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Tips for Formatting Scholarship Application Essays

When you are preparing a scholarship application essay, make sure to pay as much attention to the scholarship essay format as you do to the content. Individuals who judge college scholarship essay contests look very closely at the essays they receive and evaluate them based on content, writing style, adherence to instructions and format. Good formatting should be invisible to the eye, just as bad formatting immediately jumps out to the reader. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, so follow these tips to ensure the format of your essay is professional and reflects the scholarship guidelines.

Formatting an Essay on the Computer:

  • Before you start writing, check if the scholarship contest specifies a font style, font size, line spacing and page margins. You’ll want to follow those instructions to the letter – that shows judges that you not only have good attention to detail, but also dedication to winning the scholarship.
  • Use a font that is professional in appearance and easy to read. Recommended fonts include: Arial, Calibri, Tahoma, Times New Roman and Verdana. Do not use a script or “cute” style font.
  • Do not use a font that is too small or too large. If a font size is not specified in the instructions, use a size between 10 and 12 points for the body of your essay and 14 points for the heading.
  • Limit your use of italic, bold or underlined text. If you’d like to add a bit of emphasis to a particular word, putting it in italics is preferable to making it bold or underlined. Don’t rely on styling your text to get your point across; your words should speak for themselves.
  • Make sure your essay is free of typos, grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. Use any spell-check tool in your word processor of choice, but also give your essay a critical read for small errors. Even if you have proofread your essay several times, get someone else to proofread it before you send it in.

Printing an Essay to be Mailed In:

  • Print your essay on high quality paper. Most applicants will use standard copy paper and your essay will stand out if it is on a better type of paper.
  • If your printer is running low on ink, replace the toner or ink jet before printing your final copy.
  • Make sure there are no smudges or unnecessary creases on the paper.
  • Do not fold the essay or application form. Use an envelope large enough to hold all documents without folding them unless the instructions specify a smaller envelope.

Saving an Essay to be Submitted Digitally:

  • Make sure to save your essay in the preferred file format as specified by the scholarship rules. If you are given the choice of formats, saving your essay as a PDF is the most professional option.
  • Give your file a clear name. Try including the name of the award, your name and the year of the contest. Avoid “keysmashing” or including words like “draft” in the name of the final essay.
  • When copying and pasting a scholarship essay into an online form, rather than uploading, give special consideration to how your essay appears once pasted. Online forms do not typically support indents, emphasized text or paragraph spacing. Make sure your essay is legible before you press submit.

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Last Reviewed: September 2020