College Scholarship Essays 2011


While the application season itself is winding down, there’s still a lot of admissions work to be done. Even if you haven’t received a single acceptance or rejection, it’s not too early to start thinking about next steps.

One of those next steps is funding. School is already expensive (there’s an early contender for understatement of the year) and costs show no sign of slowing their never-ending rise anytime soon.

Luckily, there are also many opportunities to earn education scholarships out there today. is a great resource for students looking for scholarships, as it offers a gigantic searchable database that can help you find scholarships that match your needs and qualifications.

Lots of scholarships ask you to write an essay as part of the application process. In the rest of today’s post, I want to provide three tips that will help you write those scholarship essays.

1. Pay attention to what they’re asking

Just as with any writing assignment, you need to begin your scholarship essay by building a clear understanding of what exactly you’ve been asked to write. Scholarship essay prompts span a broad variety of topics ranging from targeted questions to requests for more general biographies.

When you sit down to write an essay as part of your scholarship application, make sure to give the prompt or instructions careful consideration. Doing so will make the writing process both effective and efficient, since you’ll focus on appropriate content without wasting time on things that are irrelevant.

2. Don’t exaggerate or plagiarize

Scholarship essays are similar to admissions essays in that they can encourage writers to stretch the truth. Because you’re directly competing against others for something, whether admission to a school or a financial award, you try to present yourself in the best light possible.

There’s nothing wrong with focusing on positives and working hard to write well. There is something wrong with exaggerating your accomplishments or credentials or paying someone to write for you. Beyond the moral implications, lying or plagiarizing will ultimately hurt your chances.

The people who read scholarship essays are masters at identifying work that is plagiarized or falsified. If they even suspect that your essay fits one of those criteria, they’ll simply drop you from consideration. Masses of applicants compete fiercely for almost every scholarship out there, the majority of whom are remarkably qualified. If you give them a reason to cut you, they’ll take it since there will still be dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of impressive candidates to choose from.

Finally, exaggeration and plagiarism directly lead to writing that is impersonal and clichéd. Essays like that aren’t going to impress anyone.

3. Save and Reuse your OWN Work

I need to be very careful in explaining what I mean here. As just discussed, plagiarism in admissions, whether for scholarships or applications, is wrong. It’s immoral, causes bad writing, and is increasingly easy to spot.

However, there is nothing wrong with reusing your own work whenever possible. In fact, doing so is one of the hallmarks of a smart applicant. Because you’ll almost certainly apply for more than one scholarship, there’s a good chance that you can write an essay that will work for more than one application. Keep an eye out for such opportunities. You may need to spend some time making small adjustments to the essay so that it fits the new scholarship instructions or prompts, but that’s much less effort than writing an entirely new essay.

So long as the work is 100% your own, there’s no reason you shouldn’t look for new ways to use already-written essays.

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Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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As a senior in high school, I thought my mom was delusional when she told me to apply for scholarships.

“Don’t you know I lack a 4.0 GPA?” I would ask her. “Aren’t you aware that these are my final months of being able to toilet paper someone’s house without being sent off to jail? I have to live it up!”

Now with student loans I can’t even afford toilet paper. OK, that’s an exaggeration. But the point is students give lots of weak reasons for not applying for scholarships. Let’s look at just three of them and why they shouldn’t stop you from claiming yours.

“I’ll never win one, so what’s the point?”

This was one of my top excuses. Why apply for scholarships if you’re not at the top of your graduating class? Well, because you might still win one without perfect grades.

In fact, according to the 2011 Washington Post article “Secrets to winning a college scholarship,” most high school seniors qualify for 50-100 scholarships. Sure, good grades help, but they’re not everything when it comes to scoring free money.

Not all scholarships are merit-based either. Some are need-based, major-based, talent-based, luck-based (having the right last name) and location-based. The list goes on. There are many great websites and resources out there to help you find these scholarships, such as You just have to seek them out.

“That is what is designed to do: to help students find the scholarships they don’t think they can get,” said Kevin Ladd, vice president of

“I don’t have time.”

With school work, a part-time job and a Netflix account, applying for scholarships might seem like a burden or flat-out impossible. But when you realize the time you spend applying vs. the amount you can earn, it actually makes sense.

“It’s true that it is work, but even if you are only moderately successful at it, it can pay better than any job you will be able to get,” Ladd said. “It is a competitive pursuit, and those working the hardest are going to be the most successful.”

Doing the math also puts applying for scholarships into perspective, said Janet Turner, director of financial aid at the University of Portland.

“If a $200 scholarship application takes two hours to complete, and you actually win that scholarship, then that is equivalent to $100 per hour of your time,” she said. “That’s a pretty good return.”

Rationalized like that, it sounds worth it to make the time, right? I just wish my former 18-year-old self would have realized that and turned off the TV to apply for scholarships. Because now a couple hundred dollars a month of my hard-earned dough goes to my student-loan repayments, which is money I could be spending to travel or enjoy my young adult life. I suggest you avoid following in my footsteps and apply for as many scholarships as possible.

“I’m not a good writer.”

Some students fear that they lack writing skills. How do you write a sufficient scholarship essay if you think you can’t write well?

The first thing to keep in mind is not all scholarships have an essay element. You can find this out by merely Googling “scholarships with no essays.” There are entire websites dedicated to listing scholarships that don’t require an essay, such as the blog No Essay Scholarships 2012.

One fun example of a no-essay scholarship is the Stuck at Prom Scholarship Contest. To win this scholarship, you and your prom date have to accessorize your prom outfits with duct tape and submit the photos. The couple with the best costumes win $5,000 each. There are dozens of weird, non-academic scholarships like this.

But non-writing scholarships aside, if you don’t have much faith in your writing abilities, then find a tutor to help you. Ask a teacher, friend or parent to read your essay and give you feedback before submitting it. With so many resources available, you shouldn’t try to avoid scholarships that require writing. If you’re a good thinker, you can also be a good writer with a little help.

When it comes to scholarships, there are billions of dollars available, according to that same Washington Post article. Don’t let insecurity, time and a lack of writing skills stop you from winning some of that free money.

Jon Fortenbury is an Austin-based freelance writer and human being. When not saving the world, he likes talking about education and eating lemon cookie ice cream. Check out his life-changing blog.

essays, free money, Jon Fortenbury, scholarships, stuck at the prom, University of Portland, COLLEGE CHOICE 


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