Write Winning Scholarship Essays: The Simple, Quirky, Underdog Tale
Editor's Note: If you have this hunch that just one, amazing, polished essay can make-or-break your chances for college admission or needed scholarships, you're right. Essays are a big deal, not to be rushed or scuttled in your haste to send an application in. This series provides a college essay sample and tips on writing a strong piece. This is the first of three posts about writing great college essays.Want to know what winning scholarship essays look like? Take a look at this college essay sample from Paul Hastings, who won $1,000 through Get Educated's scholarships for nontraditional students.
Paul is 22 years old. That's a normal age for college, but he's a nontraditional student. For one, the Texas native will be attending school at Thomas Edison State College, a New Jersey school, fully online this fall. He also works full-time, has traveled the world, is an active blogger, and was home-schooled his whole life. He is keenly aware that his peer group is fully comprised of traditional brick-and-mortar college-enrolled students, and he honed in on that in his essay to illustrate just why he's so different.
Topic: What an Online College Degree Means To Me
Twice a year Get Educated provides several free grants for tuition grants, and like so many others, we have a “500 words or less” essay component to our application. This is our standard topic for everyone, every year, and Paul's application stood out in a major way.
Traits of Winning Scholarship Essays
I pulled out excerpts to illustrate the the top 3 terrific things about his essay. To see the full college essay sample, check out the PDF at the bottom.
College Essay Tip #1: Fly Your Freak Flag High
Paul's essay showed both humility and pride. It's a tough pairing, but he delved into the uncomfortable process of witnessing himself from other peoples' eyes in his essay. He opens with his family's educational history: Both his dad and brother attended prestigious programs at traditional colleges.
"They never had to deal with probing questions from relatives not satisfied with their educational choices. They never had to listen to the skeptical sighs of neighbors unconvinced that they were more than anything than a bum living in their parent’s house.
They never had to face the scrutiny of disappointed mentors who simply couldn’t understand that the rules of higher education were being rewritten. No, my friends never had to face that...
...but I did."
By pointing out the stigma of his path as perceived among his community and peer group, he's taking a risk, and revealing that it bothers him. That's admirable. Dare to expose yourself.
College Essay Tip #2: Let Loose With Levity
Experts across the spectrum agree that humor is a key to many winning scholarship essays. That simplistic tip cruelly overlooks how hard it is, as evidenced by the giant teams who write comedy TV shows, to make someone laugh. Humor might not come naturally to you. That's OK. There's a way to make your writing fun to read, without struggling to pry some joke out of a story that doesn't feel remotely funny to you. Paul's levity in his essay is evident in his word choice and phrasing.
"Hanging a graduation certificate on my wall next year has never been my driving goal. After all, it’s only a piece of cloth."
"Instead of being a slave to a professor’s schedule and syllabus, I can volunteer with non-profit organizations, spend time with dying relatives, and travel the world."
"Staying out of debt has been important for me from day one so studying online has been a no-brainer."
Other Ways to Show Levity in Winning Scholarship Essays:
- Vivid descriptions of yourself or the people or situations you write about.
- Playfulness of sentence length, or very short or comment-like sentences.
- Self-awareness, which gives a nod to the reader, that says 'Yes, I know that you're reading this. Hi.' This college essay sample imagines the readers' eyes rolling as they consider her application.
College Essay Tip #3: Simplicity Rules. If You Over-Explain, Edit!
Part of the charm of Paul's essay is, he tells us just what we need to know, and nothing we don't. There are lots of really interesting things about this guy. For instance, after talking with him, I know he helped his family send his older brother to a brick-and-mortar college by cleaning houses. And that he gained many credits towards his bachelors degree online from a community college while he was still in high school. He left that stuff out, though and stuck to the basics. He even used numerals in his essay, which made it easier to read!
"1. Flexibility: No other form of college education would have ever granted me the liberty that I’ve enjoyed."
