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Six tips when applying for scholarships

Six tips when applying for scholarships

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How do you write a great scholarship essay? What makes a scholarship application stand out? How do you ask for a reference? Here’s some direct advice from King’s Vice-President and Chair of King’s Scholarship Committee, Dr. Peter O’Brien, excerpted from a webinar he co-delivered on Dec. 12.

On writing an essay for a scholarship application:

  1. Write an organized essay:“You’re shaping your thoughts in such a way as to persuade your readers of your ideas on that topic. You want to organize it around a thesis, as we say in the university essay business. You could ask your teachers about this if you needed some guidance. But generally, a thesis is a proposition, a main idea or hypothesis, that you state clearly at the beginning of the essay, but which is something that needs working through.”
  2. Stay within the word count:“Writing an effective short essay is often a longer piece of work than writing a long essay because you’ve got to choose, you’ve got to prune, and you’ve got to balance everything for effectiveness.”
  3. Proofread your essay:“You can proofread it yourself. You can also get help in proofreading it, as long as the person that’s helping you out isn’t actually writing the essay, but only picking out aspects of it that aren’t clear or that are grammatically wrong or spelled atrociously or what have you. Make sure you’re presenting yourself cleanly because that’s part of being persuasive in writing.”
  4. Don’t try to game the system: “Don’t try to write an essay that says what you think your readers want to hear. Express yourself as authentically as you can, and that means coming up with an argument that you believe in as well as one that you’re trying to persuade your reader of.”

On asking for a letter of reference:

  1. Do it early: “Alert the person you’re going to ask that you’d like to have them do this… Do it in writing. Write in an email: ‘Would you be willing to do this for me,’ and supply the person you’re asking with some key bits of information—links to King’s, and links to the scholarship so that they know what kind of thing you’re asking. Once they agree to do that, you might supply them with other pieces of information, like your own CV or even a completed draft form of the application that you’re going to submit. It just gives the writer of the recommendation more material to work with when they’re writing an effective piece of advocacy on your behalf. You can follow up after you send the email, verbally, always being aware that you’re asking a favour, not demanding a service; that always helps.”
  2. Make sure your writer knows the deadline: “Be clear about that upfront so that you avoid disappointment and last-minute rushes.”

For more from Dr. O’Brien on scholarship essays and applications, see this video excerpt from our scholarships webinar. You can also view the full scholarships webinar video with Dr. O’Brien and King’s Assistant Registrar of Student Recruitment Dr. Yolana Wassersug, on King’s YouTube channel.


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