Eop scholarship Class Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay

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EOP Scholarship Class Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay

  • Adapted from How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay, Gen and Kelly Tanabe 2006; and from the SIN Collective’s adaptation of “Writing the Scholarship Essay I & II,” EsayEdge.com
  • October 22, 2008
  • Yolanda Venegas

Why the Essay is Critical to Winning

  • For many scholarship applications it is the most important component of the application
  • Beyond statistics, the essay is the window into who you are, your passion, commitments, and potential to succeed

The Making of a Powerful Essay

  • What makes a winning scholarship essay it that it fits within the context of the overall application.
  • The essay and the other elements in your application complement each other, they are elements of your package
  • As such, each part, each component, should tell a similar story, fit into a theme

Think Cohesion

  • When you think about the essay, think about cohesion
  • Consider it within the context of your entire application
  • The goal: Present a cohesive message with your essay as the centerpiece
  • Each piece of the application should add to this unified message--including your letters of recommendation

And… How Do you Know What the Message of Theme of Your Essay Should be?

  • The answer is simple: The theme of your essay and of your entire application, should be determined by the goal of the award, or why the organization is giving away the money
  • Examples:
    • a minority advocacy organization’s goal may be to increase diversity in higher education
    • A private foundation may give $ away in memory of a benefactor to support students interested in the arts or social service or teaching
    • A professional org. will support students to enter their profession

Make Learning their Mission Your Mission

  • This is why, it is important to research the mission/purpose/objective of the scholarship award as you compile your list of target scholarships
  • Once you know the goal of the organization in giving the award, use that knowledge to choose which aspects of your life to highlight as the general theme of the essay
  • This is not lying, it is learning to be strategic about how you tell your story--a critical skill--you adapt your story, your personal narrative by highlighting certain areas and dimming others, depending on your specific needs for that ONE application

The Goal of the Award as a Guide for Your Essay

  • Example 1: If you are applying for the educator, engineer, doctor award, you want to highlight your future in the field and how you will make important contributions
  • Example 2: If you are applying for an award for under-represented students, you may focus on your potential to succeed and on your proven commitment to help others (once you get there) by being a mentor and good role model
  • Example 3: If you are a woman entering the sciences, marine biology or math for example, you may focus again on your potential to succeed and your determination to work towards gender equity in the hard sciences

Common Features of All Winning Essays

  • Answer the question: make sure your essay is a response to the essay prompt. This is especially important if the essay has more than one part
  • For example:
  • “Discuss your educational and future career goals. Why do you want to pursue a college education? How will you ensure that you will succeed in college? What challenges or obstacles will you overcome?”

Another example

  • “Write and attach a personal essay in which you tell us about yourself. What is important for us to know about you? You may want to write about one or more of the following: your personal history, your goals and dreams, what obstacles you’ve overcome, your accomplishments, and why you want to go to college. Your essay must be typed and between 500-100 words”

Your Strategy: Analyze the question or topic

  • Write down the essay question. How many parts does it have? Does the question suggest a structure or order, such as first describe your role in… then tell why it had the following effect… and what you learned from it….
  • Do a Descriptive Outline

Share a Slice of Your Life

  • Sharing a slice of your life is an important technique.
  • What you share of your personal life should be again determined by the theme of your essay (which as we already discussed is part of the theme of your entire application packet)
  • The use of the personal is a critical part of learning how to tell your story strategically, learning how to highlight certain feature and dim others, depending on your needs--effective use of the personal is very very powerful
  • It is an important skill that will be useful way beyond the scholarship essay

What not to do

  • Do not turn your essay into a narrative of oppression, remember everyone in the stack has such a narrative
  • Sob stories help, only if you focus on the positive, how you were able to overcome obstacles and how what you learned by overcoming those obstacles ensures that you will succeed in college and in your career
  • i.e how the obstacle make you a better student and will make you a better teacher, doctor, lawyer etc.
  • Remember---the best essays have a sense of purpose and direction

Keys to a Winning Scholarship Essays

  • Have a coherent theme that matches the scholarships goal--ask yourself “What is the point of my essay?” If you can answer this in one sentence you have a coherent theme
  • Be specific, show vs.. tell using specific examples, stories, anecdotes from your life--the strategic use of the personal
  • Use Imagery and Clear, Vivid Prose. If you are not adept with imagery, you can write an excellent essay without it, but it's not easy. The application essay lends itself to imagery since the entire essay requires your experiences as supporting details. Appeal to the five senses of the scholarship officers.
  • Appeal to different registers, the logical, rational, and emotional

Keys Continued…

  • Present Tense, if Possible--The present tense allows people to live the information with you. It’s not always possible, but it’s a great strategy when it can work.
  • Every word counts, when in doubt cut. Every sentence counts. You don’t have to cram everything into this essay. Again be strategic
  • Use the essay to expand on the accomplishments you listed on the application form
  • Don’t write a narrative of oppression--strategic (careful) use of the personal

Effective Introductions

  • Use an image, create a striking scene that transports the reader into your world through action and strong images
  • Pose a question, or an impressive fact
  • Be succinct--you have a very short time to grad the reader usually 2-3 sentences


  • Transitions between paragraphs are like the joints of a skeleton, they are the architecture that holds your essay together
  • Transitions make your essay flow
  • Transitions provide the intellectual architecture to argument building
  • There are many other more creative ways to make transitions than by using: “as a result, in addition, since, while, in conclusion”

Effective Conclusions

  • Just as important as the introduction, it is what you leave the reader with--sometimes all they will remember
  • Be thoughtful, end with something insightful
  • Don’t just summarize, as you do in formula essays, especially in high school
  • Don’t be too quick to end--you conclusion should leave the judge with something to think about after they have finished reading

Six Steps to Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay

  • Make finding their mission your mission-do your research
  • Analyze the essay question, understand the parts
  • Create an outline based on your deconstruction of the prompt
  • Write it out
  • Get feedback
  • Rewrite it

In Conclusion:

  • Start your essay with enough time to have two to three people give you feedback
  • One of those three should read your essay just for grammar and misspellings
  • Always answer the essay prompt.--answer the question or questions they are asking you to answer
  • At the very very end, have another set of eyes proofread for mistakes
  • Always stay within the word, page limit
  • If there are specific formatting instructions, follow them. For example, font size/type, margin specifications, heading, or page number requirements, etc.

The Really Good News

  • Writing effective scholarship essays is a learned skill that you will get better and better at with each revision
  • Revision, with the help of others is the key to becoming a good writer
  • The skills you learn in this process are transportable--you will need them further along, so you may as well start the process now
  • There are resources at UCSC to help you along

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