Asking for money is always a little awkward.
While writing about it isn’t any less uncomfortable, it can be both humbling and empowering—and win you the financial aid you need to pay your way through college.
So if you’re looking for scholarship essay tips (or any kind of financial aid letter), check out these tips to get you every dollar you deserve.
1. Set it up with a narrative introduction—a story about who you are, where you come from, and where you want to go.
There’s a fine line between what some might consider a pity party on the page and an inspirational story.
Are you the first in your family to have the chance to go to college? Did you overcome something major that made you want to succeed in life even more? That’s a great way to start. Just keep it short and sweet — or you’ll risk entering into a long lament that weakens your case.
2. Be specific about your goals.
Do you know what you want to major in, what kind of impact you want to have on the world, what you want to study? If not, are you looking to explore what career path will call to you once you’ve explored many subjects?
Let them get to know you and where your financial aid is going — any good investor wants to know their prospects, so be sure to share yours with the folks willing to finance your education.
Also, if you’ve got good grades, extracurriculars, or other all-star qualities, feel free to name-drop them, but don’t brag (you know when you’ve crossed that line).
3. Prove that you’re not just asking for a handout: you’re working for it.
It helps to highlight anything you are doing to pay for college, whether that’s a job or a work-study application still in process. Give them percentages and specifics on how much your family might be able to provide, how much you can cover on your own, and how much you need help with.
Will holding down 3 jobs to pay your way affect your studies and ability to succeed in your classes? Probably. So say that. And, don’t talk about how much you’re already spending outside of school-related stuff. Stay focused.
4. Keep your closing statement professional, but polite.
Good idea: “Thank you for considering my application and potentially providing additional support as I work and study my way to a brighter future.”
Bad idea: Imploring language, more than one use of the word please, or anything that sounds like “should.”
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from high places.
You can always ask a guidance counselor, college advisor, or someone in the career services office to look over a draft of your scholarship essay for you and offer suggestions. Having a second pair of eyes is always a good idea.
Also, we’re not sure what people did before Google, but there are some great examples out there. Just be sure not to buy a pre-written letter or essay online—not only will they have seen it before, but, hello, you’re trying to make a case for financial aid.
When it comes to your financial aid letter or scholarship essay, time could literally mean money.
When sitting down to write your financial aid letter, think about it the same way you would any other essay: keep your eyes on the prize, try to keep emotional language out of it, and stay focused.