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A Breakdown of Advice: Scholarship Application Essays

Today, I will be following through on a suggestion that I was sent following my previous post. As a quick backstory, their children all graduated college, but they noticed that there were more and more sources available for students applying to colleges and seeking scholarships, specifically those requiring essays. They wished that these sources were more readily available, and asked if I would like to produce something similar.

For any topic that is presented to me, it's essential that I have something to add to the conversation. My purpose isn't to re-hash the advice that's already available. Instead, I want to try and build on that advice and discuss where applicable why it's made and suggestions as to how to interpret it.

By no means will this be a comprehensive account of what a scholarship application should look like.

The first step or set of steps usually listed has to do with understanding the given task and planning. In attempts to tell a unique story or take a unique approach, I've seen many students create products that appeared to be unrecognizable as the products of the task.

In the planning phase, I usually suggest that students first directly answer any questions posed by the prompt in one or two sentences. Then, use those questions and those answers as a starting point from which to carry out any planning strategy that operates in a way similar to how the student thinks.

Some concepts of plans can include, but are not limited to, a standard outline, bulleted lists, a set of notes set in any format (some use graphs for this), or a form of web or mind map. For further strategies, my first series of posts can be found under my "Constructive Planning" category.

The reason why this step is usually so extensive is likely akin to why we have unusual signs in front of stores or on the road or unusual warnings on products and machinery. People have taken the planning phase for granted, and it shows, but the same sources tend to be a little more prescriptive in their approach. Where these sources fall short is that they will give one or maybe two distinct planning options.

While these options might work for some students, they don't always coincide with the ways that students learn and think. Students should try different methods available to them and see what works best. Maybe the answer is to combine a few standard methods or to create their own.

The planning phase should ideally do the following:

  1. Acknowledge each step of the given essay task taking into account the minimum and maximum length. Try not to go below or above these bounds as some evaluations tend to be more strict than others.

  2. Answer each posed question to the extent that it can be pursued within the bounds of the essay.

Another set of advice often given has to do with tone, and at times, this information can appear contradictory. "Be yourself," but also "be professional," but also, "follow the guidelines of what could be expected in a standard essay." The advice is vague, and even if all of them are true, they're treated as separate entities. The process of writing an essay like this should ideally be motivating, not discouraging.

Some research into the scholarship provider, whether it's the school being applied to or a separate entity, can give a good idea of what expectations for essays are in terms of tone. Sometimes, they even offer examples of essays that have won their scholarships in the past.

Above all, the tone should be as honest and genuine as possible, even if it might embellish reflection on a past event. The best examples of writing, student or otherwise, read as natural and are usually easier to write.

Start here.

Keep in mind that not everyone will be as receptive to a particular communication style. One of the major flaws in the ways academic institutions operate is that they aren't always receptive to different and equally valid modes of communication. Sometimes a revision will be needed to ensure that you are accommodating the expectations of the scholarship provider.

In these cases, your writing is not inherently wrong. Start with a piece of writing that is natural and genuine to you, and then if you can, focus on the tone.

While it's understandable that students might have strong monitors (see my posts or other resources on Monitor Theory) and could be prone to editing while writing or might write with a higher level of anxiety. Writers can't always ditch their monitors.

For writers who find it difficult to work without their monitor, my recommendation would be to make small adjustments. 1. ) Look for any indication of repetition or wording that does not properly convey intent. Some people prefer to read their writing out loud to themselves or to others.

2.) If you can, practice more formal language if providers appear to be seeking it. Try not to use a lot of figurative language or anything that can be determined to be slang or jargon unless it is necessary. In the case of jargon, which might be needed, consider clarifying it. Know that, for formal language, it's still best to use vocabulary that you're comfortable with. While a thesaurus might be useful, words have connotations and might convey a meaning that isn't intended or appropriate to the context.

3.) Try and get feedback from more than one person, and consider speaking to people with different backgrounds. It's difficult to know what resources students might have at their disposal. If you are able, speak with an instructor that you trust or someone within the school faculty, a guidance counselor. Another option would be to ask the staff at a local library to see if they can help or have recommendations.

Knowing the expectations of your scholarship provider is as key as knowing the task that is given to you. While laying the groundwork and setting expectations is important, it can also be helpful to look at and analyze some examples, something that will be done in the next Breakdown of Advice.


Thank you very much to everyone who has provided feedback to Purposeful Prose thus far, and a special thanks to VG for their wonderful recommendation.

If you have any recommendations for future Purposeful Prose posts, please do not hesitate to contact me. I will be answering queries from members first. If you would like me to see and write your suggestions first, you can become a member. If you become a member, you can like and comment on my posts, and you will be able to make use of my forum.

Next week, I plan to discuss the next chapter of Loaded Language!

For further posts and updates, you can follow the Purposeful Prose LinkedIn page.

As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


Grammarly. (2021, May 6). How to Make Writing Sound More Professional. Grammarly Business. (n.d.). Top 10 Tips For Writing Effective Scholarship Essays -

von Ebers, N. (2022, March 2). How to Write a Scholarship Essay and Win BIG [2021-2022 Edition]. Scholly.

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Vita Viviano
Vita Viviano
Apr 15, 2022

So well done! Beginning with understanding expectations, directly answering questions posed in the application, and remaining within stated guidelines are all crucial but are often forgotten or tossed by the wayside in the anxiety of completing such a task. This is an excellent resource for anyone embarking on this type of essay!!!


Apr 15, 2022

Excellent guidance on writing scholarship or admissions essays. Paying close attention to the guidance the grantee provides is particularly important. I also highly approve of the advice to be "honest and genuine" within certain boundaries. I would say, as a further thought, that readers are impressed by true originality, which is rare. A young writer who already has a distinctive and authentic voice is going to have an advantage. And I say this as someone who definitely did not have it at that age. Trying to BE distinctive and authentic when you're really not capable of it is probably a doomed approach.

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