If you ask students what they hate most about applying for scholarships, most of them will tell you that writing essays is the worst part (Well, that and not winning them, but that’s a topic for another post). And, it doesn't matter if the essay requires 250 words or several thousand; most students would simply rather spend their time searching for "no essay" scholarships than sit down and write another scholarship essay. Unfortunately, most scholarship providers aren't willing to hand over free money for college without a little effort, and that’s where the essay comes into play. It not only gives providers more insight into your life, but it also helps them weed out potential candidates, especially when several have similar academic records. For those scholarship programs that don’t even consider your grade point average or financial need, the essay is the one thing that will set you apart from the other applicants. With so much riding on the line (no pun intended), it’s important to grab your reader’s attention immediately, which means you have about two to five sentences to impress the committee or else your essay is headed to the ‘denied’ stack. If you want a shot at having your entire paper read, there are three things you should avoid using in the introductory paragraph of your essay.
1. Spitting Back the Essay Prompt
Can you imagine how boring it would be to read the same opening sentence over and over again? I can tell you from experience that it’s very frustrating to see this in scholarship essays. There’s no need to include this for any reason. Trust me. Scholarship providers know what their scholarship prompts are and don’t need to be reminded. It’s also more of an elementary-style of writing and not quite up to par for someone heading to college soon.
2. Using Quotes
I don’t know who first used a quote to start an essay, but I would really like to kick him or her in the bum. Don’t get me wrong, an obscure quote can work well in an academic paper, but in general you should avoid using them in scholarship essays. Why? Chances are the quote you will choose is going to be used by several other students, which means your ‘original’ essay is going to get dumped into the ‘denied’ pile. If you must use a quote, use one of your own. That might actually get someone’s attention!
3. Introducing Yourself
Unless the scholarship essay instructions specifically state that you must include your name in your paper, don’t start your essay by introducing yourself. It not only seems a bit juvenile, but may also disqualify you from advancing. Most scholarship committees conduct blind readings. This means a reader cannot have any information pertaining to you. Even if the scholarship prompt asks you to share some information about yourself, refrain from starting your essay in this fashion. Instead, begin with something memorable from your life that will leave a lasting impression with your reader.
Now that you know how not to start your scholarship essay, use our Scholarship Match to find scholarships that are perfect for you. And if you need extra money for college, try our LoanFinder.
I have had the privilege to sit on several scholarship committees over the years, but lately it seems as though fewer students are actually reading the guidelines before they submit their applications. I don’t know if they believe that the winners are chosen at random or that no one is actually reading the essays, but after reviewing a recent stack of submissions, I've come to the conclusion that many students are simply too lazy to follow directions. Just like most things in life, scholarships come with rules. I know most students abhor them, but scholarship providers don’t simply give away money because students ask nicely for it; providers want to know that the investment they are making is a good one and that’s where scholarship guidelines play a part. If students are unwilling to spend the time needed to review the rules and submit a quality essay, they probably won't be willing to go above and beyond in college, either. Although that may not be the case for all students, it’s the rationale used by many providers to weed out possible contenders. In general, three fatal flaws that continue to keep most students from reaching the coveted finalists pool.
1. Word Count
I know many students express their frustration over the limitations placed on scholarship essays, but the word count is there for a reason. In most cases, scholarship essays are kept to 500 words or less. It makes it easier for committees to review hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of submissions and ensures that students are staying on topic. It’s also an easy way for scholarship committee members to reject those applicants who failed to read the directions. No matter how brilliant the essay may be, if it doesn’t meet the word count, no one will be reading it. In my experience, more than 20 percent of the applications I have reviewed are disqualified because the students do not follow this simple rule.
I blame Twitter for derailing many students in this area. So many have grown accustomed to fitting in 140 characters in their everyday conversations that it seems to have filtered into their scholarship essays, as well. I cannot tell you how many times I have come across someone using the lowercase ‘i’ instead of the appropriate version, not to mention all the acronyms littering the page; OMG, it’s enough to make me SMH! Another pet peeve of mine - spelling errors! Many are obvious keystroke errors, but simply having another set of eyes proofread the essay would save many students from this fatal flaw. Many scholarship reviewers use the baseball rule when it comes to grammatical errors; 1-2-3 and you're out!
3. Wrong Response
I know I have mentioned in previous posts that students should work smarter by reusing some of their previous work. That does not mean, however, submitting an essay that has nothing to do with the scholarship prompt. For example, an essay about the zombie apocalypse probably shouldn't be used for an essay about ice cream. As a reviewer, nothing is more frustrating than coming across a submission that was obviously meant for another scholarship program. It basically screams, ‘I want the money, but I don’t want to work for it.’ Another fatal flaw, students who write why they deserve a scholarship or list all of the hardships in their life; unless the scholarship provider specifically asked for this information, students need to stick to the script and stay on topic. They may think that it will tug at the scholarship committee’s heart strings (and sometimes it does), but if their essays do not answer the scholarship prompt, they'll be headed for the rejection pile. So many students complain about not winning scholarships, but if more would take a few moments to review the guidelines and learn to stick to the rules, I think they would have a better chance at actually earning some cash for college. It’s amazing how many never even take the time to edit their work before hitting the submit button. Clearly, these students don’t value the scholarship committee’s time, so why should we feel inclined to provide them with a scholarship? In most cases, the students who put forth their best efforts (and pay attention!) will earn the scholarship rewards.