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Advice from a Scholarship Winner (and Loser)

Advice from a Scholarship Winner (and Loser)

Scholarships are like the lottery: you can't win if you don't play.

Samantha Starkey

August 25, 2014

I’ll be honest: I hate writing scholarship essays.

I hated it back in high school, senior year, writing handfuls of essays for countless different organizations, only to lose out on most of them in the end. There were only two scholarships that I received my first semester of college: one from my high school student council for serving as treasury secretary for two years, and one for the children of employees from the company where my father works.

From personal experience, I can give you two pieces of advice:

Firstly, check to see if school organizations that you’re actively involved in have scholarship funds. You’re much more likely to receive money from an organization that knows you rather than an organization whose scholarship you technically qualify for because you went to two meetings that December of your sophomore year. That’s how I got the one from the student council.

On the other hand, I played softball for one season back when I was around twelve years old—needless to say, the girls’ softball league did not give me their award even though I wrote a darn good essay about that one time I got hit in the face and had to sit out our game with a bloody nose (it was character-building!).

Secondly, there are scholarship funds that give away money to every person who submits an essay (this was the way that the scholarship at my dad’s company worked). Now, there’s not a ton of funds that work this way, but they do exist, and you may have to do some digging to find them. If you do, just don’t be too lazy to write that essay.

Scholarships are like the lottery: you can’t win if you don’t play, as cliché as it sounds. But how do you “play” if, like me, you hate the idea of writing dozens of essays on different variations of the same prompt: “What are your education goals, and how will this money assist you in achieving them?”

You can recycle essays. What this means is that you can use the same essay that you submitted for one scholarship fund and submitted it to another (or three). If the prompts are similar enough, all you have to do is change up a few words to make sure it’s tailored to the proper audience. Tweak essays, mash up essays, and apply to scholarships you don’t even think you’ll get—what’s the worst that can happen?

Or you can find scholarship funds whose prompts don’t resemble typical scholarships at all. They don’t even have to be “scholarships,” per se. For example, last summer I submitted a 500-word short story to a contest offering $2,000, $1,000, and $500 as its top prizes. I didn’t win, but at least I threw my hat in the ring. If you’re having fun, or if you’re writing about topics you’re interested in, then the process won’t even seem like a quote-unquote “scholarship essay.”

Of course, there are even scholarships funds that don’t require an essay to win (I’m constantly getting emails about those no-essay scholarships from Fastweb!). Apply for these too.

Earning good grades at the college level can also earn you scholarships from your school. For example, I ended up overpaying my tuition bill this semester because they applied a scholarship to my account that I wasn’t even aware of—now I’m entitled to a refund. Scholarships like these are ones that you don’t even have to apply or appeal for (and appealing, or asking your school for more money, is another ballgame entirely).

As a college student, I have even less time now than I did in high school to be writing dozens of scholarship essays. That’s why I encourage you to find to a variety of different types of funds—which require different application formats and varying time commitments—and submit, submit, submit. Good luck!


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