Writing Help

Scholarship and Award Essays

How to Be the Cream of the Crop

A lot of finalists will have perfectly edited essays with interesting titles and solid arguments, backed up by implications and other evidence that the candidates are smart, thoughtful, hardworking, and engaged. What will make your essay rise above the rest?

1. Do more research than the competition. On the practical side, note that some contests list the names of the judges. Look them up, learn what the judges value, and write with those particular readers in mind. Keep in mind that only one judge might read your essay carefully before you become a finalist. On the research side, give yourself extra time to research the topic. When the topic involves something like global warming, you can get specific data to back up your arguments. When the topic involves yourself, make sure that you get the circumstantial details correct: is that castle at Lake Bled really 900 years old, and is it really on the eastern hill? If you are writing about a personal experience, engage in some honest introspection to truly understand and account for your thoughts and feelings.

2. Write more drafts than the competition. Give yourself time to look at your topic from additional perspectives. Try out the same basic essay from different points of view. Maybe you should tell a vacation story through the eyes of your younger brother or your mother, or from the perspective of all of you together, or you might explain the same experience from each person's perspective to note the differences, or you could narrate it in the third person as though from a distance. Keeping in mind the values of the institution, maybe you should write the global warming essay from the perspective of a fish, a U.S. Government official, a Louisiana citizen, or an environmentalist, or you could put some or all those perspectives in conversation, or you could write a clear and precise scientific account. You won't have a good idea of how it reads until you give it a try.

Similarly, try different arrangements of phrases in a sentence, sentences in a paragraph, and paragraphs in the essay. As your experience develops and your style improves, you will gain a more intuitive sense of what structure will work best, so you will not have to go through all the permutations every time.

3. Get more help than the competition. It is not unusual for professional academics to spend a couple of years gathering information, writing drafts, and publishing a finished essay. During that time, a dozen people may have contributed directly or indirectly to the finished product: some of them have contributed ideas and provided research direction, while others have read multiple drafts, and still others have edited the "final" manuscript. (Check out the "acknowledgments" section of a book for a long list of names including family members, assistants, typists, and professional editors.) This process is completely acceptable, even though only one author's name might go on the finished project. This is because the author chose the thesis, maintained "creative control" over the project, and cited substantial contributions where necessary. You can do the same, limited by your time and other resources. Different people or services can contribute different skills. Let GradeSaver help you every step of the way.

4. Be remembered. You are more likely to be remembered favorably when something good stands out in your essay. As for admission essays, this can mean writing about something (1) specific, (2) unusual or startling, and (3) personally meaningful. See "How to Be Remembered" under Admission Essays for specific advice. Furthermore, an essay showing that you have mastered your subject will be remembered for sheer intellectual achievement.