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Application Essay Advice

December 24, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

Continuing on the college admissions theme from yesterday, there's a great piece in the Wall Street Journal about the dreaded college application process.  If you're still struggling with those application essays or the thought of the college interview has you panicked, you might want to check out their tips from admissions officers at several competitive private colleges.  Two things struck me when reading their tips.  First, most of this sounds a lot like what I told my students as a college composition teaching assistant.  Second, this advice can easily extend to writing effective scholarship essays.

Most of the advice falls into the category of "be yourself."  Colleges aren't necessarily looking to admit the most indisputably brilliant students in the country, but rather individuals who will contribute to the campus community.  The best tips the Wall Street Journal article offers, at least as far as admissions essays and writing scholarships go, are to choose essay topics that are meaningful to you (even unconventional ones) and to avoid polishing essays to death.

While it's tempting to go straight for the most impressive or altruistic thing you've done if you're asked to describe an experience, admission officials say it's better to go with a topic that actually reveals something about your character.  This definitely goes for scholarship applications, too.  In a stack of essays about volunteering in South America, your story about convincing your peers in the rural Midwest to walk the 12 blocks to school rather than drive may stand out more than you think.  A seemingly mundane essay topic can be interesting if it's written well and it has a clear purpose.

As far as writing well goes, proofread (at the very least, check spelling and grammar and take out notes to yourself or your parents before submitting) but don't adopt such a formal style that all personality is lost.  As long as an essay is written well and isn't way too informal (avoid slang, cursing, and stories of sex, drugs, and bodily functions), your essay is probably professional enough for most admission offices and scholarship essay contests.  Even when you're applying for a law scholarship, writing like a lawyer isn't necessarily the recipe for success.

For more essay-writing tips, check out our resources section.  To find somewhere to use this advice, you may want to use our college search and our scholarship search.

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Scholarships , Tips


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by Scholarships.com Staff

While there has been much speculation that economic woes would drive students away from more expensive schools, generous financial aid packages, such as those offered by many Ivy League schools, may be driving early applications up.  It's speculated that students whose resources have been reduced and whose options may be limited are vying for any college seat with a full-tuition scholarship attached.

Early action and early decision college application deadlines have now passed at the majority of competitive private colleges.  As the schools begin sorting through these applicants and making admission decisions, many are reporting that numbers are up, in some cases way up.  Stanford University has seen early action applications increase 18 percent this year, while early decision applications have increased by 23 percent at Duke University.  Other selective schools, such as Yale and Northwestern, have seen similar increases, as well.

While regular applications have held steady at Harvard University, other private schools that have seen a surge in early applications have heard from fewer regular decision applicants.  The regular admission pool may have thinned due to students paring down their lists or choosing less expensive state colleges as safety schools.  This could be good news for all of the early applicants who may find themselves bumped into the regular admission pool, though many schools are worried that fewer applicants could ultimately mean fewer enrolled students, especially if more students follow the money to the most affordable schools.

If you're a high school senior still in the process of applying for college, you may want to check out the articles appearing in The New York Times and The San Jose Mercury News this week and consider modifying your college search to take advantage of shifting application patterns.  If you're in the market for a private college and you have the time and money to put together a couple extra application packets, it could pay off, especially if you're able to wait until April or May to make your final decision as to where to go.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Barack Obama's victory in the November election is regarded by many as a historic event.  Whether or not they voted for him, a large number of people feel personally affected by his election as President.  If you have something to say about the importance of this event and what the next four years might bring, expressing your opinion could net you $1000 in scholarship money through this week's Scholarship of the Week, an essay contest sponsored by NLS Publishing.

The Students for Change Essay Writing Contest is seeking scholarship essays of 1000-2000 words that describe, "what the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American President, means to you and your family."

Prize:

Three $1000 scholarship awards

Eligibility:

High school seniors, graduate students, and undergraduate students may apply.  Applicants must be attending college full-time at an accredited United States college or university, or must be planning to enroll full-time in the fall of 2009. 

Deadline:

January 20, 2009

Required Material:

A typed, double-spaced essay answering the prompt, accompanied by a contest entry form.  Essays may be submitted via a variety of methods.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

We've said it before and I'm sure we'll say it again.  Despite the economy, money for college is still available.  A scholarship search, a visit to your college's student financial aid office, and a quick perusal of recent college news should all confirm this.  But if you're someone who needs additional empirical evidence, a survey conducted by the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, a group representing private colleges (whose students typically rely more on institutional aid than state college students) also supports this conclusion. The results, which were published Thursday, show that only 8.4 percent of institutions surveyed have frozen or cut student aid for either this academic year or the next.

While not fantastic news, when taken in context with the rest of the survey's results, it is encouraging.  Nearly 68 percent of colleges reported a significant decline in their endowments and many colleges reported concerns over fundraising, tuition, and other sources of revenue.  Despite this, though, colleges seem to be putting their students' interests first when dealing with budget concerns.  For example, 31 percent of colleges surveyed don't yet have plans to increase tuition for 2009-2010, and at least two respondents specifically mentioned increasing student financial aid in their comments.  The most popular cost-cutting measures have been freezing hiring, restricting travel, and slowing construction.  Cutting student services, campus-based aid programs, and academic programs have been the least popular moves.

