Using a previous scholarship essay contest we hosted, where our judges received more than 4,000 essays, we noticed some frequent mistakes students make that can instantly disqualify you from an essay contest.
We thought to ourselves, "Hello, learning opportunity!
Here, an example of what NOT to do in an essay – and some tips on making yourself a better candidate for scholarship cash.
Here’s one of the essays we received for a previous scholarship contest, to help you learn the do’s and don’ts of essay writing:
“To be able to hold onto your money you have to know how to manage it. Money management is a complicated process. As teenagers we often have no idea how to manage money and we end up wasting a lot of it. But in a bad economy most of us have had a crash course in what happens when you don’t manage your money properly. We have had to delve into a world foreign and unfamiliar to us and solve our own money problems. The most successful of us have managed to still have some semblance of a social life without going over our small budgets. The keys to doing this successfully are actually quite simple.
Set up your own budget of expenses. Teenagers may not have to worry about paying a mortgage or rent but we do have to be able to pay for gas, insurance for our vehicles, and the never ending list of project expenses and supplies for classes. So you have to sit down and balance what you spend in a month with what you actually make, and whether that’s the money you get for your birthday that you manage to stretch with help from mom’s pocketbook or it’s the minimum wage that you get from the local fast food joint where you have managed to find employment the money comes from somewhere and it needs to be written down.
Review your expenses daily. This includes balancing your checkbook and reviewing your online statements, as well as calculating any emergency expenses that you were not considering. This needs to be fluid as sometimes things come up that you just couldn’t have forseen.
You have to get creative. You are not always going to have the time to sit there with a calculator crunching numbers so create small ways to keep thing balanced without having to. Send yourself easy phone reminders about a few of your expenses. Always bring your school id with you because a lot of places will give students discounted rates. And finally, just remember where your money is going it will help.”
So, what was wrong and what was right?
One thing the essay writer did correctly was to stay within the word count for the contest.
The essay contest stated within the rules that essays should range from 250-350 words and this essay comes in at 349 words. Good job!
Another positive is that the writer stayed on topic and answered the question that was presented.
However, even though the writer did stay on topic, the response took a meandering approach and didn’t take a strong or memorable stance. In short, the “meat” of the essay wasn’t there. Think of it this way: sum up in one sentence what you want the reviewer to know and remember after reading your essay. Did you get that across in a clear and concise way?
Each essay should get across at least one breakout idea (aka, the thesis statement) and the rest of the essay should focus on selling that point. If it’s a new, creative or off-beat idea, focus on selling and explaining that. If it’s a common idea, focus on trying to say it better than anyone else.
Here are a few more examples of what the essay writer did wrong:
Misspellings are the fastest way to ensure an essay is disqualified. When combing through a stack of essays, a judge will first rule out the essays with simple misspellings. Long story short: run a spell check and have someone else you trust look over it. It’s always best to get a second set of eyes.
Incomplete sentences – Remember, each sentence should have a subject (someone or something) and a verb (action). Wondering if your sentence is complete? Here’s a hint: A complete sentence tells a complete thought.
No capitalization –
it’s bad enough not to capitalize words at the beginning of a sentence, but at the beginning of a paragraph it stands out even more! Yikes!
Missing punctuation –
In this example, the writer does not have proper command over the use of commas — namely they are missing in places they should have been added and added places they are not required.
Poor grammar and sentences that don’t make sense –
The essay writer uses poor word choices, improper grammar and mistakes such as having too many spaces between words. Another example of poor grammar is the confusion of grammatical persons — in the beginning of the essay the writer uses the first person plural (we) and toward the end, the writer uses the second person (you).
Run-on sentences –
In this essay, one sentence has 72 words. As a rule, try to keep sentences no longer than 35 words each.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you write an essay. Remember, you don’t want to give the judges any reason to disqualify your essay right off the bat.
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If you're planning to apply for a college scholarship, you will probably need to submit an essay along with a resume, transcript and other background information. Looking at a few sample essays before you start writing can help you get inspired to craft a winning essay of your own.
