In last month’s blog post, I talked about part one of the scholarship process, which was searching for a scholarship. If you haven’t already done so, please read it to learn about helpful strategies to find funding for college. In part two this month, it’s all about how to approach writing your first scholarship essay. When I started college, I didn’t realize how difficult it is to write about your life experience in an effective way.

"What kind of message do you want to get across to them as they are reading your essay?"

One of the best ways to start (in my opinion) is by brainstorming. What do you want the scholarship committee to learn about you? What kind of message do you want to get across to them as they are reading your essay? Have you overcome many hurdles to get through high school? Are you actively volunteering in your community? What is your dream career, and how do you imagine yourself getting there? Are you involved in a lot of extracurricular activities or clubs at your high school? If you’re having trouble with brainstorming, try using association techniques, such as creating a word map or free writing. Khan Academy has a great video about brainstorming techniques.

Student lying on grass studying

Once you’re past the brainstorming phase, you’re ready to create the outline of your essay. By laying it out piece by piece, you’ll begin to see how you can create the biggest impact with your story. Your next step is to start writing your first draft. The best tip I can give is to let the words flow. You’ll want to get all of your initial thoughts on paper. It is a draft after all, and you’ll be doing plenty of editing later, so the more that you can leave unfiltered, the better. You may find that by letting the words flow, you stumble upon background information that will help to strengthen your essay.

"You’ll want to get all of your initial thoughts on paper."

Part of being effective at anything (including writing) is how often you practice. Share your essays with your family or friends. What overall picture are they getting about you as they read your essay? You might be surprised to learn how many personal experiences you’re leaving out, just by talking with them. 

Student working on laptop at desk

If you’re having a case of writer’s block, the Center for Writing at the U of M offers Student Writing Support during fall and spring. This is offered as a benefit to U of M students who are participating in the College in the Schools program. You can schedule an on-campus appointment, or you can make an online appointment to chat about your scholarship essay draft. The U of M Center for Writing even has a writing guide, which is filled with helpful tips. 

In addition, the Center for Writing links to other college websites that provide helpful writing guides, such as Indiana University-Bloomington, which includes a link to writing personal statements and application letters. This information applies to scholarship writing, as well as being useful for getting into the college of your choice.