By Veronica Hunt
When you make the next step in your education and start applying for scholarships and colleges, you understand that paper writing skills are even more important than you thought. Admission committee will pay special attention to your scholarship essay since it demonstrates your individuality more than any diploma. Thus, they have already seen thousands of those papers before and they are quite bored to read something like “I want to become a doctor because I want to help people” once again.
How do you make your scholarship essay special and the entire writing process less stressful? Well, try relying on these tools and pieces of advice we have gathered for you. Hopefully, they will come in handy!
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Scholarship essay samples
Before you start writing your scholarship essay, look through some other papers composed by students. A great resource of professional essay samples is the website called Student Share. Just use the search bar to enter your request and enjoy sample papers done by successful students. You can download one paper per day for free, or share your own writings and get an unlimited access to the paper base. Use these samples to get inspired and realize how good the paper should look like, but do not plagiarize or steal ideas – this will not make your essay the way it should be. You have to show your personality and uniqueness, not your rewriting skills!
Next, look through some online guidelines, “do’s and don’t's” and pay special attention to the hints given. For instance, Harvard College Writing Center provides students with a number of useful writing guides and resources to let you handle the writing process easier and become more confident in yourself. Harvard Writing Center offers a great range of tips and hints on how to understand the paper requirements, how to structure a paper, and how to make your thesis statement clear and strong. Be sure to keep these tips and pieces of advice in mind and they will help you stick to the academic standards and general writing rules.
You have to look through some formatting guides and pay attention to the specifications your institution gave you about the paper format. Sometimes, committee members are really scrupulous and sometimes they may not even read scholarship essays formatted incorrectly.
It is natural for students not to keep in mind all details and rules of formatting. However, you can try using Purdue Online Writing Lab, a resource for students and academic community members that provide instructional material on how to format a paper in MLA, APA, Harvard, Chicago or Turabian style correctly.
General scholarship writing rules
Every institution has application standards, but you should also get a clear idea of general scholarship writing rules. These are necessary since a college you are applying to can describe some special requirements only because it is considered that you already know a bunch of general rules and you have to combine them with the particular ones. That is why you should benefit from guidelines published online. Try Bates College Tips to make your essay stand out.
Avoid common expressions and try to be unique
Well, it may sound strange, but most admission committees do check scholarship essays for plagiarism. You are expected to present your unique personality and that is why the committee wants to make sure that this is really so. In fact, even if you didn’t copy the content elsewhere – don’t leave it to chance. Some common expressions and widely-used phrases in your paper may fall short. Check your text online using PlagTracker to make sure that no nasty surprises happen.
Other useful tips
- Make sure to read the instruction attentively. Do you understand what is written there? Not really? Then read it again and do not start writing before you get the idea. If you have any doubts – contact the university administration and ask for clarifications. Don’t be shy. At least, it is your path to your bright future!
- Create an outline before you start. This will help you keep your thoughts and ideas organized and you will not forget to include everything you want.
- Write in a clear, concise, simple and straightforward manner. There is no need to use complex and long sentences since you risk making mistakes and puzzling your audience.
- Try being original. Think about some personal stories and episodes that made you set your sights on choosing this particular academic career. Tell the stories, but don’t go over the top with jokes and informal language.
Don’t let a scholarship essay discourage you! Every student has to go through it, so brace yourself up, arm yourself with these tools and pieces of advice, and good luck!
A study conducted by AdmitSee, an undergraduate and graduate application-sharing platform created by University of Pennsylvania students, found students who used certain words, wrote about certain topics or even just wrote with a certain tone in their application essays were more likely to get accepted to one Ivy League school over another.
Upon analyzing its application archives, AdmitSee found students who referred to their parents as “mom and dad” in their application essays were more likely to get accepted to Stanford, while students who called them “mother and father” were more likely to receive a Harvard admission offer.
These findings, which were published by Fast Company, are based on essays — 539 of which were from students who were accepted to Stanford and 393 of which were from students who were accepted to Harvard — uploaded to the site at the time the study was conducted.
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So how does AdmitSee gain access to these application essays? The site invites college students, who are identified and verified by their official school IDs, to upload their application materials. Once uploaded, their application materials can then be accessed by high school students who are preparing for the college application process. Every time a high school student views a college student’s application materials, that college student is paid a stipend by AdmitSee.
