Use creativity in your writing, but not your format.

There are people out there, lots of them, in all fields and walks of life, who will give you a great many variations on this theme: If you want to stand out in life (or break through certain barriers, or win the big contest, or get that big job, etc.), then you’ve got to be willing to totally shake things up. To do something wild, crazy, nutty, completely unexpected. Such as, say, attending a job interview and belting out a song about why they should hire you, or perhaps walking into that same interview in Bermuda shorts and a neon T-shirt, just to show them that you’re a whole different level of creative. Or writing a scholarship essay as a series of haikus, or a Letterman-esque Top Ten List, or in rhyming couplets, etc.

Doing so will definitely get you noticed, in the same way that streaking across center field during a baseball game will get you noticed. But despite the conventional wisdom, not all publicity is good publicity.

Here’s the thing about those free-spirited folks who give you such advice, the creative crazies who urge you to burst out of your shell and shock the world with your own unique style: they’re usually long gone by the time you actually DO the wacky stuff they’ve advised you to do. And while your creativity may sometimes be appreciated, often it’s not. And even when it is, it may not be appreciated so much that you get the award you’re bucking for.

All I mean here is not to turn your essay into something I alluded to earlier: a rhyming poem, a song, a Top 10 Reasons I Should Get This Scholarship List, etc. Sure, I admire the guts it takes to submit such a thing, but a big part of why it takes guts is the knowledge that it’s probably going to kill your chances of winning. In terms of scholarship applications, creativity is a means to an end, not the end itself. When in doubt, always remember Rule No. 1: follow instructions!

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