Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writing the College Scholarship Essay Part 2

The initial planning of the essay seems to present the most stress for students.  Starting is often the most difficult part of the entire writing process.  After you have figured out the theme of the essay or the requirements of the judges, it is time to begin the actual writing process.  This is where you will tell your story.  It is important, to begin with, to simply get your story out on paper.  Obviously you will write multiple drafts before you finalize your essay and submit it to the evaluation committee.Keeping the theme in mind, your goals, and your outline, you will write your first draft.  After you have written this "skeleton" and included the basics from your outline, it is time to review the first draft and fill in details that do more than simply tell your story.  You should go back through the essay and show, through use of example, every place you told the judges something.  If you had to work through high school because you had to help support your family, use details to make a personal connection to the judges.  See the example, taken directly from www.scholarshiphelp.org.
My family does not have a lot of money. I worked my way through high school at Walmart.
This is a good piece of information to share. However, the message can be made more vivid by sharing more detail.
My family does not have a lot of money. I worked at the local Walmart most evenings and did my homework on the bus ride home or after work.
Much better. Now the judges know that you were very busy and can feel the squeeze of needing to earn money and still get your schoolwork done. One more time.
My family does not have a lot of money. We work together on a schedule so I can earn money for college and stay on top of my schoolwork. Most weekdays after school, I attend one of my club meetings then catch the late bus home. I usually finish my math homework on the ride. I get home in time to grab supper ahead of time (Mom always has something ready on the stove) then work on other homework until Dad drives in at about 5:35 pm. We pass each other in the driveway, transferring keys and information. ("I aced the math test"; "It needs gas on the way home.") The fifteen-minute drive gets me to Walmart in time to punch in for the 6 pm to closing shift. On nights that the family needs the car, Dad drives me both ways. I'm home again by 9:30 pm, in time to chat with my folks and watch thirty minutes of ESPN before going to bed.
Now this is a cool guy in a great family. Everybody participates, everybody cooperates. You can feel the close timing involved in making this situation work. You can hear the easy interaction of people who like one another. You know that this guy is not a robot because he needs a little human interaction plus a little TV before starting over. We like him. Don't you? We'd like to help out this family; they deserve it. Bingo! Your essay may not look exactly like this, but you get the picture.  You need to help the judges "get the picture."

Notice this example is written using present tense language.  Writing in present tense encourages readers to live your information with you.  Use present tense when possible.  Refresh you writing when you can by using more descriptive nouns and verbs for adjectives.  It can make your writing sharper and be more appealing to the judges.  For example, try substituting "he was a tyrant" for "he was a brutal man" or "he was sprinting" for "he was running quickly."

Your introduction is key in hooking your reader.  This example, taken directly from the website noted above suggests a possible opening for a discussion of a student's work with a literacy program.
I am a literacy volunteer. I did not decide to do this work because studies report that 21 percent of adults (over 40 million) in this country are functionally illiterate or because 43 percent of people with reading deficiencies live in poverty or even because 70 percent of people with reading deficiencies have no job or only a part-time job. My reason for becoming a literacy volunteer was much simpler. My Dad couldn't read.
Okay, I'm hooked. I didn't really know how bad the literacy problem is, but, even more, now I need to know if this person was able to teach her Dad to read, and how this person, with an illiterate parent, made it to the point of applying for a scholarship and heading for college.

Transitions are one of the most difficult parts of the writing process.  The trick is to show your reader where they are going next and why it's a logical next step. Try not to use standard transitional phrases like "Secondly" or "In addition." Try repeating the prior thought and connecting to the next task. For example, "The time I saw my mother reading to my father I knew I had to help him; the trick was figuring out how to help.
Rather than using the conclusion to summarize, reemphasize the main point or circle back to the beginning and tie the loop. Consider the example above with the literacy introduction. The body of the essay should have been about the student, her efforts as a volunteer, her feelings about the difficulties faced by those who can't read, her recognition of the gift that reading is, and her decision to pursue a teaching career as a result of her experience. This story begs for a conclusion that answers the question, "Did her Dad learn to read?"

Dad may never read Dostoyevsky
Dad never did learn to read. But through his struggle, I learned that I want to give the gift of literacy to others, the gift that no one has been able to give to my Dad.

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