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.