Financial Matters:  Write your Way to a College Scholarship

If you have registered with a scholarship search engine such as fastweb.com, make sure you have reviewed all the possibilities. Check with your high school’s college counseling office. It can be a wealth of information about scholarships offered by local civic groups and businesses that may not be found online. With local scholarships, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that scholarship amounts are usually much smaller than national scholarships. The good news is that there are fewer students competing for it, and sometimes only a handful. Before you discount a $500 or $1,000 scholarship as not worth the effort, look at the application requirements and look at your opportunity cost (you’ll be learning about that in economics!). If you can complete the application in as little as two or three hours and win the scholarship, that’s the equivalent of earning hundreds of dollars an hour — not too shabby! Piece together several small scholarships and, before you know it, you have a nice contribution toward your college costs that will at least cover the cost of your first semester’s textbooks. And, hey, as I like to say, $500 is a lot better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick!

Nowadays, with annual college tuition exceeding $60,000 at many schools, even the most affluent families are grateful for any additional scholarship help.  Although some essay contest committees are need-based when selecting winners, many others look only at the merits of the essay. Writing a dynamite essay can pay off handsomely, and, unless the topic is unusually specific, essays can often be tweaked to fit the requirements of several contests.

Here’s how to minimize your time and maximize your efforts. First,

  1. Accumulate a list of essay contests and make note of the essay required for each, grouping those that address similar topics. Next, pend some time crafting a really good essay, one that knock the socks off your English teacher. You should already know the drill.
  2. Start your essay with a good hook. Your opening sentence has to grab your reader’s attention.
  3. Write descriptively. Paint a scene that places your audience right in the middle. And specifics are far more powerful than boring generalities. Use specific examples and work on those descriptive phrases. 

Good essay writing is about editing and re-editing. Even Shakespeare could not get by on a first draft. Every revision will help your essay shine even more. If you’re motivated by money, think of it this way. These essay contests are a part-time job that can potentially pay you far more than most any hourly wage job available to high schoolers. Winning one essay contest is easily the equivalent of the monthly wage from most part-time jobs.

Here’s a list of essay contests to get you started. You can find more by Googling “scholarship essay contests.”

Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead Scholarships

The Jane Austin Society Essay Scholarship

The National Peace Essay Contest  

The American Mensa Educational & Research Foundation Scholarship 

Profile in Courage Essay Contest 

Spirit of Anne Frank

American Foreign Service High School Essay Contest

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