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How do I know if my scholarship essay is a winner?

QUESTION: I need help with my scholarship essay. If I were to get the scholarship that I am applying for, I would save my folks $1,000. The school costs $7,500. To my family it's a lot of money that we don't have. My main concern is how my essay sounds. How do I know if my essay is a winner? Signed, Scholarship Hopeful

Dear Scholarship Hopeful: For many scholarship competitions, the essay is what sets apart the winners from the runner-ups. The essay allows applicants to share more about who they are beyond the dry statistics of the application form, and many selection committees use the essay as the final deciding factor among applicants with similar qualifications.

In speaking with scholarship judges and in having judged thousands of applications ourselves, we have found that there are three questions you can ask yourself to determine if your essay is a winner.

Is your essay personal? This is probably the most important question to ask yourself when evaluating your essay. Scholarship selection committees want to learn more about who you are, where your passions lie and what makes you different from the other applicants. Your essay should tell them something about you that is not found in your application.

Are you writing about something about which you are passionate? You will write the best essay about something that is close to you and that you know intimately. It's easy to tell when applicants write about a topic that they really care about versus one in which they only have superficial knowledge. Write about what you know and what excites you.

Do you show why you are the most qualified for the award? You don't have to explicitly list the reasons why you should win the award, but it's important to keep in mind why the organization is providing the award and what qualities they are looking for when selecting a winner. Your essay should present parts of your background that match what the organization is looking for in a winner.

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Gen & Kelly Tanabe

Gen and Kelly Tanabe are the founders of SuperCollege and the award-winning authors of 11 books on college admission, financial aid and scholarships. Together they were accepted to all of the Ivy League colleges and won more than $100,000 in merit-based scholarships to graduate from Harvard debt-free.