College and Scholarship Application Essays: a reader and Teacher’s View



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College and Scholarship Application Essays: A Reader and Teacher’s View

  • Palmer High School
  • Molly Wingate, Wingate Consulting LLC
  • molly@wingate-consulting.com 719-685-4114

Most frequently asked questions

  • Can’t I just write one essay?
  • How seriously do I have to take writing an essay?
  • How can I put everything I have to say into one page?
  • But they didn’t ask about “X” – where can I put that?

Take the writing sections seriously.

  • Even when you have the qualifications for the school, program or scholarship, your essays carry a great deal of weight.
  • Expect to write a different essay for each application form.
  • Plan to draft and revise at least three times for each application.
  • Plan to do a good job on the short answer questions, too.
    • If there is a big difference between the long and short answers, reviewers assume either that you did not write the long piece or that you are not careful.
  • Set yourself a schedule; get your applications in early.
  • This is not just an assignment from “them,” this is part of reaching your goal, so quit whining.

Rule Number Only

What do the application essay questions ask?

Admission Essay Questions

  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
  • Are there any significant experiences you have had or accomplishments you have realized that have helped to define you as a person?
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Choose a book, musical piece or artistic piece that is of special interest and importance to you and explain why.
  • Write an essay explaining your primary academic focus and what you see yourself doing in 5 years.

Scholarship Essay Questions

  • In 700 words, explain the importance of milk to you.
  • Explain how sportsmanship and academic excellence have been part of your life.
  • What recent advancement in neuroscience most interests you? Why?

Getting the Essays Done Well Writing as a process

  • prewriting
  • writing
  • publishing
  • rewriting
  • editing

Plan, Draft, Revise

  • Envision your Audience by answering these questions.
  • Who will read your essays?
  • What is their point of view?
  • What are they looking for?
  • What do they need to learn about applicants to make their decision?

Get clear about your Purpose by answering these questions.

  • What do you want to communicate?
  • What is your main message for each essay?
  • How do you want to sound?
  • Is there anything about your record or background that you want to explain?

Key your essay to the goals and interests of your audience.

  • Scholarships
  • Give evidence that you have thought about how you exemplify what they fund.
  • Honors Programs
  • Prove that you understand their purpose and show how you will contribute.
  • Colleges
  • Mention majors they have that interest you. Be aware of special schedules or programs.

Distinguish yourself

  • What makes you perfect for this school or scholarship?
  • Find a fresh way to talk about your interest in their school or scholarship.
  • Leadership is better than membership. SO MENTION IT

Revise your essay

  • Plan to revise your essay several times.
  • Read it to someone else to see if you have communicated according to your plan.
  • Rewrite general or cliché statements to reflect you, specifically you.
  • Use concrete, specific examples of when you have demonstrated the qualities you say you have: hard working, dedicated to community service, interested in biology, prepared for a rigorous course of study, a good citizen.

Edit Your Essays

  • Make sure your essays are without errors.
  • Carefully and neatly fill out the forms that the school or group provides.
  • Send it in on time or early.

When I reviewed application essays, I thought about:

  • How does this person fit into this school/program/scholarship?
  • Is this person ready to do the writing required at this school?
  • Has this person thought about what he/she wants to tell me?
  • Can I cut this person from the list?

What catches the attention of readers ?

Bad things readers notice

  • General, one-size-fits-all responses
  • Generalizations and clichés
  • Too casual in tone, as if the writer isn’t serious
  • Stuffy tone with a pretentious vocabulary, as if the writer is trying to sound smarter than he or she is
  • Discrepancies in the quality of writing between the short answer and longer essay questions
  • Applications that demonstrated that the writer had not read the application materials
  • Excuses about test scores or grades
  • Errors: typos as well as grammatical or usage errors.

Good things readers notice

Focus on the good things

  • Good Luck!


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