The lights dimmed. Darkness. The room settled. Silence. Then, the distant whirring of...something. What was it? Suddenly, brightness and sound and images launched me into a magical world. At age 6, my first movie experience made an indelible impression. Now, twelve years later, I embrace the formal steps toward becoming a unique storyteller. A visual artist. A filmmaker.
And that's just one example of...
How to Start a Scholarship Essay
So, look: who doesn't want free money? Scholarships are abundant; so are applicants. Your essay's first few sentences need to distinguish you. They must grab the attention--or imagination--to make your reader want to continue. There isn't one sure-fire way to write an essay, but here are some universal tips to help elevate each of your submissions.
Before Your Write
Get a pen and paper--not your computer, not yet--and brainstorm. Think about the question or topic you'll be addressing and write down everything that comes to mind, no matter how random or unrelated your thoughts may seem. Try to fill a page. Once you have that, sift through them. Rearrange the most relevant ideas into your outline.
As You Write
Make your intro short and sweet. Don't simply restate the question or say how you'll be answering it. Get right into it. Whatever the overall tone of your writing--whether scholarly or casual--you can engage the reader with either a pertinent story or a personal anecdote. As humans, we're more likely to identify with and remember a story, as opposed to just facts and figures.
Is there a quotation that might work as a lead for your essay? Almost certainly, but use caution here: many other essay writers will have the same idea, and they'll likely mine the same books and websites as you to find that quote. Other people's quotes don't reveal anything about you, which is really what the reader wants to know. Who you are should imbue your prose.
Another opening option: you could kick off with a question, just not the one you're trying to answer. If you're responding to "Why Does Recycling Matter?" then you could start with something like:
When was the last time you had to wade through three feet of garbage to cross the street? For me it was when I visited New York City one summer during a trash strike. The smell and filth were overwhelming. Today, though, citizens of Gotham are less likely to encounter that for one reason: recycling.
Be clear in your language: word selection matters. Use a thesaurus sparingly. Better to stick with the words you know--it keeps your writing more natural, more you.
Finally, keep in mind the school or organization sponsoring the scholarship. Let their values guide what you write. This doesn't mean that you should merely say what they want to hear; stick to your ideas, but express them in a way that your reader will appreciate. An essay for an athletic scholarship should read differently than one for a faith-based scholarship. Each of your application essays should be unique. One size will not fit all.
After You Write
These tips may seem obvious because they are. And that's usually where scholarship applicants trip up. So, take heed!
- Rewrite. First drafts are just that, and they don't win anything. Good writing requires review and revision.
- Use spellcheck but don't rely on it solely. Read your writing thoroughly and eliminate silly mistakes such as confusing our with are, or their with there. Same rule for an automated grammarcheck--let it be your starting point.
- Proofread multiple times. Does your writing flow? Is your premise supported by subsequent paragraphs? Have you addressed the topic thoroughly? Is your copy lean and mean? Are you observing the correct style for the application?
- Get a second opinion. Ask someone you trust for an honest appraisal of your essay before you submit it. If any feedback rings true, rewrite as needed.
- Follow instructions regarding word count, format, or other formal guidelines. You don't want your essay rejected on technicalities.
Nitro and Other Options
We're more than just your source of the knowledge to pay for college. Our quarterly Nitro College Scholarship will award someone $5,000. All you need to do is provide brief answers to just three questions. (While you're at it, tell your friends. If someone you refer wins, we'll give you $1,000!)
There are four factors we consider in assessing each submission: quality, completeness, creativity of ideas, and creativity of the social media element. So tell us about yourself. It only takes a few moments and who knows? You might just be starting the next semester with a nice Nitro check in hand.
If you're essayed-out or just not that into writing, you can still have a shot at some free dough. Check out these no-essay scholarships.
I’ll be honest: I hate writing scholarship essays.
I hated it back in high school, senior year, writing handfuls of essays for countless different organizations, only to lose out on most of them in the end. There were only two scholarships that I received my first semester of college: one from my high school student council for serving as treasury secretary for two years, and one for the children of employees from the company where my father works.
From personal experience, I can give you two pieces of advice:
Firstly, check to see if school organizations that you’re actively involved in have scholarship funds. You’re much more likely to receive money from an organization that knows you rather than an organization whose scholarship you technically qualify for because you went to two meetings that December of your sophomore year. That’s how I got the one from the student council.
On the other hand, I played softball for one season back when I was around twelve years old—needless to say, the girls’ softball league did not give me their award even though I wrote a darn good essay about that one time I got hit in the face and had to sit out our game with a bloody nose (it was character-building!).
Secondly, there are scholarship funds that give away money to every person who submits an essay (this was the way that the scholarship at my dad’s company worked). Now, there’s not a ton of funds that work this way, but they do exist, and you may have to do some digging to find them. If you do, just don’t be too lazy to write that essay.
Scholarships are like the lottery: you can’t win if you don’t play, as cliché as it sounds. But how do you “play” if, like me, you hate the idea of writing dozens of essays on different variations of the same prompt: “What are your education goals, and how will this money assist you in achieving them?”
You can recycle essays. What this means is that you can use the same essay that you submitted for one scholarship fund and submitted it to another (or three). If the prompts are similar enough, all you have to do is change up a few words to make sure it’s tailored to the proper audience. Tweak essays, mash up essays, and apply to scholarships you don’t even think you’ll get—what’s the worst that can happen?
Or you can find scholarship funds whose prompts don’t resemble typical scholarships at all. They don’t even have to be “scholarships,” per se. For example, last summer I submitted a 500-word short story to a contest offering $2,000, $1,000, and $500 as its top prizes. I didn’t win, but at least I threw my hat in the ring. If you’re having fun, or if you’re writing about topics you’re interested in, then the process won’t even seem like a quote-unquote “scholarship essay.”
Of course, there are even scholarships funds that don’t require an essay to win (I’m constantly getting emails about those no-essay scholarships from Fastweb!). Apply for these too.
Earning good grades at the college level can also earn you scholarships from your school. For example, I ended up overpaying my tuition bill this semester because they applied a scholarship to my account that I wasn’t even aware of—now I’m entitled to a refund. Scholarships like these are ones that you don’t even have to apply or appeal for (and appealing, or asking your school for more money, is another ballgame entirely).
As a college student, I have even less time now than I did in high school to be writing dozens of scholarship essays. That’s why I encourage you to find to a variety of different types of funds—which require different application formats and varying time commitments—and submit, submit, submit. Good luck!
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