How I stopped worrying and learned to love my scholarship application essay: tips on essay writing

by Rob Taylor

For our scholarship, we ask students to tell us how they have been making, or have made, Canada a better place to live. The winner receives a scholarship made up of $1 from every sale of the Entrance Awards Directory. This year we're just shy of $500.

We just finished going through the applications for this year's award, and while every applicant was exceptional in their efforts, there are some things that could be improved.

Canada is a unique, wonderful and multi-cultural country ...
Yes, yes. This is the way that about 40% of the essays that I get begin. And I'll bet the other essay contests that deal with community service from a Canadian perspective get the same thing.

Now, if you wrote an essay that began like that and submitted it to us in previous years, don't panic. I didn't let my growing dislike for the phase (or variations thereof) affect my judgment or the judgment of the scholarship committee.

Just for the record, I looooooove Canada. I'd marry it if I could. But I already know that Canada is a unique, wonderful, peaceful and multi-cultural nation. Most people know this, I think. What we want to know is how you're making Canada a better place to live. We want to know what you're doing to contribute to the country. Speaking of which ...

I haven't done anything yet, but in the future I'm gonna be doing awesome things!
Many people write in and say that although they haven't done much yet, they will contribute to Canada in the future. I'm sure you will, but you haven't done anything yet. In the business world, they call this a proposal and you can get money for it - as long as you enter into a contract to produce a result. For the purposes of our scholarship, and the vast majority of awards, you need to have done something already to qualify.

So this is a lesson for those of you in the lower high school grades: start contributing now if you want to qualify for these kinds of community service awards.

I was on this committee, this committee and this other committee. The end.
When I get an essay that describes all the organizations that a person belongs to and does not tell me any of the things they may have done in those organizations, it makes me wonder a little. You might be the most qualified candidate, but unless you tell me what they did, it doesn't help your cause.

I was the head of this movement that really helped my community. And also this other one. The end.
Show, don't tell. This is important. If you say something like, "I organized The Green Moss food drive in my community," it really doesn't show me how you were making Canada a better place to live. It would be much better to say, "I organized The Green Moss food drive in my community. This was a drive where, by organizing troubled youth into a dedicated team, we were able to raise a record amount of food donations. We did this by ..."

This is the paragraph where I say a bunch of stuff that does not really have anything to do with the essay topic. I do it all the time in the essays that I hand in for school. I use my thesaurus to find big words and use seven words when one will do. I'm doing this because I'm trying to pad my essay to meet a word count requirement and to make it look like I've done more.
Yeah. Most people are going to be able to see through this in university and college and it's not going to help your cause. Also, we notice when your margins are extra-wide and your font is really big.

Look at my official transcripts! And my six letters of reference! And clippings from that time I was in the newspaper!
Great! Except we don't require them and I don't look at them when students send them in. Unless I ask for something, don't send it in.

So that's about it for this year. I'm sure that next year I'll be back with a bunch more notes. Be sure to read the article from last year and keep up all the great work!

Modified on April 23, 2009