To find out more about how small private colleges are weathering the economic downturn, you can visit NAICU's news room.  To scope out private colleges near you, conduct a free college search on Scholarships.com.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

While many colleges are finding the funds to expand their financial aid offerings in response to economic woes, state higher education systems have not all been so fortunate.  Michigan and New Jersey are both considering cuts to their state scholarship awards, the Michigan Promise and New Jersey STARS programs.

In the face of a $1 billion budget shortfall, Michigan may have to do away with the state's promise scholarship, in addition to making several other tough financial decisions.  The Michigan Promise offers residents up to $4,000 per year towards tuition and fees at state colleges and universities.  If the proposed budget cut goes through, the class of 2009 will be the last group of high school students to have this award available for college.

When faced with budgetary woes, the state of New Jersey also turned to its state academic scholarship programs, New Jersey STARS and New Jersey STARS II.  However, rather than scrap the programs entirely, the legislature has voted to make them more selective.  STARS, which pays for tuition and fees at community colleges will now be available to only the top fifteen percent of New Jersey high school graduates, while STARS II, which helps STARS scholars go on to complete a four-year degree at a state college, will only be available to students who maintain a GPA of 3.25 or higher.  The amount of funding for STARS II, previously the total cost of tuition and fees, will now be capped at $7,000 per year.

>While cuts to college scholarships and grants are discouraging, they are still rare and are happening mainly at a state level, as states struggle to balance budgets in the face of a continuing recession.  Scholarship opportunities are still out there, and students who find their planned sources of funding drying up or diminishing due to the recession are encouraged to keep up their scholarship search.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

Amid all the bleak news about college affordability, family finances, and the economy in general, it's nice to hear something good every now and then.  And there is good news out there.  Despite financial hardships, many colleges are not only continuing to offer generous financial aid packages, but are actually expanding scholarships, grants, and tuition waivers for needy and deserving students.  As a taste of what's out there for students across the country, we're presenting a roundup of campus-based aid programs announced this week.  Conduct a college search on Scholarships.com to learn more about these and other schools committed to helping students enroll and stay enrolled.  While you're at it, be sure to start a free college scholarship search to find more ways to fund your education.

A number of cities, states, and universities offer promises, guarantees, or other commitments to cover four years' full tuition for financially needy or academically gifted students.  While a wave of these scholarship and grant programs were launched in financially better times, more are still being unveiled in the current economic climate.

Manchester College in Indiana has rolled out a "Triple Guarantee" that promises to make college more affordable and less stressful for its students.  Qualifying students are guaranteed a combination of federal, state, and institutional aid up to the total cost of tuition and mandatory fees for four years.  Students with a 3.3 GPA or higher who qualify for the Pell Grant are guaranteed full-tuition grant aid.  On top of paying tuition for four years for needy students, the college also guarantees four-year graduation for everyone who meets progress requirements, and will allow qualified students who need a fifth year to attend for free until they graduate.  Finally, the school also guarantees a year of free tuition for additional coursework or certifications for students who fail to find a job placement or a spot in graduate school within six months of graduation.

In a similar vein, St. John's University in New York is also offering a substantial tuition discount to unemployed alumni.  Graduates of St. John's who were laid off in the economic downturn can return to college to pursue a graduate degree for half-price.  Alumni will also receive free career counseling services and see their application fees waived for graduate programs.

Finally, Texans get multiple pieces of good news.  More students at Rice University will be able to graduate debt-free, as the university has expanded its no loan program to families making up to $80,000 per year.  Students with family incomes over the $80,000 threshhold who still qualify for need-based aid will not be asked to borrow more than $10,000 in student loans for four years.  Lamar University is also making college more affordable for Texans by unveiling the Lamar Promise, which will cover tuition and fees for all freshmen and transfer students who qualify as "dependent" students for federal aid whose families make less than $25,000 a year.  Students who make more are likely to also receive substantial financial aid packages.  Tuition assistance will come in the form of state, federal, and institutional financial aid.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

An open letter to Congress appearing in The New York Times and The Washington Post yesterday joined what is quickly becoming a chorus of voices asking for financial aid for higher education institutions.  The letter, which was put together by the Carnegie Foundation, was signed by over 40 higher education officials, including leaders of several state university systems.  The letter requests that Congress devote 5 percent of the next stimulus package to improving higher education infrastructure, namely state colleges.

Leaders argue that the infusion of cash into state university systems will help keep America competitive on a global scale, noting that for the first time ever, the segment of the population between 25 and 34 years of age is not as well-educated than the previous generation.  The letter argues that construction and renovation projects are an important first step for colleges and universities that want to remain competitive, and that these projects would immediately generate jobs for displaced workers.  While the signers recommend applying the money towards infrastructure, they suggest that it be given to states in the form of block grants that would supplement state education budgets, leaving open the possibility of other forms of spending.

This follows two other proposals for higher education's inclusion in stimulus packages.  Both other proposals called specifically for increases in student financial aid.  While this proposal doesn't do that, it may help prevent some tuition increases and discourage state budget cuts that would negatively impact the ability of public college students to pay for school.


