road sign: "scholarship just ahead"

As we enter the fall season and get ready for midterm exams and upcoming holidays, many college students don’t realize it is also the time of year that scholarship applications begin to open up for the upcoming school year.

Now is a great time to make an account and scholarship profile at Fastweb, an online resource for finding scholarships. For community college students, another great resource is the Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) honor society. (They even have some big scholarships that you don’t have to be a PTK member to apply—and be competitive—for.)

Both of these sites will help you determine which scholarships you’re eligible for—and that fit who you are. They look at things like what you’re interests and skills are, what you’re studying and where you are in your educational journey.

Why Essays Are Important

As you read over the scholarships that the search results retrieve, you may begin to notice that most applications would like to know some details about the person they are considering giving a scholarship to. You can help them get to know you by writing a scholarship essay. (Don’t panic! You can definitely do this.) This is where application reviewers want to get know you. Essays are your chance to really shine.

Applications that require these types of effort are not the scholarships to skip over. In fact, these are the scholarships that you could have the highest chance of obtaining, especially if you take the time to write a quality essay!

Here are some tips for writing a winning scholarship essay:

Read the Instructions Carefully

Take some time to read the instructions of what the essay is asking. Visualize what you would like to tell about yourself in relation to each question.

Does the application ask you to recall the time when you decided which profession you want to pursue? Write down some ideas, even if they seem unsure. You can build on these later into a complete idea.

Make a Plan

Create a timeline for yourself. Start with the final deadline and work backwards. Make an educated guess at how much time you’ll need to:

"get organized"
  1. Gather letter(s) of recommendation (if required)
  2. Get a transcript or other documentation that may be required
  3. Write your essay(s)
  4. Get feedback on your writing (more on that below…)
  5. Make changes and polish the essay(s)
  6. Submit the finished application

Make sure to give yourself enough time for writing a draft, and then rewriting—possibly a few times. Really well written essays take time and effort. But in the end, they’re worth it.

Next set some intermediate deadlines for yourself, using your estimates of how long each step in the process will take. Build yourself a reasonable timeline for each step. Then do your best to finish each task on time. (If you miss one of the deadlines you set for yourself, just do your best to catch up!) The only one you really can’t miss is the final submission deadline.

Watch the Word Limit

Pay attention to answering all of the questions being asked, and submitting all the pieces that are being requested. But do not overwrite your essay beyond the maximum word limit. There is a word maximum for a reason.

Someone has to review all of the essays that are submitted—and if you write a novel-length essay, the reviewer may stop reading before it’s even finished. Make your essay more powerful by telling them a lot about you in fewer words. (This may mean rewriting sentences, or even whole paragraphs, a couple of times.)

Who Are You?

Young man writing on desk

Imagine you’re a scholarship application reviewer who has stacks of hundreds of scholarship essays to read. What essay is going to stand out and grab your attention?

Tell a good story about yourself. Fit your accomplishments and struggles into your story. Explain why the scholarship will help you, but do not write from a perspective of “woe is me.” A reviewer does not want to read all about the misfortunes everyone has faced—but rather, how have you (or how will you) overcome those obstacles? Tell your unique story!

Save All of Your Essays

When job seekers are out in the market looking for a new position, they may have a few different versions of their résumé—one for each specific field for which they are applying. The same principle applies to scholarship essays.

If you have an essay that covers similar topics as a previous application, take this essay and reshape it to fit into the new scholarship application. This can save vital time when you’re submitting a lot of applications. Which brings us to…

Apply, Apply, Apply

Keep in mind, applying for scholarships is a game of numbers. Many students only hear back from about one out of every 11 scholarships they apply for. Therefore, it is important to send out many applications.

Phi Theta Kappa administers its scholarships using a common application, so applicants may apply for multiple scholarships at the same time. (Some, but not all, of their scholarships do require PTK membership.) This can be a great way to hit multiple applications all at once.

Get Help!

Your college has a writing lab available to assist students in writing projects, which includes scholarship essays. (Here at FRCC, the campus writing centers are part of our Academic Success Centers. They are more than happy to help students with this type of important writing.) Use these resources anytime you feel you need assistance with writing your essay, as well as to proofread your essay before you submit it.

It’s important to always have another set of eyes review your work before it is submitted. You can even ask a teacher, friend or family member to give you some feedback. You’ll probably get suggestions you wouldn’t have thought of yourself. And this might just be the thing that puts your application over the top!

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