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Scholarship Essay Strategies for Everyone

Scholarship Essay Strategies for Everyone

Phi Theta Kappa’s Fall Scholarship Application opens this week, on September 15. It’s your opportunity to apply for more than $600,000 in scholarships to help you complete a bachelor’s degree upon transferring or to cover the cost of certifications, training, and other tools as you prepare to enter the workforce.

The essay question is key to the success of your application. On the Fall Scholarship Application, it asks you to explain your most significant endeavor. This is your opportunity to tell the judges who you are, what you’ve accomplished, and what matters to you.

Heather Herbert, a PTK alumna and scholarship winner, shared scholarship essay strategies during an Educational Forum at PTK Catalyst 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri. Her advice focuses on four practical planning steps:

  1. Prepare to apply
  2. Understand the scholarship
  3. Decode the prompts
  4. Decide how to present your story

Prepare to Apply

First things first: Know that you are worthy and deserving of this scholarship. Scholarship judges want to read your amazing story, and Phi Theta Kappans are some of the most incredible students around. Don’t let any fears, insecurities, or embarrassment hold you back.

Next, get your fans on board. Hopefully, you’ve already contacted your potential references. If you haven’t, reach out to them as soon as possible to request a reference. Don’t forget to share a copy of your application with them to use as a reference when they’re writing your recommendation letter.

Think about your marketing. How do you want the judges to see you? What kind of personal brand are you creating with this essay and application? Create a scholarship resume to reuse data for commonly asked questions.

The Fall Scholarship Application is a good way to kick off a broader scholarship search, so don’t stop here. Find transfer scholarships at CollegeFish.org. Check with your current college and its foundation to see what else is available. If you’re transferring soon, check with your target four-year college and its foundation. Search also in your future industry and with local and national charities.

Finally, decide your strategy and set your calendar. Which scholarships are you going after? Will you only apply for a few big-ticket scholarships, or will you compete for many, smaller awards? Map out the scholarship due dates and know the challenges and benefits of both approaches. The Fall Scholarship Application is due November 15.

Understand the Scholarship

Start by reading the scholarship requirements. Prioritize those that are your best fit, but don’t rule out others.

Map out the rubric — it’s there if you look closely. Applications will often “tell” you the judging rubric in the questions asked.

Next, do your research about the organization offering the scholarship. If it’s a transfer scholarship to a four-year college, then let the college’s motto, mission statement, or values guide you. Phi Theta Kappa, for instance, celebrates outstanding academic achievement, strong leadership, and campus and community engagement. The Fall Scholarship Application wants see examples of this.

Now, decode the prompts. What do the questions really mean? Be sure to answer each question in its entirety.

Decode the Prompts

Here are examples of common application questions, decoded.

Personal Prompts: What challenges have you overcome? What experiences have you had? Who are the people who inspire you? What motivates you?
Decoded: Share the personal traits that prove you’re a good investment.

Goal Prompts: Why are you interested in your field? How does your academic work support your goals? What contribution would you like to make in your field?
Decoded: Tell us about your passions and show us you’re informed and invested, so we can invest in you.

Service Prompts: How do you make a difference? Who has made a difference to you? Tell us about your most meaningful volunteering experience.
Decoded: Demonstrate that you care about others, so we can take care of you.

Achievement Prompts: How have you demonstrated leadership? What is your most meaningful achievement? Why do you deserve this scholarship?
Decoded: Show us that you have achieved, so we can support your future achievements.

Decide How to Present Your Story

First, know your strengths. What do you offer that no one else does?

Be sure to share your passions. As a Phi Theta Kappa member, it’s obvious that you’re passionate about learning and achievement — talk about that by illustrating the ways your major, leadership experiences, volunteerism, or career goals are aligned with your passions.

When asked to write about a challenge or experience, make sure you frame it properly. Only about 5 percent should be about the challenge or experience; 95 percent of your answer should tell what you learned, how you grew, or what you did to create change for yourself or others, while also illustrating impact.

And, always give specific details. Show how you make a difference. Tell why your field interests you. Use numbers if you have them.

Finally, be yourself! You are extraordinary, and you deserve to be recognized.

PTK’s Fall Scholarship Application will be open September 15-November 15. Learn more. View and download Heather Herbert’s PowerPoint presentation HERE.



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