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How-Tuesday: How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

It's that time of year again! Students across the nation are applying for school and applying for scholarships and grants to pay for school.

One of the easiest scholarship applications you'll fill out all year is ours - for the 3Rivers Scholarship Contest! Along with a simple, general application, we're requesting you submit a short essay (500-1,000 words) that speaks to the following topic:

Credit unions exist on the philosophy of "people helping people," and 3Rivers' mission is "helping people understand money matters every day." If you were to develop a financial education program, what topics would you consider most relevant to students, which delivery channels (the means or format by which the information is delivered - online, television, mobile, in-person, in print, etc.) most likely to connect with your generation, and how would you measure the success of such an initiative?

Image source: / Photographer: Sfio Cracho

We get that writing an essay isn’t always easy or exciting. And writing an essay for a scholarship or as a part of your college application is quite a bit different than writing one for your English Literature or American History course. Don’t sweat it though, we’ve got a few tips and tricks to help you out:

1. Answer the Question

Most of the time, the topic or theme of the essay is pretty obvious because the scholarship sponsor or the school you’re applying to will provide you with it. It can be all too easy, though, to start responding to the question and end up letting your mind drift elsewhere... leading you fulfill the word-count requirement, but not even really respond to the question at hand.

It's great that you're distantly related to Abraham Lincoln, have an impressive Furby collection, and have known since pre-school that you'd be a Boilermaker, but if the essay question was, "How do you intend to use social media as a positive learning tool during your time in college?" then none of those fun facts really matter. Sorry! Constantly remind yourself to tie back to - and stick to - the point.

2. Have a Thesis Statement

You just can't get away from thesis statements, no matter what kind of paper you're writing! Make sure you don't forget that one sentence that sums up the entire point of your essay! If it helps, include terms like "although," "even though," and "while," since these show that you're looking at what you have to say from all angles and not just one.

For example, if you're a fashion lover writing an essay on why you're majoring in Business instead, your thesis statement may read something like, "My lifelong goal is to own my own fashion label, and although fashion design is my favorite pastime, obtaining a degree in Business at NYU will be my key to success because leadership and entrepreneurial skills are the most important elements when it comes to running a company.” Your essay, then, should discuss two to three strong points or examples that support and tie back to this statement.

3. Make Every Word Count

It is incredibly important that you remain within the requested word limit set by scholarship sponsors. If the essay requires 300-500 words, try not to submit yours with more than 50 words above or 50 words below. If it's 500-1,000 words, try to keep it no more than 100 above to 100 below and so on and so forth. Keep in mind that some scholarship sponsors will not accept an essay if it’s too far above or below the word limits they’ve set.

If you're like me, you might have to cut a lot of the fluff in order to meet the word limit requirements - and it might be difficult to let go of what you've worked so hard on, because sometimes every word reads just right. But the cleaner and more to-the-point your words are, the better.

On the other hand, if you struggle to meet the word requirement, get as close as you can, but don't go adding in filler just because you need to get there! Make every sentence and every word count!

4. Proofread

This is perhaps the single most important piece of advice we can give you: Read, read, and re-read your essay before submitting!

The best way to proofread? Out loud. You might feel silly doing it, but you're going to catch so many more mistakes and awkward phrasings if you do it this way. In addition, if you can, have a friend, family member, teacher, or advisor proofread it for you, too. The more eyes you get on your first drafts, the better.

5. Get Passionate

We've all been there: assigned paper topics that simply don't appeal to us. They can be the most daunting of assignments and take every last ounce of motivation for us to knock them out if we just don't care about the subject matter. Regardless, you must find a way to be passionate about your scholarship and college application essays

Although there will be a specific topic or question you have to respond to, YOU ultimately have the answers and the power to turn it into something you can get excited about and believe in. And in the end, you want the judges to believe in you. Be proud of your accomplishments and life experiences and share them as examples in your essays. You have the right to brag a little here! Get passionate, get creative, and let it all out. You can go back and edit later.


Remember, the 2017 3Rivers Scholarship Contest deadline is Thursday, April 27 at 12 PM EST. Questions? Get in touch at


For more advice on essay writing, check out this article.

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