Interview with Laura Stafford - International Scholarship & Tuition Services, Inc.

Do most scholarship applications require an essay?
Many, but not all, scholarship applications require an essay. Whether or not an essay is required often depends on the purpose and eligibility requirements of the scholarship program. For example, an employee program may not require an essay, whereas a public program with an emphasis on future goals will likely require one.

What is the purpose of the scholarship application essay? What are the scholarship providers trying to learn about the applicant?
The scholarship application essay provides information about the applicant which is otherwise difficult to communicate in a short answer response. For example, an applicant may list community service activities in one area of an application, but an essay related to community service allows the applicant to explain why that service is valuable or how it develops character in those who participate. Sponsors can also learn how the applicant has demonstrated leadership or overcome significant obstacles or adversity in life. The essay also lets the sponsor know if the applicant can express ideas well in writing and the amount of time and effort an applicant is willing to give to apply for an award. 

What recommendations can you provide applicants for selecting a topic?
The nature of the essay topic usually depends on the purpose of the scholarship. When selecting a topic, the applicant should write about an idea or experience that is personally meaningful. This gives the applicant the best opportunity to highlight their strengths and values while maintaining a tone of sincerity. The applicant should understand the purpose of the scholarship program so the essay can appropriately express why he or she is a good candidate for an award.

Any general tips on the essay writing process?
Applicants should not underestimate the importance of correct grammar and spelling in an essay.  The essay should be professional and well-organized and it is always a good idea to type the essay in a text editor (such as Word) and check for grammar and spelling before copying and pasting into an online scholarship application. Also, if there are parameters or restrictions set for the length of the essay, stick to them.

I recommend that a teacher or advisor review the essay before submission. Applicants should read the final version of the essay and consider what it communicates to the reader. Above all, the applicant should keep in mind that the scholarship essay is an opportunity to tell a scholarship sponsor more about him/herself.