March 2008

Don’t be afraid to admit your past shortcomings and explain how you turned things around.

March 31, 2008

Sometimes, the best story you have to tell a scholarship committee will involve explaining some of the worst or most embarrassing moments from your past. Maybe you hurt or insulted someone close to you. Maybe you had an addiction or even went to jail (actually, If you’re still hurting your loved ones, addicted to drugs or […]

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Do not, under any circumstances, have your parents write essays, letters, or anything else, on your behalf.

March 26, 2008

Over the last few years, the media has been telling us that America is a society where, to be blunt, kids are a lot slower to become independent than they used to be. Apparently it’s no big deal to graduate from college and move right back in with your parents for a few more years, […]

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Do not send your essay with postage due.

March 26, 2008

There are many ways to make a bad first impression, but I can’t think of a worse one than making the committee pay money for the privilege of reading your essay. Don’t send your application with postage due. When in doubt, add an extra stamp or two. I hate wasting stamps as much as the […]

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Do not print your essay in all boldfaced type.

March 26, 2008

Yes, this actually happens, and more than you’d expect. We suspect the writer begins bolding certain passages here and there, and then before long, decides to shoot the moon and bold the whole thing. Don’t do it. Boldfaced text here and there adds emphasis to certain words, setting them apart from the rest, but that’s […]

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Spell everything correctly.

March 26, 2008

Seriously. No excuses and no exceptions – everything. Here’s a little yarn about why it’s important to spell things correctly. My company once managed a very large online events calendar for a major news website in one of the largest cities in the U.S. It was a very important job, but it didn’t require a […]

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Type — don’t handwrite — your essay.

March 26, 2008

Now that computers are omnipresent, this seems obvious; however, we continue to receive a steady stream of handwritten essays. There are exceptions to this rule: for instance, many of our applicants from Africa and other underdeveloped nations have very limited access to computers, and have no choice but to use paper and pen. But even […]

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Do not include sensitive personal information that you’re not asked for.

March 26, 2008

In fact, if anyone asks you to submit sensitive information, I’d advise skipping that scholarship altogether, because I know of no reason why a reputable program would be asking for your sensitive personal information. First, let me clarify what I mean by “sensitive personal information.” I’m talking about things like your Social Security number, your […]

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Don’t print your essay on a used piece of paper.

March 26, 2008

Hey, we told you this section was dedicated to the painfully obvious. We wouldn’t write about this stuff if it didn’t actually happen. On occasion, we’ve had essays sent to us that were printed on the back side of personal letters, scratch paper, and other gently-used documents. In one case, the writer scrawled across the […]

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Make sure your name is on the essay.

March 26, 2008

Go ahead and laugh, but our committees tell us that about 1 out of every 20-25 essays that we receive has no name on it. And some of them are pretty darn good essays. In fact, I know of at least two times in which committees that I actually served on would’ve selected no-name essays […]

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Don’t use a cursive or novelty font.

March 26, 2008

I debated including this one in the “painfully obvious” section, because hundreds of people have done it over the years, and it’s not as indubitably boneheaded as some of the other things in this section, like sending your bank account information or having your mom write your essay for you. But submitting your essay in […]

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Don’t use novelty envelopes or paper.

March 26, 2008

I’ve already covered the type of paper and envelopes you should use for your application, so if you’ve read this far, you can consider this a review. Just so we’re clear, though: you should save the Hello Kitty envelopes and sparkly pink paper – or the NASCAR stationery with “In Loving Memory of #3” envelopes […]

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Don’t trash-talk the scholarship committee.

March 26, 2008

Back when our scholarship committee was switching our scholarship over from postal mail to e-mail, I made a joke on one of our websites about the U.S. Postal Service. I know, I know – you’re thinking, “That’s impossible! How could you possibly find something negative to say about the U.S. Postal Service?” I don’t remember […]

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Don’t plagiarize other people’s work.

March 26, 2008

The Internet has made it easier than ever to plagiarize, but if you’re bold enough to do so, beware of the double-edged sword: the Web also makes it easier than ever to catch you in the act. A stolen essay can be uncovered often and easily by Googling any sentence or phrase that sounds like […]

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Don’t use email smiley faces or any other sort of text-messaging language.

March 26, 2008

“OMG I want this schol soooooooobad! J/K, its all good!” Now, I’m no curmudgeon. I understand that language, both written and spoken, is constantly changing and that it’s young people of every generation who drive a lot of that change. However, most of you realize that the style of communication you use for email, IM […]

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If your scholarship application is being sent via email, send it from a neutral or professional-sounding email address.