Without being too brief, he stripped down the content of the essay to just what was needed, organized it well, and tied it up artfully. Check out the ending:
"Hanging a graduation certificate on my wall next year has never been my driving goal. After all, it’s only a piece of cloth. The road always been just as important, if not more, than the final destination. I could have played it safe and taken the normal route like everyone else. But no, no. Normalcy wasn’t for me. Excellence was."
Learn more about the Get Educated online scholarship program.
About the Author:Jess Wisloski is an established freelancer and has worked as a staff reporter at some of New York City's leading fast-turnaround publications including the New York Times, the Brooklyn Papers, and the New York Daily News.
Scholarships for Automotive Trades
Get Paid to Learn the Trade
Like other educational pursuits, getting certified in the automotive trades creates significant financial hurdles for students. Specialized education does not come cheap, but there is financial help available in the form of grants, loans and scholarships. And the industry serves more than just automobile mechanics. Technical schools and automotive educators train a cadre of forward-thinking students, who land employment in specialized car-related fields like:
- Auto Body and Paint
- Collision Repair and Refinishing
- Automotive Technology
- Diesel and Truck Technology
- Motorcycle Technology
- Master Certified Automotive Technology
- NASCAR and Pit Crews
Students who enroll in these programs need help funding their certificate, associate’s and bachelor’s degree pursuits. A variety of interested entities bring automotive schooling into reach by extending financial aid to a wide cross-section of students. Student aid originates from diverse sources, including industry associations, foundations, educators, and private sector players. General financial aid from the U.S Federal Government and individual state education departments can be applied to tuition costs and other automotive training expenses at accredited schools. Refine your personal auto industry employment dream, and then target student aid designed to lift you into the proper educational programs.
Automotive Industry Associations
The Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, Michigan serves as administrator for a number of annual automotive scholarships. Eligibility requires interest and aptitude in qualified automotive disciplines. Financially needy students are given special consideration when they are enrolled full-time at accredited universities or colleges. Scholarships are put-forth for incoming freshman and upper-level undergraduate students, but all candidates must maintain the 3.0 GPA standard to qualify for the funds.
The application process requires students to submit the following materials:
- Academic transcripts
- Two letters of recommendation specifically supporting automotive aptitude
- Letter of acceptance to associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s program
- Proof of enrollment at accredited school
- U.S. citizenship
- Completed scholarship request
Alliance of Automotive Service Providers is a national industry association with local affiliates. The organization’s educational efforts include scholarships and grants that are issued by state chapters. In Minnesota, automotive career students received $16,000 during the 2012-2013 school year. Each award, worth $1000, helped offset tuition expenses for a 2nd year automotive student. Funding for the scholarships is generated through fundraising efforts and public/private partnerships.
Car-related companies are generous student aid benefactors. Automotive retailers pay scholarship dividends to aspiring industry professionals. While they are not necessarily automotive study-specific, they provide great sources of funding for trade students pursuing industry degrees.
- CARQUEST awards four annual scholarships worth $1,000 each to technicians and their family members. Additionally, employees of the company are eligible for education scholarships that can be applied to full-time tuition in automotive courses of study and other degree programs.
- AutoZone awards scholarships valued at $2,500 each to fifteen students every year. Qualified applicants are graduating high school seniors that are employed by AutoZone, or are dependents of someone who has worked for the company for at least one year. Community service, scholastic achievement, extracurricular school activities and leadership qualities are among the criteria used to determine winners.
Universal Technical Institutes supports and encourages technical education through its UTI Foundation. Students enrolled in auto industry disciplines like automotive repair, collision repair, motorcycle mechanics, marine repair and NASCAR programs benefit from scholarships, grants and career development initiatives put forth by the foundation. These UTI student aid resources address a variety of schooling expenses:
Advanced Training Scholarships are specifically designed for students who need to transfer to another UTI campus for elective classes or Manufacturer Specific Advanced Training (MSAT). A minimum of five $1000 scholarships are issued each month, to be applied to relocation expenses including travel, rent and utilities.
The Bridgestone/Firestone Technical Scholarship targets financially needy students attending the Sacramento, Rancho Cucamonga, Avondale or Orlando UTI campuses. One award worth $2000 is granted by each school, for each educational enrollment period.
