Scholarship Essay Mistakes

Now that school is in full swing, many of you are starting to fill out scholarship applications. It is extremely important to complete and submit your application correctly, or else you may not be considered. Here are some common scholarship application mistakes and how to avoid them.

The first thing you should do when you decide to apply for a specific scholarship is check the scholarship deadline. Now that you’ve found the date, make sure that you understand how to send your application, where to send it, and by what time (if applicable). Some scholarships list a postmark deadline, in which case the application needs to be mailed by the deadline. Other scholarships require that your application arrive by the deadline. Now make sure that you send ALL of your application materials according to the deadline instructions. If your application is late, it will often not be considered. Why would you put in all that work for nothing?

It’s no secret that scholarship applications take time and effort to complete. So it’s very important that you not put off the application until the last minute. If you procrastinate, you are more likely to make mistakes in your application or not be able to get everything together in time. Even if you are able to get all of your application materials together correctly, the quality of your application will suffer. If possible, give yourself at least two weeks to complete an application, and make sure you give yourself plenty of time for essays and letters of recommendation to be written.

The directions on a scholarship application are not suggestions. These are the basic requirements that you need to fulfill in order to be considered for a scholarship. If you do something careless like emailing your application when you are supposed to mail it or not bothering to format your application correctly, you may not get a scholarship (no matter how amazing your essay is).

Scholarship committees request specific information because they need it 1. To make sure you are eligible for the scholarship and 2. To make an informed decision on who to select. If the scholarship committee does not receive all of that information from you, you will most likely not get a ‘free pass’ and get a scholarship anyway. The scholarship committee will likely look at your application, see it is incomplete, and move it to the disqualified pile. Some scholarship committees will contact you in an effort to complete your application, but NEVER assume that this will be the case. Part of being a college student (and an adult) is submitting everything correctly the first time. Why not practice that skill now with your scholarship applications?

You can’t win a scholarship if the review committee can’t read your application. This doesn’t mean that you can’t fill out applications by hand (unless the directions say you have to type your application—see above), but this does mean that you should use your best handwriting and try to keep your application in good condition.

ALWAYS have someone proofread your application before you send it in. This will help reduce any spelling or grammar errors or other mistakes that may be in your application before you send it. If you want to earn some money, you’ll want your application to be as polished as possible!

Do you have any other questions or advice on scholarship applications? Leave them in the comments below!

Why is the scholarship essay so important?

As the cost of college keeps getting higher, more and more students apply for scholarships everyday. And as you might’ve guessed, most applications require an essay portion.

But this isn’t something you should dread. In fact, it’s a great opportunity for you.

Here’s the thing: Your scholarship essay can make or break your application. That’s because it’s the only part of your application process that you have complete control over. You can’t do anything about your current grades and accomplishments, they are what they are. But the essay portion gives you a chance to let the committee know about you personally.

So what’s the trick to writing a winning essay?

It takes patience, time and hard-work to pump out an award winning essay. Therefore, it’s important to know what not to do in a scholarship essay. After all, you don’t want to sabotage yourself.

Avoid these common mistakes using our tips, and you’ll be on your way to writing an effective scholarship essay.

#1: Starting Your Scholarship Essay by Restating the Prompt

However you choose to start your essay, don’t throw the prompt back at the reader. There’s nothing more unappealing to scholarship readers than re-reading the question they asked you to answer. It’s unimaginative and a sure fire way to get your application dismissed.

Instead, begin by either giving an overview of what you’re going to talk about, or start by describing a memorable moment in your life. The more original the better!

Give the reader a good first impression of yourself as soon as possible, as these judges usually skim essays looking for key points and words.

#2: Exceeding the Word Count

Remember what we said about scholarship judges skimming your essay? Yeah, they won’t be too happy with someone who exceeds the word count. They might not even look at your application.

Now that most scholarship applications are online it’s easier for programs to catch essays that exceed word count, even going as far as deleting those applicants. Don’t run that risk. Just reword a few sentences to save space or take out sections that aren’t as important.

Remember, these limitations are meant to test your ability to answer in a concise and effective manner.

#3: Not Knowing Your Audience

Depending on what college scholarship you’re applying to, you might have access to information about the organization or company of the scholarship.

It’s important to speak to the organization’s or company’s goals and values in your essay. Demonstrate how your goals and values align with theirs, and be sure to mention specific examples when you can.

The purpose of the scholarship is another great way to tailor your scholarship essay. Why are they giving away this scholarship? Who do they hope to help? What type of people have they helped in the past?

