If you’re a student who’s already in college or about to start, you have my deepest condolences. The economy you’re inheriting hasn’t only devastated the job market you’ll soon be trying to claw your way into, but also the financial resources of the universities to which you’re applying.
That’s right – those fat financial-aid packages they were all offering two years ago? Gone. Done. Over.
So let’s get down to brass tacks: If you want to make it through college, you need to win scholarships now more than ever. And if you’re like most students, you’re going to fail miserably unless you let me help you.
I’ve read over 10,000 scholarship essays and awarded $100,000 of my own money over the last 6 years, and I’ve come to realize that most students don’t know squat about writing a good scholarship essay.
Tip #1: Don’t talk solely about your participation in common high school activities.
The Internet has opened up scholarship opportunities to thousands of applicants who wouldn’t have been there 10 years ago. The less unique your essay is, the more likely it is that you’ll be passed over for the scholarship.
Four years of science club, soccer team and varsity band isn’t enough for the committee. They see hundreds of essays come in with that same stuff in them every single day. It’s not going to set you apart. Dig for something deeper, better and more unique if you want to win.
Tip # 2: Be careful with sensitive political issues.
Unless the scholarship you’re applying for is sponsored by an explicitly liberal or conservative organization, you have almost no chance of winning if you write about controversial issues like abortion, affirmative action, the Iraq war or any other polarizing issues.
Here’s the ugly truth: the more contentious the issue you choose to write about, the more likely it is that one or more committee members will completely disagree with you. Although judges try to keep their emotions and personal beliefs out of their decisions, it doesn’t always work. Offend them with the content of your essay and you probably won’t win the scholarship.
Tip #3: Be careful talking about religion.
See above. Same reason, times 10. It’s fine to have religious convictions and no one can ever take them away from you, but it’s also one of the quickest possible ways to offend a judge who doesn’t agree with you. Once again – it may not be right, but it’s true. Take the safe route and don’t make them the crux of your entire essay.
Tip #4: Don’t dwell on your GPA – it’s not a point of distinction.
Are you sitting down? OK, here goes:
Your GPA doesn’t really matter that much at all. A grade-inflation epidemic has killed the significance of a high GPA.
At some point in the recent past, someone decided the horror of seeing the letter “D” or “F” on a report card was more damaging to a kid than, say, not knowing how to read, write or spell. Lots of parents agreed, and convinced schools that even though Johnny still doesn’t know what a comma is, he still deserves a B in English.
So now, just about everyone has a GPA of 3.0 or above. And if everyone’s GPA is basically the same, what’s the point of even looking? Don’t expect it to carry you to a scholarship victory. It won’t.
Tip #5: Omit vanity awards from your list of accomplishments.
Remember the first time you got a letter from Who’s Who Among American High School Students? Felt great, right? Someone thinks you’re among America’s best! Happened to me in high school, too. And my folks dutifully shelled it out the $40 for the book.
The truth is, Who’s Who is in the business of selling books, not finding excellent students. Scholarship committees know this all too well. I recommend omitting Who’s Who and similar vanity awards from scholarship applications.