Written by: Janet Barger of Student Choice
As colleges start for the year, I continue to get questions about getting last minute financial assistance and planning ahead for next year. Many students and parents have found that this year was more difficult than they expected and realize the need for starting early next year. One of the most important things you can do to set yourself up for success – whether it is a scholarship, grant or job application – is writing a good essay.
Essay writing is one of those areas (like most of financial aid) that seem difficult at first. But when you really break down the steps to better understand the process, you can make it much easier, faster and achieve better results. The secret to this is taking time for TEE:
As I’m sure you already know, everything done well requires some preparation! So make sure you utilize all the resources you have at your disposal including blogs, grammar sites, plagiarism protection tools, parents, teachers, and even your siblings – my sister read every one of my college admissions and scholarship essays! There are many excellent sites with information to help you along the way:
- FinAid – an online resource for students – www.finaid.org
- National Association of College Admissions Counselors – www.nacacnet.org
- Many colleges also have a writing center that is helpful once you’re enrolled
Remember, your family and teachers know you and can provide suggestions that will enhance your “story” – telling a good story about yourself is one part of writing a great, and memorable, essay.
Follow directions – following directions can be the key to your application even making it to the stack for review. In many cases, and in my experience, when the essay specifically tells you to follow the directions and read carefully, the judges or reviewers are using the directions to eliminate applicants (likely due to high volume). If the essay asks for a hand-written copy, but you want to go the “extra mile” and type yours up, think again. Your essay may just end up in the trash.
You’ve Prepared..Now, What is Your Story?
Write about something that you are passionate about! Make sure that passion comes through by providing examples when addressing the essay questions and always remember to follow the directions. Over the past few years, we’ve read lots of essays from around the country. The topics listed below are examples of some of the topics we’ve seen submitted based on various common criteria for essays.
- How I successfully met my school’s yearbook deadline
- How I raised the money to take my trip to Washington D.C. (fill in the blank: my home country, New York, etc.)
- How playing soccer (insert sport, club or group here) in high school helped me become a leader
- How my trip to our nation’s capital made me want to be a political science major
- How my experiences (fill in the blank: illness, sister, grandfather) motivated me to be a doctor (lawyer, teacher, etc.)
The best essays are not vague! Make sure you address the question thoroughly and tie your experience into fully meeting the essay requirements and rules.
Now you know where you are going – you have a topic or passion to write about, should you just start writing? Sometimes getting started is the most challenging step. If jumping right in is your style, go for it! Maybe getting your thoughts on paper by writing an outline works best for you or using your smartphone’s voice memo app to record your thoughts does. You may be surprised how easy your thoughts can be made into sentences and paragraphs to make up your essay. I am a bullet point writer – what 3 things best describe my leadership abilities? Or the 3 steps I took to be a better volunteer/student/friend? You get the idea.
Self-Review the Requirements
Make sure following all the different rules and requirements doesn’t trip you up. Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the details and lose focus on the subject of the essay. Review your essay when you’re done writing and make sure you can answer “yes” to these self-check questions:
- Read it for content – Does it say what you want it to say?
- Is there a word limitation or does the essay have to be submitted with additional documentation? id you sign the scholarship application? (Double check all the rules before submitting)
- Read for accuracy – Did you follow the instructions?
- Did you use “your” when you should have used “you’re”? What about “there” and “their”? Did you mix up past or present tense? Remember to avoid writing like you talk and/or text. Use – complete sentences and complete thoughts!
- Read i for grammar – Did you use proper grammar?
- Do you really need that comma? Comma splices are the number one punctuation error we see in essays submitted to ScholarHelp!
- Read it for punctuation – Did you use all the right punctuation?
Ask for Additional Review
Before submitting your completed essay by the defined deadline, ask your friends, co-workers, teacher and family for helping reviewing. Always get the perspective of someone that can provide honest, unbiased feedback. You’ll be better off in the long-run getting third-party feedback, and maybe correcting any issues, than submitting your article without review.
Reusing your essay
Speaking of modifying your essay for different applications – remember, it’s not plagiarism if you wrote it! You can reuse and re-purpose your article as many times as you want to fit as many different applications as possible. By recycling an essay, you are re-enforcing the “TEE” you took and the story you want to convey.
At the end of the day, there is not secret formula for writing a good essay. However, if you take the time, spend some energy and put forth the effort to write one really good essay, you’ll be able to set yourself apart from the competition and set yourself up for success. Not to mention, you may just be able to apply some of these tips to other writing projects throughout college… Good luck!