March 26, 2008

This happens dozens of times a day, so pay close attention here. A committee may love your essay, but you’d be surprised how their impression of you may change once they realize it was sent from demonicsoulslayer420@yahoo.com or gettinmydrinkon@hotmail.com or sexndrugs4ever@gmail.com. If it’s not obvious to you that sending email from addresses such as those […]

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Don’t email your essay as an attachment.

March 26, 2008

We now do a lot of our scholarships via email, and despite our warnings, students still do this occasionally. Here’s the problem: if a scholarship program is accepting submissions via email, that means the email address you’re supposed to send to is probably sitting on a web page somewhere for you to look at. If […]

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Have two or more people read your essay before you send it in.

March 26, 2008

They don’t have to be smarter than you, or better spellers than you, or anything like that. But you should never send in an essay that hasn’t had at least two or three sets of eyes other than your own look over it. They will help you catch errors and other imperfections like the ones […]

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Language has rules. Abide by them.

March 26, 2008

We don’t mean to sound elitist here, but the rules of the English language have already been invented; you can’t just make them up as you go along. I could use any of 100 examples here, but one of the most recent examples to cross our desks is this one: “Another importance in my life […]

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Learn the difference between “their” and “there,” “its” and “it’s,” “effect” and “affect.”

March 26, 2008

Remember how we said that you’d be ahead of 90% of applicants if you just turned in an error-free paper? Well, if you learn these three, you can probably bump it up to 95%. These three distinctions are a) very basic and easy to learn, and b) seemingly screwed up by almost everyone, almost all […]

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Use proper punctuation.

March 26, 2008

Going into detail about all the rules of punctuation would take forever, and frankly, writing a punctuation book would bore me straight into the grave. To be honest, the rules of punctuation are far less well-known that those of spelling and grammar. But if you run your essay by a few people, including an English […]

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Be grammatical.

March 26, 2008

Just like punctuation, this isn’t the place to list all of the rules of grammar. It’d fill a book five times longer than this one. But the more people to whom you show your essay before you send it – and ideally that list includes one English teacher or other grammar wizard – the less […]

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Use action words.

March 26, 2008

I’m borrowing here from our forthcoming sister site, givemearesume.com, because the advice applies to the scholarship application process just as much as the job-hunting process. When describing the things you’ve done, use as many strong action verbs as you can. Don’t say that you just “went” somewhere, “signed up” for something or “participated” in an […]

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Get to the point!

March 26, 2008

Your introduction should be completed in a paragraph, maybe two. Not four or five. Long-form, scene-setting openings are for novels, not scholarship essays. Get to the point quickly and begin to develop the “meat” of your essay right away.

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Don’t use redundant language.

March 26, 2008

Redundant language is one particular way of writing badly that wastes your writing space and annoys the committee at the same time. There are a lot of commonly used redundant phrases, but some of the most common are “actively involved” (if you’re not active, you’re not involved) “past history” (all history is in the past) […]

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Use transitions well.

March 26, 2008

In a nutshell, this simply means making sure your paragraphs flow well from one to the next. There’s no magic formula for doing it, but you’ll know you’ve done it when the last sentence of one paragraph seems to lead nicely into the first sentence of the next paragraph. Without good transitions, an essay is […]

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Use a closing.

March 26, 2008

It’s disappointing when an applicant is rolling along with an excellent essay, and then all of a sudden, bang! It’s over. Or at least, we think it’s over. We don’t see a next page, so we assume it must be over. The reason for our confusion is the writer’s lack of a closing. A closing […]

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Don’t start your closing with, “In closing.”

March 26, 2008

That’s cheating. It’s also the equivalent of starting your introduction with “I deserve this award because” – it’s not creative at all. Your closing should speak for itself, without a need to say “in closing” or “listen up, committee, here comes my closing.” It’s a challenge, but you can do it.

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Don’t begin your essay with “My name is.”

March 26, 2008

Your name should be on the page elsewhere, eliminating any need for you to waste the all-important first sentence of your essay by simply stating your name.

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Don’t use acronyms without explaining them first.

March 26, 2008

You may know what FBLA or JA or AYBWA is, but that doesn’t mean your committee members do. There are hundreds of student organizations out there these days, and not even the most up-to-date scholarship judge is going to know all of them. Spell out the words of the acronym the first time you refer […]

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Send in your essay near the beginning or the end of the application period.

March 26, 2008

Psychological studies indicate that people tend to recall items at the beginning of a list and the end of a list far better than they do those in the middle of the list. Try it yourself — go look at 20 items in your kitchen, 20 books in your bookcase, or any set of 20 […]

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