Because I have . . . you can count on me to . . . This is the fundamental promise at the heart of every personal story, and the soul of every successful admission, scholarship or honors program essay.
Money challenges are still the #1 reason students don’t finish college—the #1 reason many who are admitted never make it to the first day of freshman year.
At Story2 we want to change that. We want to give every student the tools they need to write successful scholarship essays. Every scholarship you receive lessens the amount of debt you will have at the end of college.
If you are a current high school senior or college student, the time to apply for scholarship is now. There is, in fact, lots of scholarship money, if you are creative, organized, and persistent in pursuing all the types of financial aid you qualify for.
[Use ScholarshipAdvisor to help you find money to fund your college education.]
This post focuses on the biggest and most important scholarships students can apply for right now: school-specific scholarship and selective program essays. But you can use the 5 steps below to complete other scholarship essays too.
In applying for targeted scholarship and honors program opportunities, the most important question may seem a bit counterintuitive at first: what makes you different from the people who look most similar to you? All the first-gen students in your school and similar schools? All the highly talented students who have yet to decide their major, prefer not to talk in class, but know in their gut that they are ready try new things next year? All the math and science wizards who want to major in Engineering?
[What’s the secret to a successful Common App essay?]
- Taking the time to reflect on what you uniquely bring—not just to college, but to all of life—is the first step. Use the right side of the Story2 Bridge Chart to explore what “you can count on me to” do. Those are your promises: what you are committed to doing and how you will make a difference in the future. Make each of your promises as specific as possible–e.g. “I want to come back to the Bronx and make sure other first-generation kids get to college.”
- Then consider what have you already done that provides a reason to believe you will do those things in the future? College is the first of many forks in your life’s path when you need to gather your past experiences to show who you will be in the future and to make a case for investing in you to do something you have never done before. Use the left side of the Bridge Chart to explore experiences from your past that reveal who you will be and what you will do in the future. Don’t worry about the exact words; just the ideas for now: tutoring, babysitting, shadowing the director of a housing project for a month last summer.
- Each of those experiences is made up of many different moments. The next step is to take one of your “because I have” experiences and break it down into the moments when you changed or grew or made a difference–e.g. the moment the housing project director shook your hand and said, “I was once in your shoes. I want you to ask me anything”; the moment she gave you a project you didn’t understand, and you asked her for help; or the time you stayed late to talk with a group of people who live there. Use your memory to really go back and capture the details of those specific moments–try it with several of them, and you will figure out which one really feels the most powerful to you and which reveals the most important aspect of your character, today in the present.
- Map that moment—Story2 calls that a Defining Moment—as a story with a clear sense of purpose and direction. At some point in the story, something changed. That moment is your Pivot; your reader will learn who you are and how you respond to new situations by showing them what you did, and how you were different before and after that pivotal moment of change. Anchoring your story in how you changed—not in your mind, but in what you did in the world after your change—will make your story uniquely engaging for your reader.
- Imagine where your path is headed and make that future palpable for your reader. Remember that a scholarship is an investment in you and your future. The more specific you are in revealing the details of your future as a result of this particular program or scholarship, the more you will connect with that particular audience–e.g. “Macaulay Honors Program’s combination of a New York based core curriculum, the shared technology infrastructure, and the opportunity to take advantage of public health courses across the CUNY system, will enable me to build an online website to improve first-gen students’ knowledge and use of the city’s many free programs for improving personal and family health.”
[Read 7 more tips on writing successful scholarship essays.]
The more specifically each of your scholarship applications connects your own experience and life purpose to the unique mission and commitments of that scholarship, the more likely you are to connect with the reader and win the funding you need to succeed in college and in life.
The Story2 online toolkit walks you through the process of completing your scholarship essays from start to finish: how to explore your unique stories, transform them into written essays, and use your essays to speak powerfully with decision-makers for competitive scholarships. Login or register to get started.
Carol Barash, PhD, founder and CEO of Story2 and author of Write Out Loud, has empowered 15,000 students around the world—from first-generation college students to the children of bankers and CEOs—to tell their stories out loud and write essays that win admission and scholarships at selective colleges. Have questions about storytelling, college admissions, and life choices? Ask me anything on Twitter @carolbarash.
Tags:admissions, financial aid, scholarships
I’ll be honest: I hate writing scholarship essays.
I hated it back in high school, senior year, writing handfuls of essays for countless different organizations, only to lose out on most of them in the end. There were only two scholarships that I received my first semester of college: one from my high school student council for serving as treasury secretary for two years, and one for the children of employees from the company where my father works.
From personal experience, I can give you two pieces of advice:
Firstly, check to see if school organizations that you’re actively involved in have scholarship funds. You’re much more likely to receive money from an organization that knows you rather than an organization whose scholarship you technically qualify for because you went to two meetings that December of your sophomore year. That’s how I got the one from the student council.
On the other hand, I played softball for one season back when I was around twelve years old—needless to say, the girls’ softball league did not give me their award even though I wrote a darn good essay about that one time I got hit in the face and had to sit out our game with a bloody nose (it was character-building!).
Secondly, there are scholarship funds that give away money to every person who submits an essay (this was the way that the scholarship at my dad’s company worked). Now, there’s not a ton of funds that work this way, but they do exist, and you may have to do some digging to find them. If you do, just don’t be too lazy to write that essay.
Scholarships are like the lottery: you can’t win if you don’t play, as cliché as it sounds. But how do you “play” if, like me, you hate the idea of writing dozens of essays on different variations of the same prompt: “What are your education goals, and how will this money assist you in achieving them?”
You can recycle essays. What this means is that you can use the same essay that you submitted for one scholarship fund and submitted it to another (or three). If the prompts are similar enough, all you have to do is change up a few words to make sure it’s tailored to the proper audience. Tweak essays, mash up essays, and apply to scholarships you don’t even think you’ll get—what’s the worst that can happen?
Or you can find scholarship funds whose prompts don’t resemble typical scholarships at all. They don’t even have to be “scholarships,” per se. For example, last summer I submitted a 500-word short story to a contest offering $2,000, $1,000, and $500 as its top prizes. I didn’t win, but at least I threw my hat in the ring. If you’re having fun, or if you’re writing about topics you’re interested in, then the process won’t even seem like a quote-unquote “scholarship essay.”
Of course, there are even scholarships funds that don’t require an essay to win (I’m constantly getting emails about those no-essay scholarships from Fastweb!). Apply for these too.
Earning good grades at the college level can also earn you scholarships from your school. For example, I ended up overpaying my tuition bill this semester because they applied a scholarship to my account that I wasn’t even aware of—now I’m entitled to a refund. Scholarships like these are ones that you don’t even have to apply or appeal for (and appealing, or asking your school for more money, is another ballgame entirely).
As a college student, I have even less time now than I did in high school to be writing dozens of scholarship essays. That’s why I encourage you to find to a variety of different types of funds—which require different application formats and varying time commitments—and submit, submit, submit. Good luck!
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