Two Original Essays to Review
There are many different types of scholarship programs, each with its own criteria. Two of the most common types are academic scholarships and professional association scholarships.
Academic Need-Based Scholarship
Colleges and other types of organizations often award scholarships to students who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and also have financial need. Letters written for this type of program should emphasize outstanding academic accomplishment in terms of grades and financial need, as well as extracurricular activities and community involvement.
The value of education is something that I have understood since a very young age. Neither of my parents had an opportunity to attend college, and faced many struggles in their personal and professional lives because of this. They made a commitment early in my life to do everything within their power to instill in me a love of learning and an understanding of the importance of hard work and dedication.
Professional Association Scholarship
Professional associations frequently set up scholarship funds to provide educational expense assistance to people preparing for careers in the field they represent. Letters written for this type of program should emphasize a commitment to success in the profession with examples to illustrate, as well as information on how the funds will benefit the applicant.
As a sophomore at XYZ University, I am honored to have an opportunity to apply for the Society for Professional Widget Makers Scholarship program. I am committed to pursuing a career as a professional widget maker and, as you can see from my transcript, am making progress toward earning a degree in this field with an excellent grade point average.
In addition to focusing on my studies full-time, I am also involved in a number of campus and community activities. I am involved in the ______________ and ______________ organizations at my school, and have also volunteered with ________________ during school breaks. I also hold down a part-time job as a ________________, where I have an opportunity to learn valuable skills that will help me in my Widget Making career while earning money to fund my education.
As you know, a college education is quite expensive, but it is an investment that is certainly worthwhile. I received a partial scholarship from XYZ University as an incoming freshman, and am paying for the rest of my educational expenses with student loans and the money that I earn from my job. Receiving this scholarship will enable me to continue to make progress toward my degree in preparation for a career as a widget maker.
I greatly appreciate your consideration. Please know that this scholarship will make a significant positive impact on my ability to continue in school and will be greatly appreciated. I look forward to becoming an active member of the Society for Professional Widget Makers once I graduate from college and begin working in the field. I can assure you that I will be a dedicated professional that you will be proud to count among your ranks.
Four More Resources for Sample Essays
The above documents are simply two examples of letters that may be appropriate for scholarship programs. There are many other ways to approach writing these types of documents. If you'd lie to review additional samples, see:
- San Diego State University lists the full text of several winning application essays based on different situations ranging from samples for incoming freshmen through a graduate students.
- University of Michigan - Flint offers an example essay written from the perspective of a nursing student seeking funds to continue her studies.
- CollegeScholarships.com offers a selection of topic-based essays, including documents focused on describing obstacles the applicant has overcome as well as people who have been major life influences and more
Considerations for Using Sample Essays
One of the most important things to remember when reading through a sample essay is that it's meant to be a guide and an example only. You should never plagiarize sample essays, no matter where you found them, and you should never copy specific details from these samples or attempt to imitate their styles.
Showcase Your Personality
A significant strength of your scholarship application is the fact that it comes from you. Your individuality and personality will help you write the best essay you can, and it's an asset to draw upon your past experiences and unique thought processes when you prepare your work.
Use Your Voice
Rather than trying to use a preset style or tone in your work, give your writing a genuine voice that is professional yet compelling. Many winning essays reflect this combination of characteristics, but you shouldn't force your essay to sound a certain way or write it to cater to a specific type of reader.
Use Sample Essays
Use available sample essays as you brainstorm topics and ideas for your own work. Try to think of a list of concepts to fit the scholarship theme, and write those concepts down. If you get stuck or you need something to stimulate your thought process,try using persuasive writing prompts to generate a new set of ideas.
Still Thinking You Need Another Sample?
If you have no idea where to start when trying to win a scholarship, you may feel reassured after looking at a few sample essays. They can spur good ideas that might help you outline your work, choose which of your topics is most fitting, and find a writing style that makes you feel comfortable. No matter what approach you take, get at least one other person you trust to review your essay before sending it in. Make revisions as needed and proofread carefully before submitting your scholarship application packet.