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Writing Scholarship Application Essays
Before completing essay responses within UAOnline...
- We strongly recommend applicants review the UAA Scholarship Essay Scoring Rubric document in order to help you understand what standard will be used to measure the clarity of profile question responses.
- Use a word processing program to write and save essays in the event technology issues occur while you are typing. Each essay is limited to 2000 characters (including spaces).
- Answer profile questions in essay form and limit the use of special characters and/or providing lists of information.
UAOnline Scholarship Application Profile Questions
On the UAOnline Application form, there are UA general demographic questions, UAA campus-specific questions and three short-answer "Profile Questions." Several of the demographic questions are required but all questions are important. We recommend you do not leave any blank. Your profile responses (or "essays") will be processed by scholarship committees to find eligible recipients. Each essay is limited to 2000 characters (including spaces) answering the following profile questions:
- Tell us about your educational and career goals. What are your plans and time frame for meeting your goals?
- Tell us about your activities outside of the classroom. This could include things like volunteer work, sports, clubs, leadership roles, family activities, hobbies, employment, or cultural activities.
- Tell us anything else that you would like the scholarship selection committees to consider when evaluating you as a scholarship candidate. This could include things like your financial situation your family or cultural background, honors and awards you have received, challenges you face or have overcome, personal accomplishments, or anything else you believe is relevant.
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General Writing Strategies
Use a Word Processor!
- Our most important suggestion is to write your essays in a word processor (Microsoft Word, Google Docs, OpenOffice, etc.) and then copy-and-paste it into the browser when you are done.
- By composing your essay this way, not only will you be able to easily check your spelling and grammar, but the character-count of each response as well.
- The "Submit" button at the bottom will save your responses. You can submit as many times as you wish until February 15th at midnight to be considered for the following academic year (ex: apply before February 15th, 2017 to be considered for the 2017-18 academic year). Note that if your essay exceeds the 2000 character limit, the essay will not save. After submitting/saving your application in UAOnline, quickly review the essay text-boxes to check that they have been saved.
Forget the Formatting
The text boxes in the UAOnline application are encoded in plain text only, so no matter how nicely you format your essay in a word processor (font, margins, spacing, italics, bold, etc.), it will all be lost when you copy-and-paste it into the browser.
Think of Your Essays Like a Story
- Bring together important experiences from your past and present with your future plans and goals, in order to communicate the moral of your story: "I deserve/need this scholarship."
- Like a story, the readers have not met the main character (you), so you have to summarize the important points of you and your story in a short space, and avoid extraneous detail.
- Be genuine. In most cases, trying to impress the committee will result in a lower over-all score than a flawed but genuine essay.
- It is also important to be unique. Good stories are in some way unpredictable and memorable. Depending on factors like your degree program, you may be considered alongside many other applicants, so separating yourself as a unique candidate greatly increases your chances.
Be Positive and Take it Seriously
- Telling us your struggles is important, but explaining how you have overcome them is even more important. Confidence is one of your greatest keys to a successful essay.
- Show that you have seriously thought about your plan for the future, even if you are uncertain about some aspects of it. Some of the highest scoring essays (briefly) outline backup and alternate plans.
Be an Active (Not Passive) Applicant
- You don't want to seem passive in your essays. This means that you should avoid phrasing your response to the prompt as "this will happen to me" but rather "I will do this".
- This means that in your essays you should take ownership of your response to the questions, and the subject of most sentences should be the word "I."
Which Order Should I Write the Essays In?
- Your story doesn't have to go straight from the beginning to the end. In fact, the application essentially asks the questions in reverse chronological order: goals for the future, extra curricular activities now and in the past, and anything else in your story that is important. We still recommend writing the goals essay first, since the other two essays hinge on your plans.
- Then again, writing about your future can also be the most difficult part. If you find difficulty answering the first prompt then write the second essay first, considering how experiences outside the classroom have formed you and your goals.
- Otherwise, write the last essay first. Write about your achievements, and the struggles that you have overcome. And as you think and write, keep in mind how you want to apply these lessons, skills, and achievements in the future.
Detail & Evidence
Provide as much relevant detail as possible. While generic statements are occasionally useful, the goal is to convey your unique situation.
Example generic statement: Being chosen as captain of the soccer team made me more mature.
Be more specific: What about being captain of the soccer team made you more mature?
