Many scholarship applications require students to write a personal essay. You might be asked to discuss your personal experiences, goals, knowledge of a particular subject, or a combination of these topics. While these questions might seem simple at first glance, it’s not always easy to know where to start.
Here are a few tips to ensure your essay response doesn’t fall flat:
1. Follow the essay guidelines
Before you begin writing, read the prompt carefully and make note of any specific requirements for the content or format of the essay. For example, there might be a word count limit, or the prompt may ask you to answer several different questions instead of just one. You might find it helpful to underline or highlight key parts of the prompt so that you don’t forget to address them in your response.
It’s also a good idea to reread the prompt after you have written your essay and are beginning the revision process. Make sure you aren’t missing any key elements from your response and that you have used the correct format (if there was one specified). It may sound simple, but following instructions is an easy way to ensure that your application makes it to the next round of consideration.
2. Use an outline
If you want to write a standout essay, it’s important to organize your ideas before you draft your response. An outline can make it easier for you to develop your main idea (often referred to as your thesis) as well as the supporting points that will be the focus of each of your paragraphs.
Planning is especially critical if the prompt has multiple components or requires you to respond to more than one question. Using an outline will ensure that your essay follows a logical progression and that each of your supporting points connects back to your main idea.
3. Emphasize your main point throughout
Your thesis statement – or your main idea – should be introduced in your first paragraph, but that shouldn’t be the last time it’s brought up. Each paragraph should support your thesis and provide evidence as to why it’s true. This ensures that your main point shines through your essay instead of only being mentioned in the opening and closing paragraphs. The result is a strong, focused essay that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.
4. Don’t forget to proofread
If you submit your essay with spelling or grammar errors, it will likely be ruled out pretty quickly. Running your essay through spellcheck is always a good idea. Additionally, reading your essay out loud can help you pick up on grammar errors you may not have noticed, as well as ensure that your essay flows well. If you’ve planned ahead and finished your essay before the deadline, ask a friend, mentor or a professor to proofread it for you. It’s always helpful to have another set of eyes review your work before you submit it.
5. Make your conclusion count
Your conclusion paragraph is one of the most important parts of your essay. This is where you have an opportunity to make a lasting impression on your readers and show them why you are uniquely qualified for a particular scholarship. Do not just rehash your opening paragraph in your closing. Instead, summarize your main points in a way that reinforces your thesis statement and shows why it matters.
If possible, see if you can connect the experiences or ideas you highlighted in your essay to the mission and values of the organization for you are addressing. This will show the reader that you not only have strong writing skills, but that you have put time and thought into your response.