If you ask students what they hate most about applying for scholarships, most of them will tell you that writing essays is the worst part (Well, that and not winning them, but that’s a topic for another post). And, it doesn't matter if the essay requires 250 words or several thousand; most students would simply rather spend their time searching for "no essay" scholarships than sit down and write another scholarship essay. Unfortunately, most scholarship providers aren't willing to hand over free money for college without a little effort, and that’s where the essay comes into play. It not only gives providers more insight into your life, but it also helps them weed out potential candidates, especially when several have similar academic records. For those scholarship programs that don’t even consider your grade point average or financial need, the essay is the one thing that will set you apart from the other applicants. With so much riding on the line (no pun intended), it’s important to grab your reader’s attention immediately, which means you have about two to five sentences to impress the committee or else your essay is headed to the ‘denied’ stack. If you want a shot at having your entire paper read, there are three things you should avoid using in the introductory paragraph of your essay.
1. Spitting Back the Essay Prompt
Can you imagine how boring it would be to read the same opening sentence over and over again? I can tell you from experience that it’s very frustrating to see this in scholarship essays. There’s no need to include this for any reason. Trust me. Scholarship providers know what their scholarship prompts are and don’t need to be reminded. It’s also more of an elementary-style of writing and not quite up to par for someone heading to college soon.
2. Using Quotes
I don’t know who first used a quote to start an essay, but I would really like to kick him or her in the bum. Don’t get me wrong, an obscure quote can work well in an academic paper, but in general you should avoid using them in scholarship essays. Why? Chances are the quote you will choose is going to be used by several other students, which means your ‘original’ essay is going to get dumped into the ‘denied’ pile. If you must use a quote, use one of your own. That might actually get someone’s attention!
3. Introducing Yourself
Unless the scholarship essay instructions specifically state that you must include your name in your paper, don’t start your essay by introducing yourself. It not only seems a bit juvenile, but may also disqualify you from advancing. Most scholarship committees conduct blind readings. This means a reader cannot have any information pertaining to you. Even if the scholarship prompt asks you to share some information about yourself, refrain from starting your essay in this fashion. Instead, begin with something memorable from your life that will leave a lasting impression with your reader.
Now that you know how not to start your scholarship essay, use our Scholarship Match to find scholarships that are perfect for you. And if you need extra money for college, try our LoanFinder.
Below are some common scholarship essay questions. You can use these as a great starting point for a pesonal statement. Some of these essay questions are used in the Maricopa Scholarship Database.
- What life experiences have shaped who you are today and what challenges have you overcome in achieving your education (i.e. financial, personal, medical, etc.)?
- Explain why you need financial assistance.
- Describe your academic and career goals and your plans to achieve them and discuss any of your extracurricular/volunteer activities (both on and off campus) that you may perform.
- Describe an event in which you took a leadership role and what you learned about yourself.
This is a sample essay to help guide you when you are writing essays for scholarships. Keep in mind that all scholarship applications are different, so you may have to design your essay to meet those specific requirements.
(State an overview of what you are going to talk about in the essay. If the essay is about you, give a brief description of your experiences, goals, aspirations, family background, etc. Touch on why you want the scholarship.)
For as long as I could remember, I have wanted to be a veterinarian. I have been responsible for the care and feeding of pets ever since I was in the second grade. In high school, I participated in the 4-H club as well as the Junior Humane society. To reach my goals, I realize that I must pursue an eight year college education which will begin with the Fall 2010 semester. I am very excited about my future and feel that with the opportunity your scholarship will provide, I can help many animals.
Paragraph II & III
(Go into more detail on one of the topics listed in paragraph I. For example, elaborate on your previous experiences, family and financial situation, volunteer work, employment, academic career, future goals, college plans, etc.)
My love for animals has been encouraged by my family and friends. I have had the opportunity to volunteer with the local animal shelter and provide basic care to the stray animals. With the help of my biology teacher, I was able to start a 4-H club on campus. Many of the other students on campus developed an interest in the animals and now our club has 100 members. My family also has many animals for which I provide care, including basic needs as well as first aid. I find that I enjoy that aspect of pet ownership best. Unfortunately, my family cannot afford to pay for my entire education, so I hope to use my skills and love of animals to help me pay for college.
(Conclude your essay with a wrap-up of why you should be considered for the scholarship; how do your goals match those of the organization, etc.)
Your organization stands for what I believe in. Like your organization, I hope to help animals for the rest of my life. To reach my goals, I need as much help as possible. I already have the moral support of my family and friends, but that is not quite enough to make my dream come true. I hope that your organization can help me reach this dream by awarding me your scholarship.