How to Write a Scholarship Award-Winning Essay

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The most dreaded aspect to scholarship applications: the essay. The first step is one of the most essential: picking a topic. One common mistake made by students is picking a generic essay topic. Reviewers are looking for a unique piece that they will remember in the midst of so many applicants. Two topics that have been seen time and time again are service projects and sports. Marie Schofer, Cornell College Director of Admissions, shares some advice on picking an essay topic.

“Many students choose to write about their participation in a community service project or a church mission trip. These are fantastic experiences that are personally meaningful and reflect on your character. The only problem: Regardless of where you traveled or what type of service you performed, the conclusion is always the same. You like to help people. This is great, but, unfortunately, it won’t differentiate you from other applications,” explained Schofer. “The game winning catch or other sports highlight is another popular essay topic. It is important to understand that the admission counselor reading your essay may not be familiar with your sport and will probably have no emotional attachment to the outcome of the District 5 semi-final game. If you do choose to write about a sports topic, consider an essay that debates the merits of the baseball’s infield fly rule or a descriptive essay of your warm-up routine.”

So what topic will make a memorable essay? While it may come as a surprise, simple topics often make the strongest picks because they allow students to showcase their writing abilities from a fresh perspective.

“I advise students to choose a topic that is interesting to them, and this topic doesn’t have to be a grandiose one. A good essay doesn’t require shock value (like a personal tragedy), but it should be thoughtful and well-written,” stated Schofer. “Simple topics often allow students to show off their writing skills better than topics that are too broad. One memorable essay weighed the pros/cons of facial hair while another described a student’s attachment to her bicycle.”

Don’t forget to have a least one-but preferably several-eyes look over those essays before submitting. For more assistance finding and writing scholarships, visit Iowa College Aid’s website.


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