How To Win a Scholarship Essay Contest

Student writing essay

Hundreds of scholarship essays have been established and can provide an excellent source of funds with which to finance a college education. But to get those funds, you have to submit a winning essay. Here are some tips to help give you a winning way with words:

  1. Take it seriously. Treat this as seriously as you would any school requirement for graduation. Don't expect to simply jot off a few lines the week before the entries are due and expect to dazzle the judges with your brilliance. Sloppy work shows in the finished product. Attention to detail, on the other hand, and mastery of technical elements can mean the difference between a good winning essay and a brilliant, but losing, one.
  2. Pay close attention to deadlines. Enter all deadlines in your calendar, PDA, or day planner, and schedule reminders of those deadlines in the following increments: 1 month, 2 weeks, 1 week, and 2 days. Every week, review the upcoming deadlines to ensure that you do not miss an entry postmark deadline and thereby waste all your hard work on an ineligible entry. Also schedule deadlines on an interim basis for your use. Include deadlines for topic generation, drafting a thesis, drafting an outline, a first draft, marking revisions, a 2nd draft, readings by others (if permitted), and a final draft.
  3. Note carefully all requirements. If the rules specify double-spaced, 12 point type, and a 2 page limit, then even the most brilliant essay will lose if it's single-spaced 10 point type and clocks in at five pages. Therefore, it's a good idea to establish your document parameters first thing upon opening your document in your word processing program. When you save your document, you will then lock in those requirements, and it should be a simple matter of keeping track of word count and page numbers thereafter.
  4. Brainstorm ideas. Go for quantity, not quality of ideas. That may sound counterintuitive, but a surefire way to lose an essay contest is to lock in too early on what seems like a winning thesis, but which later turns out to be a dud incapable of generating sufficient excitement and heat.

    List as many ideas as you can in one one-hour brainstorming session. Then take a break - do something physical and repetitive, such as walk around the block or lift weights or shoot hoops. Then return to your list and go for another hour. You'll be surprised how many more ideas simply "pop up" after the break.

    After your brainstorming session, take a break of a few days or more, then return to the list with a fresh and critical perspective to select the point you will develop into your thesis. Repeat the process with your thesis statement, as well, after you select the idea behind it.

  5. Do your research. Whatever time you estimate it will take for research, consider starting earlier and doubling it. It is far easier to do too much research and winnow your content down than to desperately search for a needed quote the day before your entry is due to be postmarked.
  6. Organize your notes. Attribute quotes and sources meticulously. If you have questions about how to do this, talk to your current English teacher, or seek assistance from a homework website. This is a crucial point; failure to attribute properly can turn into an allegation of plagiarism at worst, or sloppy scholarship at best, and will cost an otherwise meritorious essay the winning slot.
  7. Develop your essay with the donor in mind. This does not mean to slant your views to curry favor with the judges. It simply means to keep in mind the donating entity's purpose and identity when drafting your essay. Look to the history of the group or any individual with whom it is associated for potential "filler" material, such as quotes or anecdotes. However, do be sure that the filler suits your essay and doesn't appear to have been thrown in casually just to score points.
  8. Be absolutely meticulous about grammar, spelling, and typography. Errors in these departments are easy to miss, but also easy to fix, and extremely costly. Take at least three critical read-through opportunities to catch them all. Use a red pen to make your correction notes. Use one read-through for spelling or word choice mistakes, one for grammar, and one for typographical errors. Finally, it should go without saying, but do not under any circumstances rely on your word processing spell-check software.
  9. Raise the bar for yourself. Challenge yourself to exceed your past standards with this essay. Aim for elegant prose that embodies your best, truest voice. Do not attempt to mimic another person's style, but do allow yourself to be inspired by other great writers.


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