The list -- offered by Michelle Showalter of Scholarship America, writing on The Scholarship Coach blog in US News & World Report -- could just as easily have been directed as those trying to get into college, since the pointers are universal. But the points will serve you well, no matter what purpose your essay.
Topping her essay-tips-to-avoid list is the most obviously and one of the cautions most ignored: Don't rush. "You may work great under pressure," Showalter writes, "but no one is at his or her best when rushed and stressed. Start your application early and give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm ideas."
Other essay traps to avoid:
- Not knowing your audience: Take some time to get to know the organizations that are sponsoring the scholarships.
- Picking a "vanilla" topic: Google "popular scholarship essay topics" to find the ones to steer clear of.
- Uncreative writing: Use imagery to draw your reader in. Paint a word picture.
- Using "text speak": We'd all roll our eyes to think some high school senior would use "LOL" or "IMHO" in a scholarship essay, but "text speak" has been creeping into essays, according to Showalter.
- Submitting it unpolished or unproofed: Polish it, hone it, perfect it . . . and don't forget to run spell check. Read it aloud. Read it backwards. Ask your parents or a trusted adviser to read it. A sloppy error can be costly.
A recent survey of 48 admissions officers from selective private colleges found they look for three things in the college essays they read: a unique perspective, strong writing and an authentic voice, according to Carol Barash, writing in The Alternative Press.
"A unique perspective shows how you see the world and what difference you have made through your actions," writes Barash, founder of Story To College. She suggests listing 20 or more moments when you learned a key lesson, changed in a fundamental way or made a difference in the lives of others.
Think you should write like you do in English class? Think again, Barash advises. "Write with the power of storytelling," she says.
Finally, your "authentic voice" needs to be your voice, not what you think you should sound like. Begin by telling your stories out loud. Use your phone or your computer. Even better, gather a group of friends and tell your stories to one another.
OK, it's almost summer break. I know you've already got Sun & Fun on your mind. But for high school juniors, there's something even more important: starting (and finishing!) the first draft of your college admissions essays, according to Doodie Meyer, president of Meyer Educational Consultants. There's more than one advantage.
"Plan ahead and be proactive," Meyer says. "That way, you will be able to do all the other things you love to do in the summer!
"And, who knows? Perhaps, a summer endeavor will turn into a captivating story that needs to be told to an admissions officer."
Arnie Rosenberg is the founder of The Center for Essay Excellence. He writes regularly about college essays and their importance to the college-admission process. Contact him at Arnie.Rosenberg.Editor@gmail.com.
© 2014 The Center for Essay Excellence