Mirroring your personality with that of the organization will increase your chances of making a great impression.

#4: Getting Someone to Write Your Scholarship Essay

This trick is as old as the books, and scholarship essay readers are well aware of it. If you hire someone to write your essay, this is the beginning of a slippery slope.

For starters, this is not ethical. Secondly, if you have the money to hire a good essay writer, why aren’t you saving that for your college fund? Paying someone $100 to write your essay when you can use that to pay for two textbooks your freshman year makes little sense.

The real issue is that if you write a good enough essay to get into college, you will likely move onto the interview portion of the application process. Scholarships often include interviews with the applicants, especially when it’s a local scholarship fund.

During the interview, the interviewer will pick you apart, and they will easily be able to tell whether or not you were the author of your essay. They will ask you questions about the essay, and they will be listening to see if the voice of the author of the essay is the same voice as your own.

Common scholarship interview questions may include:

  • Tell us about yourself.
  • Give us an example of a time you overcame a problem.
  • How will you use the scholarship money?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • Why do you deserve this scholarship?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • Who is your role model?
  • How have you displayed leadership?

If you want help generating ideas for your scholarship essay, an ethical way to go about it is to visit a writing tutor. Most universities have writing centers that offer free services to students with all types of writing. You can talk to tutors about any concerns that you’re having, including grammar, spelling and overall flow.

Proofreading is one thing, but don’t expect anyone else to write your scholarship essay for you.

#5: Sticking with the Standard Five paragraph Structure

All throughout your high school years you were told to write an essay using the standard five paragraph structure. This involves:

  • Introduction
  • Body 1
  • Body 2
  • Body 3
  • Conclusion

Avoid this at all costs.

First off, no scholarship is the same. So if you’re thinking of using a single template for all your applications, think again.

It’ll be against your benefit to limit yourself to a strict template for several reasons:

  • You want your scholarship essays to stand out from the crowd.
  • Scholarships will ask you questions either about yourself, the field you’re in, the career you’re pursuing, or current social issues.
  • Your scholarship essays must exhibit your personality, whether you are bookish, free thinking or artistically inclined.
  • Your essays will not include a thesis or argument, and therefore will not require a body to explore these further; a conclusion is meant to rehash what is covered in the essay, and it is a time waster for scholarship essay readers.

Your essay writing must be passionate and personal, something that is not condoned with standard five part essays. It is all about you, and that isn’t something you need to prove using a thesis or argument.

Skip through the passive chatter and move forward with a scholarship essay that is fiery and interesting, just like you want to portray yourself.

#6: Not Having a Focus in Your Scholarship Essay

So you aren’t sure what to write about? Start by reading over the directions or instructions provided on the scholarship application. After you’ve read through these a few times, if you still have questions reach out to the contact person listed on the application.

Ask them to clarify anything you don’t understand or to explain in detail points that are hazy. You never know, the application might have a typo, or the instructions may have been omitted by accident.

By showing your willingness to reach out for clarification, you already set yourself apart from the competition. That’s never a problem when applying for scholarships with hundreds, or even thousands, of other applicants.

Here are some examples of essay prompts used for scholarship essays, to give you some idea of what to expect:

  • Discuss one book that has had a lasting impression on your life, and why this is the case.
  • In 500 words or less talk about yourself and why you want this scholarship. How will this scholarship help you achieve your professional and collegiate goals?
  • What are your long term goals as a college student, including what you hope to achieve by the time you graduate with your degree?
  • Explain why you are the perfect choice for this scholarship.
  • If you are awarded this scholarship, what will you do with the earnings?

As you can see, these essays are personal and require you to dig deep into your psyche. You want to express your true self, as this is the best way to connect on a personal level.

Furthermore, you want to tell a story with your essay so that the scholarship reviewers will be able to remember you long after they’ve read dozens of application essays.

#7: Rambling and Complaining

There’s a time and place to rant about the environmental crisis…a scholarship essay is neither.

Being passionate about a topic is important, but make sure that your actions show it. Provide concrete examples of the work you’ve done such as volunteer work, advocacy, and fundraising.

A common mistake most applicants make is that they complain about a difficult experience they had. What they rather see is how you overcame that obstacle.

Finally, remember to keep it simple and concise. The committee will most likely have your resume or something similar so there’s no need to go into heavy detail about all your past achievements.