William Burke Student Support Fund issues a single scholarship each year, to a student enrolled in the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute’s Early Model Program. The specialized award applies to the Orlando, FL campus, and is worth $1,100 annually.
A Partnership between UTI and Toyota Motor Sales matches scholarship dollars provided by the Cabito family. The Albert Cabito fund provides one $2000 scholarship each quarter to students enrolled at UTI or NTI automotive campuses.
Military Veterans Support Grants worth up to $750 are disbursed to veterans who are under financial duress sufficient to slow their access to automotive education. Funds can be used for school costs, relocation, and other education related expenses like rent and utilities.
Nissan North America, Nissan Neighbors and the UTI Foundation partner with Nissan and Infiniti dealers to fund scholarships for students interested in completing the Nissan Automotive Technical Training Program. The full-tuition scholarships are worth $5000 each, and can be applied to program requirements at NASCAR Tech, Houston, Orlando and Sacramento UTI campuses.
Dozens of other financial aid opportunities result from UTI/private sector partnerships that put forth jointly sponsored financial aid for automotive students. Individual UTI campuses provide up to date information about specific programs.
The Automotive Women’s Alliance Foundation (AWA) provides scholarship opportunities for women entering educational programs related to the international automotive industry. Engineering and design students at all collegiate levels are eligible for student aid that supports all aspects of the automotive field. The scholarship money can be applied to offset $2,500 worth of tuition costs and pay for other university fees. Women benefit from these additional gender-specific scholarships.
The Automotive Service Councils of California Educational Foundation offers scholarships to students pursuing careers in automotive specialties. High school graduates that plan to attend technical or vocational schools, and undergraduates who are already studying automotive fields are eligible to apply. Qualified candidates are California residents that have overall grade point averages above 2.0, and meet a a 3.0 GPA standard in their automotive classes.
The Automotive Parts and Service Association of Illinois (APSA) offers six scholarships worth $500 each to students interested in the automotive aftermarket industry. Candidates are Illinois residents that have member-sponsors willing to submit APSA letters of recommendation on their behalves. In addition, students who apply must have high school diplomas or GED equivalents, and be enrolled full-time in accredited school study-tracks. Eligible applicants are reviewed based on scholastic achievement and financial need. Scholarship winners can reapply for up to four years, provided eligibility conditions are maintained.
MassBay Community College automotive technician scholarships are for recent high school graduates, or adult students who are retraining. The $1000 awards are issued to qualified students who are enrolled at accredited automotive schools. Participants must complete programs that lead to degrees, and approved courses must be affiliated with specific automobile manufacturers.
Houston Community College (HCC) offers the annual BMW Automotive Scholarship to eight qualified students, which offsets their tuition for an entire year. BMW of North America sponsors the scholarship program, which distributes money for tuition, proper tools, textbooks and other college fees.
Candidates must meet current HCC registration requirements and be district residents. In addition to having at least a “C” average, incoming students must pass the state’s TAKS test and write a brief essay about why they should be awarded the scholarship. Eligible candidates are subject to driving records reviews, conducted by the scholarship selection committee.
South Arkansas Community College offers two industry and location specific scholarships to Arkansas students enrolled in automotive technology fields.
- The Trades and Industry Scholarship is typically awarded to a Union County high school graduate who is successfully enrolled in a dual vocational program. Eligibility requires completion of eight hours of credit work in the program, as well as a 2.5 or better grade point average. In addition, eligible students must be enrolled at least half-time during each college semester and submit a letter of recommendation from their high school counselor. Specific award amounts are based on availability of funds.
- The Jonathan M. Warren Memorial Scholarship is for El Dorado high school graduates who take part in the dual vocation program during high school. Eight hours of college credit must be earned to qualify, along with a 2.0 or higher grade point average. Students applying for this $500 scholarship must submit letters of recommendation from their high school guidance counselors, and enroll at least half-time. The scholarship is renewable for students maintaining GPA and eligibility requirements.