Woman writing an essay

Writing the scholarship essay is probably the hardest part of applying for college scholarships. It can feel like your entire future is riding on this one essay and the pressure to get it perfect will get in your way. Relax. Follow these steps and you will be on your way to writing a winning scholarship essay.

Analyze the Essay Prompt

To write a powerful scholarship essay you must work within the boundary of the instructions and you must answer the prompt. To make sure you do not miss any points, analyze the prompt and map out the different meanings behind it. If the prompt is not specific, write down what you think it will take to answer the question posed.

For example, if you are prompted to write about your most embarrassing moment, you have to decide how to approach the essay. Will you write a humorous and entertaining essay to show that you have a positive approach to life or will you write a more serious essay to show that you take learn from life's lessons? You might get clues to the path you should take from the wording of the prompt or from the organization offering the scholarship. Include this information in your analysis.

Organize Your Thoughts

After analyzing the essay prompt, write down all the thoughts that come to you about the subject. If you know how you want to approach the essay, it is still a good idea to keep a list of alternate approaches in case you decide later that the first approach is not working, so do not narrow your focus too much at this point. Often, initial thoughts about a topic are those you feel deeply and will make a more powerful essay.

Map out your essay

Now it is time to organize your thoughts. You can make a traditional outline or use a free-form mind map. The best method is the one that helps you organize your thoughts and gives you ideas about expanding these thoughts into paragraphs.

Answer the prompt

Now that your essay is organized and mapped out, it is time to write with wild abandon. If you feel stalled on this step, try not to edit as you write. Do not worry about spelling and grammar; just get your story down. Write until you feel that each section of your essay is complete. At this point, you may feel the essay is bloated and it may have unnecessary content. You will edit this out later.

Write for Your Audience

This point may seem to contradict instructions to write what you believe and to show passion in your subject. What this means is to try to match your tone and style to the audience. If the organization offering the scholarship is the National Comedy Writer's Association, you probably would not want to submit a dry academic essay.

Make it Personal - Believe what you Write - Show Passion

This point may seem to contradict the above suggestion to write for your audience. While you should keep the audience in mind, you should still write about a topic that holds a lot of meaning for you. Believe what you say about your subject.

Edit for Content

Now it is time to make sure every word and every sentence you have included in your essay is necessary to accomplish your goals. 

  • Read the entire essay aloud. Make sure the essay flows. Are there entire paragraphs that are unnecessary to the overall piece? If so, cut them.
  • Cut the clichés, slang and pompous prose. 
  • Check your facts and back them up if you need to. If something is not common knowledge, you must cite your sources. 
  • Look at each paragraph. Do the words and sentences used back up or expand on the topic sentence in each paragraph. If there is any fluff or filler, cut it.

Check Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation

Following basic grammar rules is important. A misplaced comma can change the entire meaning of a sentence and a misspelled word can land your essay at the bottom of the pile.

For an initial check, compose or copy and paste your essay into a word processing editor. Microsoft Word does a good job of catching spelling and grammar errors. While you do not always catch every error this way, you often clear up enough to make any remaining errors stand out.

Double-check all facts, quotes, and spellings of proper names.

Have an Excellent Writer Proofread Your Essay

Finally, after you have been over your essay multiple times, it is time to bring in a pro. Ask a teacher, professor, parent, or friend who is an excellent writer to proofread your essay. Make sure you share the prompt with them, so they can also help you determine if you have answered the prompt completely.

After going through all the above steps, it is time to submit your application and essay. You are ready to move on to the next scholarship application. After completing this process a few times, it will become more natural and you will soon breeze through future scholarship applications.

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Jan 15, 2014 By Betsy Muse