Alternative statement: As the captain of the soccer team, I had to learn how to motivate and encourage my team-mates – not only when the game was going well, but especially when it seemed hopeless. I learned a lot from the challenges of leadership, and I aim to apply those lessons as a business executive after I graduate.
Keep it Simple
- Don't directly address the committee or reader. You have no way of knowing who they'll be, so don't spend too much energy trying to optimize your essay for an unknown audience.
- While rhetorical questions can be very effective, try to avoid them — especially direct ones like, "will you support this dream of mine?"
If you are applying for scholarships other than the UAOnline application, however, it may be effective to directly address the committee or reader, especially if you know specifically who will be evaluating your essays. Generally, the more specific the audience, the more effective direct addresses and rhetorical questions will be.
- Stay on topic. Don't mention something new for the first time in question 3 when it actually addresses question 1. As part of the writing process, you can expect to move pieces of your essays around.
Jump Right In!
- We've probably all been taught at some point to write broad introductory paragraphs before the body of an essay. Unless you have something important to explain up front though, feel free to leave it out and start by directly answering the prompt itself.
- The very beginning and end of each essay should directly relate to the essay prompt. Try to even re-use some of the key words and phrases from the prompt or rubric in the opening and ending sentences of your response. This shows that you take the essay seriously, and makes your essay as clear and direct as possible.
Working with the Essay Prompts
- Try This: Break the prompts into a series questions.
- Answer each of them clearly and concisely in one short sentence using some of the key words and phrases from the prompt.
- Then, provide a few (2-3) detailed afterward. End with another short sentence that reinforces (but doesn't just repeat) how the evidence fits your answer.
- In the following example, note the balance of detail and evidence as well as the connections between educational and career goals:
Working with the Essay Scoring Rubric
Essay #1: Tell us about your educational and career goals. What are your plans and time frame for meeting your goals?
"Student clearly articulates alignment between educational and career goals including reasonable time frame for accomplishing them."
- The committee will be evaluating the clarity, not the sophistication, of your essays.
- Don't treat your education and career goals as too separate things, but show their "alignment" and how they connect to each other.
- Finally, demonstrate your responsibility and foresight by providing details and evidence that your time frame is "reasonable." The purpose of this essay is to demonstrate your ability to make reasonable plans, and that you have thought seriously about them.
Essay #2: Tell us about your activities outside of the classroom.
"Student notes high involvement and compelling evidence that extracurricular activities (work, sports, volunteer work, family, etc.) have shaped their character and academic development."
- This question gives a variety of possible extracurricular activities to consider, but this does not mean you need to cram all of them into one essay. In fact, we recommend that you stick to a few of the possible extracurricular activities that relate most directly to your goals and plans.
Essay #3: Tell us anything else that you would like the scholarship selection committees to consider when evaluating you as a scholarship candidate.
"Student constructs a clear and exceptional [read "unique"] case, includes appropriate examples for deserving or needing a scholarship, and describes the impact that a scholarship would have on goals."
- Do not leave this essay blank! This essay is the place for you to fill in the context for your need for or reason why you are a great candidate to receive a scholarship. Again, it is very important to relate whatever extra information you give in this essay back to your goals and plans.
Presentation & Grammar
- "Essay is mostly free of significant grammar, spelling, and usage errors"
- "Reflects application of critical thinking skills"
- "Is thoughtful and articulated with clear command of syntax and vocabulary"
Your essays don't need to be perfect, but they need to be mostly free from errors. Also note that the committee is looking for a "clear" – not eloquent or sophisticated or complicated – command of syntax and vocabulary. The main goal in writing these essays should be to make your essays as easy to read as possible, in order to convey your merit or need for a scholarship in this short space.
Writing Resources at UAA
There are many campus resources to help you write successful essays. Please take advantage of these resources!
- UAA Writing Center: No appointments necessary. Tutors are available on a first come, first served basis. Please bring a draft of your scholarship essay.
Attention "UAA Spirit Quest" Participants
The secret word answer to the "Scholarships, Scholarships, Everywhere Scholarships!" quest is PROOFREAD!
College Board "College Essay Writing Tips: Write an Effective Application Essay" http://www.collegeboard.com/student/apply/essay?skills/9406.html
Norlin Scholars Program "Tips for Writing Scholarship Essays and Getting Strong Letters of Recommendation" http://www.colorado.edu/norlinscholars/apply.html