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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There’s no need to write a new essay for every application. Just learn to reuse them!
In my last blog post, I mentioned “personal statements” and the fact that yours can be reused to apply for many scholarships. Now, I’m going to attempt to get you all pumped about the fact that you could apply for dozens of scholarships and only have to write one essay. Here is how the essay writing broke down in my case.
I applied for 350 scholarships and wrote a total of 5 essays. Allow me to repeat that:
350 Scholarships = 5 Essays Written
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how you efficiently apply for a ton of scholarships. You’ve just got to write one killer essay and find other scholarships that ask for the same essay topic. I’ll help you out by divulging the most common scholarship essay topic. It’s the personal statement.
THE PERSONAL STATEMENT
The personal statement comes in two forms. It can either be labeled as a personal statement (for example, please submit a 500 word personal statement) or it could be in the form of a career goals prompt (for example, please submit a 500 word essay on your career goals). Believe it or not, these two directions are asking for the exact same stuff. I almost exclusively look for the words “personal statement” or “career goals” in a scholarship application because it’s the easiest essay to write and reuse. Fortunately, these are also the most common scholarship essay questions. Ignore all of the other fluff in the essay prompt about leadership skills, motivation, and whatever other descriptors they request. If you follow my formula, then those aspects should come out in the essay naturally.
To write a winning scholarship essay simply focus on your story and how it relates to your passion
If your passion is something other than what the scholarship stands for, then we’ll have to tweak the essay a bit. I’ll write more about editing your essay templates later in this series, for now, let’s focus on writing the template essay.
Below, I have listed all of the components that an amazing personal statement essay needs to include. In the next post, I’ll go over each part in more detail.
PARTS OF A PERSONAL STATEMENT
All essays have to have an opening. As I mentioned in the previous post, you should have a story in mind that you would like to tell. Allude to that story here and give a brief overview of what you are going to talk about.
The next couple of paragraphs should focus on your story and how it has shaped you to be the person that you are today. Lay it on thick.
You should have one paragraph which acts as a transition from your story to your goals. Here is where you talk about what studying X or pursuing a career in Y means to you and how you plan on achieving it.
Close it all off with a reminder of who you are (your story) and what you hope to accomplish (your goals) and drop a sentence or two about what it would mean to win this particular scholarship.
Once you write that, there really isn’t anything standing between you and hundreds of scholarship applications.
The next post in my How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay series will elaborate on each of the parts described above, with examples from real winning scholarship essays.
(Photo credit: sonrisa electrica/Flickr)