When I started college, I didn’t realize how difficult it is to write about your personal experiences in an effective way.

One of the best ways to start is by brainstorming. What do you want the scholarship committee to learn about you? What kind of message do you want to get across as they read your essay? Have you overcome 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? 

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 these brainstorming techniques.

Once you’re past the brainstorming phase, you’re ready to create the outline of your essay. As you lay it out piece by piece, you’ll begin to see how you can create the greatest 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.

Part of being effective at anything (including writing), is how often you practice. Share your essays with your family or friends. What do they learn about you as they read your essay? You might be surprised by their helpful insights and feedback.

Don’t forget! If you’re having a case of writer’s block or need assistance, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Writing offers Student Writing Support to students 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 Center also has a Student Writing Guide, which is filled with helpful tips as well as links to other college writing guides. For example, Indiana University-Bloomington offers advice about writing personal statements and application letters.