Who doesn’t want free money? With just an application and a well-thought-out essay, your child can earn money to pay for college expenses! A scholarship can mean the difference between graduating with honors and graduating with debt.
But how do you help your child prepare for the sometimes overwhelming task of writing scholarship essays?
First, remind them that scholarship essays aren’t as scary as they may seem. Your child may feel like he doesn’t have a chance of winning, but that’s not true at all! Essays help level the playing field because everyone has the same opportunity to tell their story.
Next, print out this list of 10 helpful tips to writing scholarship essays for your college hopeful to read over.
- Focus on the ones you might win. Start with the essays for local scholarships and scholarships with specific eligibility requirements that you meet. For example, if you know you’re going to study nursing, look for subject-specific scholarships so you are only competing against other nursing students. If you’re a minority, look into scholarships for your specific minority group first. These scholarships probably receive less entries and may have an essay topic that you’re more passionate about, drastically increasing your chances of receiving an award.
- Reuse and recycle. Gather all the scholarships you’re applying for in one place and compare the essay topics. Many will require an essay on the same or similar subject. It’s perfectly acceptable to submit the same essay to different scholarship committees, just make sure it meets all the requirements for each one. This way, you can spend more time perfecting a couple great essays than trying to churn out 10 or 15 rushed essays.
- Read the instructions. It sounds obvious, but if your essay isn’t submitted in the method outlined in the instructions, or if you miss a point that you’re required to cover, you’ll be out of the running regardless of how great your writing may be.
- Talk about your essay topic. If putting your ideas on paper is difficult, talk about your topic with a friend and record your conversation. You can later transcribe the recording and work on putting it into essay form. This will give you a jumping off point, which can be the hardest part.
- Take risks. The essay is an opportunity to set yourself apart and tell your unique story. You don’t want your words to sound just like everyone else’s, so don’t be afraid to try something different to grab the reader’s attention.
- Be clear and concise. You’ve heard it before, but good writing gets the message across in simple language. Your “voice” should sound like you, not Shakespeare. And meaningless information that doesn’t strengthen your main point should be omitted.
- Remember that you’re not a philosopher. As a high school student, you’re young and you probably don’t have a lot of life experience. That’s ok, but just remember that you’re writing for adults and you shouldn’t attempt to teach them about life or explain your personal philosophy, which may come across as preachy or trite.
- Develop a theme. Organize the points you want to make and try to tie them together with a single unifying theme. Your theme can help you create flow and develop a “story” within your essay. Bonus points if your theme includes vibrant imagery – and we don’t mean pictures drawn in the margins! If your readers can picture what you’re writing about, they’re more likely to identify with your story.
- Back it up. You can claim to be active in your community, but unless you discuss the weekends you spent at the soup kitchen or the day you sang with your choir at a retirement home, the scholarship committee won’t have any way to evaluate your qualifications.
- Enlist a proofreader. Put your best foot forward with an essay that’s free of typos, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors. Also, ask your proofreader (who can be a friend, parent, or teacher) to read your essay for clarity and identify any areas that are vague or unclear. And don’t forget to ask them if your essay convinces them that you deserve the award. That’s the goal afterall!
Once your child knows what’s expected of him, essay writing will be much less intimidating. After that, it’s up to you to help him stay focused and keep at it. But remember, stepping away from the essay writing and taking a break can be just as important as creating an outline or reading through the essay for a third or fourth time. It’s important for your young essay writer to relax so he can get back to writing with an improved attitude and renewed motivation.
To get started on the scholarship hunt, check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool at http://www.careerinfonet.org/scholarshipsearch/
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