AdmitSee found students whose application essays had a sad tone were more likely to be accepted to Harvard than Stanford. Specifically, essays written by students who were later admitted to Harvard focused on overcoming challenging moments in life. These essays frequently included words such as “cancer,” “difficult,” “hard” and “tough.”
This finding proved to be almost the exact opposite of what admissions officers from Stanford were looking for. Essays featuring a creative personal story or an issue the student was passionate about were among those accepted to the California-based school as opposed to Harvard, according to AdmitSee. These acceptance-winning essays often featured words like “happy,” “passion,” “better,” and “improve.”
AdmitSee also found surprising differences in the way Harvard and Stanford handle legacy applicants.
AdmitSee cofounder Lydia Fayal said that these differences play out primarily in the SAT scores and grade point averages of legacy versus non-legacy candidates.
“Harvard gives more preferential treatment to legacy candidates than Stanford,” Fayal said in an email interview. “Based on our preliminary data, the average SAT score at Harvard is 2150 for legacy students and 2240 for non-legacy; meanwhile at Stanford it’s 2260 for both legacy and non-legacy.”
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Fayal also said based on AdmitSee’s data, she found that the average GPA is three-tenths of a point lower for Harvard’s legacy students than it is for non-legacies. At Stanford, the average GPA of legacy students versus non-legacy students is just one-tenth of a point lower.
“If you take out diversity candidates and student athletes, the difference between legacy and non-legacy students gets really scary,” Fayal said.
Fayal was unable to provide exact numbers on this data – she said AdmitSee needs to wait to receive more applications containing this type of information.
Upon further quantitative analysis, AdmitSee found the most common words used in Harvard and Stanford essays have similar themes but are nonetheless different. For the Massachusetts-based Ivy, these words were “experience,” “society,” “world,” success” and opportunity.” For Stanford, they were “research,” “community,” “knowledge,” “future” and “skill.”
College admissions counselor Katherine Cohen didn’t find the differences between the application essays written by students admitted to Harvard and those admitted to Stanford surprising.
“Stanford and Harvard, while both extremely prestigious universities, actually don’t have that much in common when it comes to the feel on campus, their under-lying values, etc,” Cohen, who is also the founder and CEO of college admissions counseling company IvyWise, said in an email interview. “So it makes sense that they would be looking for different types of students, and therefore different kinds of essays.”
While the data collected from students admitted to Harvard and Stanford is the most specific, AdmitSee also collected interesting information on other Ivy League schools.
“There are 745 colleges with at least 1 application file on AdmitSee.com, and 286 colleges with 10+ application files on the site,” Fayal said.
For example, AdmitSee’s data indicates the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell favor essays about a student’s career goals. Like Harvard, Princeton tends to admit students who write about overcoming adversity. Essays that discuss a student’s experience with race, ethnicity or sexual orientation are well-received by Stanford, Yale and Brown.
Further, when looking specifically between Yale and Brown, AdmitSee found that Brown admitted more students who wrote about their volunteer experience, whereas there was no conclusive data that confirmed Yale favored essays of this type.
While AdmitSee’s findings focused specifically on applications submitted by students who were accepted to Ivy League institutions, the site has application materials for a wide variety of schools on its site.
AdmitSee co-founder Stephanie Shyu said, according to Fast Company, students who are gearing up to apply to college can learn two major lessons from the company’s data. One of these lessons: it is a good idea to craft unique essays for each school.
Fayal said that she wasn’t surprised that AdmitSee’s data reflected this tactic. It was a lesson she also learned during her time as a college consultant.
“I’ve worked with enough students to know that students should customize their application essay by university,” Fayal said. “I hope that, by releasing AdmitSee data, we’re leveling the playing field for students who can’t afford private college consultants.”
And Cohen agreed.
“Each school has slightly different values and focuses on different attributes, so the words, attitudes and themes expressed in a student’s application and college essays do matter when it comes to their chances of admission at one college vs. another,” Cohen said. “That’s why it is usually rare for a student to get accepted to every single Ivy League even if they have straight A’s, perfect SAT/ACT scores and 5’s across all their AP exams.”
The second lesson: students should aim to make their essays reflect the culture of the school they are applying to.
“The essays of admitted students are also a reflection of the community at these institutions,” Shyu told Fast Company. “It can provide insight into whether or not the school is a good fit for that student.”
Lea Giotto is a student at the University of Michigan and a summer 2015 USA TODAY Collegiate Correspondent.
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