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How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay: Effective Strategies and Tips

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With college tuition costs skyrocketing every year, applying for scholarships and finding effective ways to win them is critical. A scholarship is basically free money that helps students pay for college expenses and prevents adding on debt. Did you know you can win a scholarship for being tall or left-handed? Yup. You can win dozens of scholarships for just about anything. I’m being for real. That’s why in this guide I am going to show you: The Best Websites to Apply for Scholarships How to Apply for Scholarships How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay Let’s dive in and go over the most effective strategies to help you win some scholarships! What is the Best Website to Apply for Scholarships? 1. Scholarships.com Scholarships.com offers over 2 million free scholarships for all students. This website is for high school students, community college students, and even returning college students. The average application process takes about 10-15 minutes, but it’s totally worth it because they send you scholarship opportunities that best match your interests. To learn more about Scholarships.com, go here. 2. FastWeb FastWeb has been around for more than 15 years and is a highly recommended scholarship site. It’s FREE. Registration is super easy so you can start your scholarship search. FastWeb not only provides scholarships but also tips for winning scholarships, career advice, FAFSA information, and is a great resource to have in general. You can also choose how you would like to be notified – through email or text. To learn more about Fastweb.com, go here. 3. Unigo Every scholarship application listed tells you how much money you can win, how many recipients will be awarded, and what the qualifications are for the ideal candidate. This saves you a LOT of time because you’ll see from the start if it’s worth it or not to apply. They also offer other resources like jobs, internships, and college rankings. Yup – Unigo lets you look up colleges and universities, and you can read student testimonials about them. For example, if I wanted to attend Cal Poly (SLO), I would type the name in the search bar and instantly see student reviews about campus food, classes, the environment, tuition fees, the acceptance rate, etc. To learn more about Unigo.com, go here. 4. Chegg I love Chegg because it offers resources like scholarships, internships, and book rentals. They also provide blog posts about a variety of topics (like what you can expect from internships, what to do before an interview, and how to fully maximize your time during your internship). Simply type in the kind of internship opportunity you are seeking, preferred location, and start looking through the internships. Chegg is super reliable, and they have online support to answer any of your questions. The site is user friendly and the whole process is easy. To learn more about Chegg’s internships, go here. 5. StudentScholarships.org This is another great platform to find scholarships for high school or college students who are interested in pursuing an education in nursing, engineering, architecture, business, agriculture, etc. The site strongly advises all applicants to take their time working on their scholarship applications so they stand out from other potential candidates. Apply today and see if you qualify for a scholarship. How Do I Apply for Scholarships? Step 1: Find Scholarships from Your College or University First things first: go and speak with a financial aid advisor or any of your college counselors. They will inform you about scholarships that are being offered through the institution or at least point you to the right scholarship sources. Step 2: Search for Scholarships Online Simply sign up, make a profile with any of the scholarship websites listed above, and get instant notifications about scholarships that are best fit for you. You can apply to all kinds of scholarships and win them based on your gender, socioeconomic status, major, GPA, grades, skills, extracurricular activities, interests, and other factors. How Do I Win a Scholarship? Step 1: Professional Resume (If Required) Not all scholarships require that you submit a resume. But one thing I want you to remember as you are working on your scholarship essay is that judges on the scholarship committee go through hundreds of scholarships. It is your job to make sure your application stands out by including a solid resume (even if it’s optional). So add some color to make it eye catching for judges to stick around and read it. Step 2: Recommendation Letters Recommendation letters are like adding lemon pepper to your chicken. “Marcos, what does that mean?” That’s a great question. It means that while you may think your scholarship essay and resume are all you need, adding recommendation letters will increase your chances of being considered by the scholarship committee and differentiate you from the competition. Step 3: Write a Killer Essay This is your time to shine. I definitely recommend that you spend the majority of your time writing a killer essay for the judges. As a recent scholarship reviewer, and after talking to other scholarship judges, I can honestly say the most important part of the scholarship application is your essay. This is your opportunity to sell yourself to the judges so they can get to know you on a deeper level. Have you ever read a quote or book or listened to a song that stirred an emotion within you? That should be your goal when writing your essay. Here’s a great example I read from a student’s scholarship essay: “After fighting drug addiction for almost 3 years and being 5 years sober, I finally feel that I have my life back on track. I was lost, confused, and never had any guidance from my parents since they were drug addicts themselves. After rehab and therapy sessions, it completely changed my life. As I begin my first year in college, I began to search for my purpose in life. I can’t help but remember how much my counselors supported me and changed my life. I realized that as a drug addict survivor and someone who understands that pain, I am passionate about becoming an addiction recovery counselor. With this scholarship money, I will use it for educational costs so that I can later return the favor by helping others in need. I know I can change their lives the way these counselors changed mine. As a single mother with 2 children, this scholarship money will make my life easier and help me focus on my educational goals, spend more time with my children, and prevent me from losing my inspiration to keep going. Ultimately, this scholarship will help me obtain my dream by getting my college degree and working as a drug addict counselor to help prevent people from dying.” Pretty moving right? Keep these tips in mind when writing your essay to stand out: Start with an amazing and compelling introduction statement Be as genuine as possible Add some emotion, a heartfelt story, and real life experiences Talk about positive ways you will use the scholarship money if selected Make your essay so engaging and compelling that your application easily stands out from all the hundreds of others A scholarship committee goes through hundreds and sometimes thousands of scholarships. So trust me when I tell you this: they don’t sit there and read every single one from start to finish. Step 4: Research What Scholarship Winners are Doing Yes, exactly as the title implies. You can literally go on Google and type in “most compelling scholarship winners” or something along those lines. I always looked at what other scholarship winners would write and analyzed what made them stand out from other applicants. Many scholarship organizations also post their winners on their website, so be sure to check them out. Step 5: Read Directions Carefully Before Answering Students sometimes don’t meet the length requirement, don’t answer the questions properly, and even forget to submit documents that are required. So be sure to read everything carefully. You can also make a checklist to ensure you have everything completed before submitting your application. Step 6: Apply, Apply, and Apply Again...Repeat If you applied to 3 scholarships and didn’t win, don’t sweat it. It's alright. Sometimes you have to apply to 10 before you can win one. Applying to as many scholarships as you can will better your chances and you will eventually win at least one. If you follow everything in this guide, you will dramatically improve your chances of becoming a scholarship winner. All good things take time, commitment, and consistency. Step 7: Review and Have Someone Proofread Your Application I can’t tell you how many scholarship essays I read that had run on sentences, spelling mistakes, and grammatical errors. Once you are done reviewing your application, have someone else read over the requirements to make sure you answered all of them. While you might think your application and essay are flawless, having a second pair of fresh eyes is much more helpful. Step 8: Your Work Experience Matters Becoming a scholarship winner isn’t just about following directions and submitting your application. Members of the scholarship committee will review your resume and see what you have been involved in. To truly stand out from other scholarship applicants, you must gain work experience, volunteer, intern, develop leadership skills, join extracurricular activities, and have high achieving grades. All of these things demonstrate to the scholarship committee that you are a productive, driven, and responsible individual. Conclusion Applying for scholarships can be a rigorous process, but this is one of the best ways to help you graduate college debt-free so you don’t have to worry about taking out student loans. Make it a goal to apply to at least 3 scholarships each week. That’s a total of 12 scholarships a month that you’d be applying for. Increase your chances of winning, and don’t be discouraged if you don’t hear anything back. Do what most students don’t do and keep applying to more. Have you ever won a scholarship before? If so, what are some things that you did to help you win that scholarship? Let us know in the comments section below. Yours Truly, Smart-Noodle