At Fastweb, we have hosted our fair share of scholarship essay contests. As thousands of essays have poured in, we’ve noticed some frequent mistakes that students make, which could instantly disqualify them from scholarship opportunities. So we thought to ourselves, “Hello, learning opportunity!”
Plus, writing essays is a huge component of the college application. By perfecting your essay writing abilities now, you’ll be able to navigate both the college application and scholarship application processes with greater ease.
With that, below is a scholarship essay example from one of our previous essay contests. Using this example, we’ll show you what to do and what NOT to do when applying for a scholarship essay contest. Check it out:
“To be able to hold onto your money you have to know how to manage it. Money management is a complicated process. As teenagers we often have no idea how to manage money and we end up wasting a lot of it. But in a bad economy most of us have had a crash course in what happens when you don’t manage your money properly.
We have had to delve into a world foreign and unfamiliar to us and solve our own money problems. The most successful of us have managed to still have some semblance of a social life without going over our small budgets. The keys to doing this successfully are actually quite simple.
Set up your own budget of expenses. Teenagers may not have to worry about paying a mortgage or rent but we do have to be able to pay for gas, insurance for our vehicles, and the never ending list of project expenses and supplies for classes.
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So you have to sit down and balance what you spend in a month with what you actually make, and whether that’s the money you get for your birthday that you manage to stretch with help from mom’s pocketbook or it’s the minimum wage that you get from the local fast food joint where you have managed to find employment the money comes from somewhere and it needs to be written down.
Review your expenses daily. This includes balancing your checkbook and reviewing your online statements, as well as calculating any emergency expenses that you were not considering. This needs to be fluid as sometimes things come up that you just couldn’t have forseen.
You have to get creative. You are not always going to have the time to sit there with a calculator crunching numbers so create small ways to keep thing balanced without having to.
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Send yourself easy phone reminders about a few of your expenses. Always bring your school id with you because a lot of places will give students discounted rates. And finally, just remember where your money is going it will help.”
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Scholarship Essay: What’s Right? What’s Wrong?
One thing the essay writer did correctly was to stay within the word count for the contest. The essay contest stated in the rules that essays should range from 250-350 words, and this essay comes in at 349 words. Good job! Another positive is that the writer stayed on topic and answered the question that was presented.
However, though the writer did stay on topic, the response took a meandering approach and didn’t take a strong or memorable stance. In short, the “meat” of the essay wasn’t there.
Think of it this way: sum up in one sentence what you want the reviewer to know and remember after reading your essay. Did you get that across in a clear and concise way? Each essay should explore at least one breakout idea (aka, the thesis statement), and the rest of the essay should focus on selling that point.
If it's a new, creative or off-beat idea, focus on selling and explaining that. If it's a common idea, concentrate on articulating it better than anyone else. Here are a few more examples of what the essay writer did wrong:
Misspellings are the fastest way to ensure an essay is disqualified. When combing through a stack of essays, a judge will first rule out the essays with simple misspellings. Long story short: run a spell check and have someone else you trust look over it. It's always best to get a second set of eyes.
Also, watch out for incomplete sentences. Remember, each sentence should have a subject (someone or something) and a verb (action). Wondering if your sentence is complete? Here’s a hint: A complete sentence tells a complete thought.
2. No Capitalization
Avoid scholarship essay mistakes and increase your chances of winning.
A scholarship essay is not the place to be lazy. You shouldn’t treat an essay like a text to your friend (don’t even get us started on how texting has changed the way we write professionally and academically).
Make sure the word at the beginning of each sentence and paragraph is capitalized. Also, don’t forget about proper nouns, i.e. individual people, places and names of organizations. Those should always be capitalized too.
3. Missing Punctuation
In this example, the writer does not have proper command over the use of commas. They are missing in places they should have been added and added in places they are not required.
If you want to refresh your brain on when and when not to use a comma, check out this helpful guide from Purdue Online Writing Lab.
4. Poor Grammar and Sentence Structure
The essay writer uses poor word choices, improper grammar and mistakes such as having too many spaces between words. Another example of poor grammar is the confusion of grammatical persons — in the beginning of the essay the writer uses the first person plural (we) and toward the end, the writer uses the second person (you).
This is why it’s paramount to have another set of eyes look at your scholarship essay. A sentence structure that makes sense to you may not make sense to someone else. Ask a teacher, mentor or counselor to help you with essays. Their insight can help you develop better as a writer, in general.
5. Run-On Sentences
In this essay, one sentence has 72 words. As a rule, try to keep sentences no longer than 35 words each. Also, separate complete ideas into separate sentences.
Run-on sentences give the impression that you did the essay hurriedly. They also make an essay sound as if you’re rambling. To make your essay crisp and pointed, break up those longer sentence with periods, commas or semicolon.
More Scholarship Winning Tips
Now that you know how to better navigate essays within the scholarship application process, let’s look at a few ways you can improve your chances of winning a scholarship.
1. Meet Deadlines.
One of the most crucial components of the scholarship application process is submitting the application on time! Scholarship committees will not even consider an application that is late. With that, create a calendar that includes all of your scholarship deadlines (you can actually keep track of that on Fastweb!) so you don’t miss any important dates.
2. Apply to 1-2 scholarships per week.
At Fastweb, we have a saying: the more scholarships you apply to, the greater your chances of actually winning. With that, students should treat applying to scholarships like a part-time job. Put in a few hours a week to complete one or two scholarships applications.
3. Continue the scholarship search through college or graduate school.
So many students think that scholarships are just for high school juniors and seniors entering college, but that’s not true! There are thousands of scholarship opportunities for college students, graduate students and nontraditional students. The scholarship search should continue for however long you are actually in school.
4. Never give up!
Finally, we want to encourage you to stay the course, and keep applying. It can be difficult to win a scholarship, and many students work for months and months (even years and years) before they actually win. However, every scholarship winner will tell you that the wait and the hard work are absolutely worth it. After all, each scholarship that you win is less money that you’ll have to pay back after college.
Don’t give up. Keep searching and applying for scholarships. We’ll be with you every step of the way.