Writing Strong Scholarship Essays

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Writing Strong Scholarship Essays

  • Western Oregon University

Recognize Your Task

150-Word Essay

  • Prompt:
  • Describe a challenge or obstacle you faced in the last ten years. What did you learn about yourself from this experience?

Getting Started

  • Two Mildly Contradictory but Equally Valid Bits of Advice
  • Think about what you might say about yourself before you start writing: start by
  • brainstorming.
  • Scribble down a list of your experiences and accomplishments but do not limit yourself to resume items (e.g., what stories do you share with family and friends? what events from the past still linger in your thoughts today? what has changed you recently?).
  • Talk to other people: what would they include in your biography?
  • Simply reflect: what is important to you? what gets you excited or moves you to act? what threads form patterns in your life? what do you hope to accomplish tomorrow, next year, or over the course of your lifetime?
  • Use the writing process as a vehicle for discovery.
  • Consider writing several different drafts (i.e., experiment).
  • Once you have spent a good deal of time brainstorming, select one route and try mapping out the main points that would need to be included in a draft.
  • Try writing a draft within a set time limit (like 30 minutes), and read it later to look for gems (or diamonds in the rough).
  • Remember that writing is recursive: you might discover that the last paragraph in your third timed writing is the perfect first paragraph for your actual essay.

Content: Some Helpful Tips

  • What belongs in a good personal statement is unique to each individual. Nevertheless,
  • here are some safe bets to make as you write your draft:
  • Choose a few key points to develop (three or four at most).
  • Include concrete examples to illustrate your points (i.e., include anecdotes that illustrate you taking action in your world).
  • Avoid braggy generalizations; instead, describe specific incidents to show your strengths.
  • Think about including something that readers would remember, long after they’ve stopped reading.
  • Have any books, classes, or philanthropic encounters profoundly shaped and/or shaken your outlook?
  • Write from a positive perspective.
  • Always consider how your essay might fit with everything else you will be submitting.

After Drafting . . . Comes More Writing

  • The best essays go through a series of revisions (10+ drafts). Get input from a number of sources: mentors, writing tutors, and friends. 
  • Stay objective: don’t fall madly in love with your first draft (remember your goal: your writing sample may also serve as the ticket for receiving a scholarship).
  • People say that a picture equals a thousand words (yes, it’s cliché); however, reverse the idea as you read your essay: does your thousand words add up to one fabulous picture of you?

Package Carefully—Style Tips

  • Top swimmers and runners often win by a narrow margin—perhaps by only one tenth of one second. With this in mind, remember that execution of detail can also make or break your personal statement when the field is very competitive.


  • The goal of formatting is to make the format disappear. Thus, follow the instructions for format, as directed by the instructions. When no instructions are provided, ease of reading should instruct your choices:
  • Font: no larger than 12 and no smaller than 10.
  • Margins: one inch.
  • Justification: align left.
  • Font: Times New Roman or Arial (absolutely avoid funky fonts).
  • Always type (or word process), even if the directions give you the option to “Print Neatly.”
  • All top awards prefer ordinary white paper (seriously).

150-Word Essay

  • Prompt:
  • Describe a personal accomplishment and the strengths and skills you used to achieve it.

150-Word Essay

  • Prompt:
  • Explain your career aspirations and your educational plan to meet those goals.

150-Word Essay

  • Prompt:
  • Explain how you have helped your family or made your community a better place to live. Provide specific examples.

Top Tips

  • Do not include excerpts from the dictionary—Webster is NOT worth quoting.
  • Do not use contractions (don’t), exclamation marks (!), and ambiguous pronouns at the start of sentences (it, this, these).
  • Do not write in second-person point of view (you) . . . ever. First-person POV (I), however, is completely expected.
  • Edit as if each mistake will cost you $20.
  • Take advantage of your resources: the Writing Center wants you to succeed.
  • www.wou.edu/writingcenter

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