore the fact that it’s winter any time after Dec. 25. It’s easy to ignore winter when you’re inside, wearing a tanktop, with the heat blasting!

A significantly harder fact to ignore is the looming presence of college deadlines, especially during the college-paper-writing season. It’s hard! Maybe you’re not great at writing papers. Maybe you’re awesome at writing papers, but you don’t know what colleges and scholarship committees might be looking for in essays.

Despite what you may think, there is a sort of formula to writing a successful personal essay. Here’s what to keep in mind when writing yours:

Do your research.

This way, you can tailor your essay to the group you are writing for. 

Be professional.

By this I mean use scholarly language, as opposed to LOL. Also, make sure you use proper punctuation and grammar. Have someone else read your essay, too, for any errors. This is your first impression; it counts.

In this context, it’s OK to put yourself into your writing.

In fact, your personality should be in every part of this essay.

Be specific.

Just like when writing regular essays, you should back up your statements with evidence. Colleges and scholarship committees want to know in what situations you "demonstrated leadership," when you "worked well with kids," and what exactly you learned from your summer abroad.

Diversify your vocabulary.

Starting every sentence with “I think," "I want" or "I am” is a common error. Find different ways to convey your meaning.

Focus on quality over quantity.

This isn’t a length contest. Keeping that in mind, know that the essay is not just another snoozer to check off your list. It is often one of the most important pieces in an application and should therefore be long enough to reflect who you are as a person. Take the time to figure out what’s important for the committee to know and what you want to share. This essay is about you, and it’s important to represent yourself in your best light.

(Note: Some essays have length requirements. Make sure you read all of the instructions before you write.)

Make it interesting.

Scholarship and admission committees have to read tens or sometimes hundreds of these essays. You want yours to be professional but also stand out enough to keep the reader from dozing off.

Here are some great sample essays (and here are a few more) to get your mind kick-started in the right direction! And here's another resource, for both scholarship essay and general college-level writing. 

Shayna Dix

is a junior majoring in Elementary Education at UNC. She’s working toward her licensure to teach in a third-grade classroom. In the meantime, she is studying leadership in the President’s Leadership Program and working with the Bear Hug Club and the Ambassadors for Student Leadership Club. She’s forgotten the meaning of "free time."