Don’t write the same essay for all the scholarships you apply for.

Lots and lots of students do this, and you may be one of them. Every now and then, students get the idea that they’ve written one essay that’s so perfect in every way that it can be used to win not only one scholarship, but multiple scholarships. So they submit this essay for each scholarship they find, heedless of the particular requirements of each contest they’re entering.

This is generally a very bad idea, for this reason: how likely is it, really, that one essay will even address the specific topics you’re required to discuss on different scholarship applications? I suppose there’s a small likelihood that a very, very general topic – maybe, “Tell us about yourself” or something equally vague – may be used on more than one scholarship application that you run across. Beyond that, though, it seems unlikely that the same essay will precisely address what different scholarship committees ask you to address. It’s easy to spot a cookie-cutter essay, because it usually bears little resemblance to what we’ve asked for. For example, if our contest asks you to describe how you see yourself in 10 years, and you submit an essay that tells your life story from childhood to the present day but doesn’t mention a thing about your future, then we’re guessing you’re probably carpet-bombing the scholarship world with that essay. Or, as my father would say, throwing a handful of shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. Trust me, nothing will stick.

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