Scholarship Marathon

Scholarship Marathon Countdown: Draft Your Essays

Comments Off on Scholarship Marathon Countdown: Draft Your Essays 17 March 2014

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The Second Annual Scholarship Marathon is right around the corner! To get you ready, we’ve got 2 weeks of great tips to help you prep plenty of scholarship applications. Follow our advice and you’ll not only become an expert at tackling tons of scholarships, but you’ll be ahead of the pack on the day of the marathon. Remember, the Marathon is on Saturday, March 22nd, and runs all day from 9am-9pm CST.

If you haven’t registered yet, it’s easy, and you can get started at this link.

Now for today’s tip: draft your essays!

This stage will take the most preparation time, and should be taken seriously. If you have several different essays to write, spend the next few days composing rough drafts, having a friend or relative read them over, and polishing your work. We’ve also been posting Diane Melville’s awesome series, “the science behind the ultimate scholarship essay.” We’ve posted her series in its entirety below for you to review and use during your drafting.

The Secret Ingredient

When I sat down to write my first scholarship essay, I must admit, I was terrified. I was convinced that there was a right way to approach these things, but I had no idea where to start. So, I did what any aspiring scientist would do—I experimented. Draft after draft, I methodically crafted different scholarship essays until one version finally rose above the rest. Three hundred and fifty scholarship applications (and hundreds of thousands of dollars in awards) later, I finally had what I considered to be the perfect formula.

To my surprise, I discovered that the key ingredient for a winning scholarship essay is something that every student already has: a great story. 

What Makes a Great Story? When I tell students to “tell their story” in their scholarship essays, I often get a lot of blank stares and statements like “I don’t have a story.” False. Everyone has a story. The problem is that most people think that their lives are pretty uninspiring and can’t think of a worthy story to tell. The story you write for your scholarship essay does not have to be a dramatic saga of epic proportions, it simply has to be real and honest. I’ll use myself as an example. When I was a pre-medical major, my 500-word scholarship career goals essay told the story of how I was deeply affected by my dad’s diabetes diagnoses. The incompetence of his doctors made me want to become a doctor who truly cared about my patients. There is nothing truly inspirational about that story—in fact, it’s pretty mundane. Millions of fathers are diagnosed with diabetes every year and it’s not even a severe, life-threatening illness. The key was how that experience played a role in my educational goals.

You also have many stories! I changed my major to business about half-way through my undergraduate degree (which meant that it was time for a new scholarship essay). The new story I wrote was about how I used to sell fruit at the side of the road when I was only 8 years old. I tied that experience to my career goals by detailing how I felt like I was born to be an entrepreneur.

So, your story isn’t your entire life’s story. Instead, it is more a “what makes me want to pursue this major/career” story. I’m sure you have many motivations to pursue your education, but choose an angle that is both fun to write about and interesting to read.

The Goal of a Scholarship Essay Story. When the scholarship judge finishes reading your essay, you should have accomplished the following:

Goal #1: Make Your Motivations Clear. It should be painfully obvious to the reader why you are pursuing your career/major.

Goal #2: Demonstrate Perseverance and Leadership. Be sure to discuss any obstacles that you’ve faced along your educational path. Talk about moments that were tough for you and how you managed to succeed despite adversity.

Goal #3: Convince the Reader of Your Future Success. After reading your essay, a scholarship judge needs to think that you are going to be someone who accomplishes the goals that you have set out for yourself. That’s how you win a scholarship. Scholarship providers want to give awards to students who are going to A) make good use of the money by graduating from college B) be someone they can brag about as an alumni of the scholarship. All in all, you’ve got to write an essay which shows that you are motivated, hard-working, and someone will overcome any obstacle to achieve your dream.

The Lab-Tested Formula

Now, we’re going to dive head-first into the exact formula for how to write this essay.

I want to make a few notes before we begin:

  • This is NOT the only way to write a winning scholarship essay. This is just what has worked for me and other students that I work with.
  • I like to write 4 paragraphs essays. Partially because I was too lazy to write a 5th paragraph, and partially because I had a hard time fitting 500 words into 5 full paragraphs. Write in whatever style works best for you.

Ok—let’s get started!

Paragraph 1: The Story Opener

The first paragraph is a notoriously difficult paragraph to write. You’re staring at a blank sheet of paper and trying to figure out where to start an entire essay. With my formula, the first paragraph is actually the easiest to write because I only want you to focus on one thing: your story.

If you have no idea what your story is, try this exercise:

Step 1: Answer these questions

What motivates you?

Have you always wanted to pursue a certain career?

Where did that motivation come from?

Step 2: Think of an experience in your life that could illustrate the answers to the questions above.

For example, I wanted to write a scholarship essay about my entrepreneurial career goals. The entire first paragraph told the story of how I used sell fruit in a homemade fruit stand outside of my house. I talked about the process of gathering the fruit (going to neighbors’ houses and picking their fruit, only to sell it back to them), what it meant to me to earn my own money at 8 years old, and how I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Bam! Opening paragraph done.

When you are writing your first paragraph draft, don’t worry about word limits just yet. Just write down a bunch of thoughts that you can organize into a paragraph later. Keep editing and editing until you have a solid opening paragraph with a story that you feel you can connect to your academic career.

Paragraph 2: Connecting the Dots

This is the hardest paragraph to give advice for without knowing your exact life circumstances, but I’m going to try my best. The second paragraph connects the dots between the story you just wrote and your academic/career goals. To continue with my previous example, my second paragraph discussed my desire to attend college, but (being a low-income first generation college student) I had no idea how to make that happen. I talked about my path to figuring it out and the obstacles that I faced during that process. This paragraph is all about the process you went through to make your academic dreams/goals a reality.

Paragraph 3: The Dream

So far we’ve written about your motivation (the story) and what happened when you tried to make that a reality (did you face obstacles? were you naturally gifted at it?) and now, in paragraph three, we’ll talk about where you are now and where you want to be in the future. This is another fun paragraph! This is where you answer the prompt of the typical scholarship career goals essay literally. Write about what you’ve accomplished so far, and what’s still left to be accomplished. This is also where you’ll want to talk about your big dreams and exactly how you plan on accomplishing those dreams (Are you going to get an advanced degree? Start your own business? Cure cancer?).

Paragraph 4: Tying it All Together

Ah, the closing paragraph. Contrary to popular belief, the closing paragraph doesn’t have to be some profound piece of writing that transcends time and space. Simply recap simply recap, tie everything up, and end on an uplifting note.

The key to getting this formula right is to make sure that each paragraph seamlessly flows into the next. Remember, most scholarships ask for the same 500 word career goals essay. The more you work on crafting the best possible essay, the easier it will be to apply for many more scholarships in the future.

Good luck!

Diane Melville is the founder of Transfer Bootcamp and a scholarship expert. As a first generation, low-income college student Diane decided that if she was going to attend college that she’d need to apply for as many scholarships as possible. Since then, Diane has applied for over 350 scholarships and has won hundreds of thousands of dollars in awards from private scholarship organizations. Diane is also the author of The Community College Advantage, a guidebook for community college students seeking to transfer.

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