#8: Writing a Scholarship Essay in One Shot…in One Hour

One of the biggest mistakes students make when writing a college scholarship essay is waiting until the last minute to write it. The point of a scholarship essay is to give those awarding the scholarship a true account of who you are and why they should award you this money.

While the application is a close-ended process with yes/no, fill in the blank type answers, an essay is an open-ended process that gives you the freedom and opportunity to really push through to the awarders’ hearts.

So don’t blow it by waiting until the last minute to write your essay. Here are some tips for writing scholarship essays without haste:

1. Read everything carefully. Get the prompt information from the scholarship application as soon as you can, so you can start thinking about the essay topic. Then give yourself at least one month to write your essays.

2. Start small. If you are applying to multiple scholarships, start with the smallest reward amount and apply to that one first. By the time you are applying to those with the largest payouts, your scholarship essay writing skills will be well honed.

3. Brainstorm. Begin the writing process by brainstorming topics, ideas or key points you want to discuss for one essay. Remember, only work on one essay at a time, even if the topics are similar. Choose three topics that stand out to you and start focusing on them.

4. Get creative. Consider new ways to incorporate your ideas. For example, do you have a favorite quote that can lead your essay? What about a personal story that is sure to stand out, which also relates to the essay topic? Do you have a favorite musical group, work of art, type of sports car, or beloved vegetable that you can tie to your topic? The more original, the more likely your essay will stand out.

5. Outline. Once you have created an overview of what your essay will include, it’s time to develop an outline. For example, you may want to begin with that quote or personal story. Follow up with a few paragraphs that relate to the topic that you are writing about, and then conclude with a paragraph that wraps the topic and the quote or personal story back together into a cohesive package.

6. Start drafting. Use the outline to write your essay in a rough draft. Set this aside for 24 hours. Then rewrite the essay, using stronger sentences, more cohesive transitions between paragraphs, and a single point of view, i.e. he/she, I, or you.

7. Final touches. As you write the final draft of your essay, give it to someone to look it over. Writing tutors are a great resource for this. Show them the prompt and the instructions for the essay, so they can be sure you’ve followed these to a tee.

After they’ve proofread your essay, make the correct edits, and ask someone else to read over it if you have the time. Your high school teachers or school counselors are excellent choices for proofreaders, if you are in need of expert editing advice.

As you can see, there are several steps involved when writing the best scholarship essays. You cannot possibly follow through with each of these steps in earnest, so give yourself plenty of time to write each of your essays.

#9: Your Essay is Full of Flourishes and Passive Phrases

Here are two pet peeves of professional writers: flourishes and passive phrases. An example of a flourish is when you have a perfectly good word, but you feel the need to ramp it up by using your thesaurus.

Good becomes sterling, saintlike, unimpeachable, adroit, or crackerjack, all of which may have their place, but they are likely not reader friendly for your scholarship essay. You want to write an essay that is easy to read.

This means using the most precise words possible to get your thoughts across. The readers of your essays aren’t going to be impressed when they have to use a dictionary to figure out what unimpeachable has to do with your test scores, when in reality you simply did good on tests in high school.

Cut out the verbiage, and stick with the heart of the story. One way to improve your word use is with a free program, the Hemingway Editor. This computer program helps you write in plain English, but with power.

Now let’s talk about passive phrases. An example of this is:

  • “I will be a great student because I study a lot, listen in class, and prepare for projects in advance.” This is passive because the subject is acted on by the verb.

What you want to do is write in active voice whenever possible. For the example above:

  • Studying a lot, listening in class, and preparing for projects in advance makes me a great student.

See how that second voice is more punchy? The first sentence is considered elementary and non-authoritative. In your scholarship essay you want to be the authority on yourself. After all, it’s up to you to show the readers who you are and why you deserve the scholarship.

Final Thoughts

Now it’s time to put your new knowledge to task. If you need to find a scholarship application, start by searching for the scholarship provider’s website.

For example, if the scholarship is offered by a local business or organization, you may be able to find the information on the web. Otherwise, you will want to call the business to get information on applying for the scholarship.

As with the instructions on the essay itself, make sure to read through the stipulations and requirements, such as race/ethnicity, family income level, or academic major/minor.

Often scholarships will be open to individuals who meet certain requirements, and the last thing you want to do is write the perfect scholarship essay only to discover you aren’t eligible to apply to the scholarship.

As a final note, when you prepare to apply to scholarships and write application essays, keep track of your progress by storing everything in clearly labeled folders. Organization will ensure you don’t accidentally send an essay in with the wrong application.

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