This page provides advice on writing a good application essay.
Writing an application essay that is memorable and engages the reader
can have a big impact on whether you win a scholarship. It is one of
the few selection criteria that is completely under your control.
This page is part of the section on maximizing your chances of
winning a merit scholarship.
- Read the directions. Read and follow the
directions. Sometimes the directions can clarify the intent of the
question. If you don't follow the directions, you will give the
scholarship committee a negative impression, telling them that you
can't or won't follow instructions.
- Do not skip questions. If a question does not apply to
you, write "Not Applicable". Do not leave any question blank.
An incomplete application will be rejected.
- Write an interesting essay. The usual
pseudo-philosophical rambling essays most students write are boring.
Most students haven't lived long enough to develop a personal
philosophy or life story that isn't trite, superficial, preachy or tiresome.
A truly interesting essay will engage the reader and attract
So don't edit the life out of your essay, and stray a
little from the safe topics.
Write about something you find interesting. Chances are, if you are
passionate about a topic, you'll be able to write a more interesting
essay about the topic.
If you find it difficult to write essays, try talking about the essay
topic while recording the conversation. After you're done, transcribe
the recording and edit it into essay form. This will give you a good
start on your essay. The key to writing a good essay is to make it
interesting, and the key to that is to write about something you are
passionate about. Since the act of writing often interferes with the
flow of ideas (most people can think and speak ten times faster than
they can write or type), speaking into a tape recorder can help you
capture your ideas and emotions better than staring at a blank piece
Try to find a unifying theme that binds together the threads of your
background into a tapestry that shows not only where you have been and
where you are now, but where you will go in the future. This will
provide a sense of direction and cohesiveness.
- Write an outline for your essays. Writing an outline can
help provide focus and structure to the essay. Too many application
essays are written in a stream of consciousness style, which jumps
from point to point and rambles without connecting one thought to
another. Using an outline will allow you to present your arguments and
ideas in a manner that supports your conclusions, yielding a more
- Give concrete examples. When answering application
questions or writing application essays, support your statements with
concrete examples. For example, if you say that one of your best
qualities is leadership, give an example where you demonstrated
leadership. Similarly, a question about community service should not
be answered with a vague "I like helping others and feel that it is
important", but should also include specific examples where you have helped
This can have a big impact on whether you win the award. If your
application is filled with vague and abstract answers, the selection
committee doesn't have any way of evaluating your qualifications.
Selection committees never accept an applicant's self-evaluation at
face value. If you give them concrete examples, they can form their
own opinion and cite those experiences and accomplishments as evidence
in support of their opinion.
The only situation in which self-evaluation is appropriate is when you
are writing about how an experience affected you. In such a situation
you are the only source of information about your personal
reaction. But do not limit the essay to how you felt about the
experience. Instead, also talk about how it affected your future
actions. By linking your feelings to concrete examples and actions,
you allow the committee to judge how the experience affected you
through a tangible result.
- Don't exaggerate. Stretching the truth can hurt your
application. For example, if you list photography as a hobby on an
application for a science scholarship, don't be surprised if you're
asked to explain the chemical reactions that make photography possible
during your interview. Selection committees are good at detecting when
a student exaggerates, and the dishonesty will cause you to lose a
scholarship you might otherwise have won.
- Proofread your applications. Check your application
forms and essays for correct spelling and grammar usage. If you use a
word processing program like Microsoft Word, be wary of valid word
spelling errors. A valid word spelling error substitutes one
dictionary word for another, such as "principle" for "principal" or
"their" for "there" or "they're".
- Ask a teacher or parent to review your application. It
sometimes helps to have a second pair of eyes read over your
application. They can catch errors you missed and make helpful
suggestions. But don't allow your parents to edit all the life out of
your essay. Discuss the essay with them, but don't let them rewrite
- Type your application. Neatness counts, so you should
always type your application unless instructed otherwise. If you are
not good at typing, practice on a photocopy first. Even expert typists
sometimes have trouble planning for the available space, so it is
worthwhile to practice.