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HANDS Essay Contest

December 15, 2008

by Scholarships.com Staff

For many college students, finals week is under way.  Even students who aren't currently worried about cranking out dozens of pages of college essays or cramming for comprehensive exams are probably facing a homework crunch during the time leading up to winter break.  So chances are a 2,500 word scholarship essay is the last thing you want to think about right now.  However, if you're a talented writer who is interested in community development and international affairs, you might want to squeeze this week's Scholarship of the Week into your schedule.

Hands Along the Nile Development Services has announced its scholarship essay contest for 2009, with a top prize of $5,000.  Full-time undergraduate or graduate students, as well as high school seniors, are invited to participate.  Essays should address the following question: "How is community development in the Middle East important to the United States?  Why is it particularly crucial to focus on Egypt?"  If this is a topic of interest to you, the upcoming break is a perfect time to start researching and writing.  If nothing else, writing this essay might make you feel better about all the studying you have to do right now--after all, there are much bigger challenges in the world than passing that chemistry final.

Prize: 

     
  • First prize: $5,000
  •  
  • Second prize :$2,500
  •  
  • Third prize: $1,500
  •  
  • Two honorable mentions: $500
  •  

 

Eligibility:

Applicant must be attending college full-time at an accredited United States college or university.  Graduate and undergraduate students may apply.  High school seniors who will enter college in 2009 are also eligible. 

Deadline:

July 4, 2009

Required Material:

A response of no more than 2,500 words to this year's essay prompt.  Essays must be formatted according to the HANDS essay contest rules, which can be found on the contest website.  Essays and verification of enrollment must be submitted on paper.

Further details about the application process can be found by conducting a free college scholarship search on Scholarships.com. Once the search is completed, students eligible for this scholarship award will find it in their search results.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

With bailouts, economic stimulus packages, and a number of other pieces of emergency legislation being passed to prop up seemingly every aspect of the economy this year, a group of organizations connected to student financial aid are asking for additional support for college students.  In a letter to Congress, thirteen higher education advocacy groups, including the Project on Student Debt and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, asked that the next economic stimulus legislation include expansions to financial aid, namely Federal Pell Grants and Federal Work-Study.

While maximum Pell Grant awards have gone up slightly in recent years and legislation such as the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act has helped students continue paying their bills, these thirteen advocacy groups feel that more still needs to be done.  Family 529 plans and other savings, as well as college endowments, have taken enormous hits, putting tuition costs potentially further out of reach of many.  Meanwhile, private loans have become harder for students with poor credit or no cosigner to obtain, further jeopardizing some students' ability to continue attending college.  Advocacy groups hope that stimulus legislation can help alleviate these college financing problems.

The letter called for four major changes.  Two involve contributing more to existing federal aid programs, a third suggests making minor adjustments and clarifications, and a fourth involves establishing an emergency fund for students who have been hit hardest by the recession.  Under the proposed plan, Congress would increase the maximum Pell Grant amount to $7,000 per year (it's currently $4731) and fully fund the program.  Funding for campus-based work-study programs would also increase by 25%.  The group also would like to see PLUS loans become easier for families to learn about and obtain.  Finally, the group suggests that an emergency student loan pool be created for students who still are unable to meet their financial need through help from their schools, college scholarships, and federal student financial aid.  This pool would only be available at institutions that show a strong commitment to helping students pay for school.

While there's no guarantee Congress will incorporate any of these suggestions, higher education groups are hopeful.


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by Scholarships.com Staff

If you're thinking of heading off to a community college next year to either pick up an associate's degree or save some money on your core credits for a bachelor's degree, expect company.  Similarly, if you're planning to attend a for-profit career college to up your chances of landing a decent job, you are definitely not alone.  During recessions, people typically flock to college, often choosing cheaper or quicker degree programs to help them get on their feet and be more competitive on the workforce.  Enrollment is up at career colleges and community colleges are expecting a similar increase.  While reduced state higher education funding and continued troubles in the private loan market are causing some problems at two-year and career colleges, both types of schools are expecting major increases in enrollment as more Americans deal with fallout from the faltering economy.  If you're heading off to college in 2009, you definitely want to take all of this into account.  Apply early for admission and financial aid, and register early for classes.  Several community colleges are also instituting programs to fill empty seats in classrooms with unemployed students, so if you typically wait until almost the start of the term to register for classes, you may have more trouble finding a seat than you have in the past.  While students enrolled in online degree universities won't have to compete for physical space, they may still notice some effects of increased enrollment.  With state universities and community colleges facing budget cuts and increased enrollment, you may face more competition for fewer resources as everyone searches for ways to save money.  One group of students may actually see less competition, though.  The number of students taking the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) this year is down, suggesting that fewer students may be planning to apply for graduate programs. Typically, like community college and career college applications, graduate school applications go up during recessions.  However, while MBA applications are up this year, many programs that require the GRE may see fewer prospective graduate students.  The effects of the credit crunch on student loans, the uncertainty of the economy and employment prospects, and the desire not to lose a source of income were all listed as possible reasons for this decrease in an article in Inside Higher Ed.


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