The lights dimmed. Darkness. The room settled. Silence. Then, the distant whirring of...something. What was it? Suddenly, brightness and sound and images launched me into a magical world. At age 6, my first movie experience made an indelible impression. Now, twelve years later, I embrace the formal steps toward becoming a unique storyteller. A visual artist. A filmmaker.

And that's just one example of...

How to Start a Scholarship Essay

So, look: who doesn't want free money? Scholarships are abundant; so are applicants. Your essay's first few sentences need to distinguish you. They must grab the attention--or imagination--to make your reader want to continue. There isn't one sure-fire way to write an essay, but here are some universal tips to help elevate each of your submissions.

Before Your Write
Get a pen and paper--not your computer, not yet--and brainstorm. Think about the question or topic you'll be addressing and write down everything that comes to mind, no matter how random or unrelated your thoughts may seem. Try to fill a page. Once you have that, sift through them. Rearrange the most relevant ideas into your outline.

As You Write
Make your intro short and sweet. Don't simply restate the question or say how you'll be answering it. Get right into it. Whatever the overall tone of your writing--whether scholarly or casual--you can engage the reader with either a pertinent story or a personal anecdote. As humans, we're more likely to identify with and remember a story, as opposed to just facts and figures.

Is there a quotation that might work as a lead for your essay? Almost certainly, but use caution here: many other essay writers will have the same idea, and they'll likely mine the same books and websites as you to find that quote. Other people's quotes don't reveal anything about you, which is really what the reader wants to know. Who you are should imbue your prose.

Another opening option: you could kick off with a question, just not the one you're trying to answer. If you're responding to "Why Does Recycling Matter?" then you could start with something like:

When was the last time you had to wade through three feet of garbage to cross the street? For me it was when I visited New York City one summer during a trash strike. The smell and filth were overwhelming. Today, though, citizens of Gotham are less likely to encounter that for one reason: recycling.

Be clear in your language: word selection matters. Use a thesaurus sparingly. Better to stick with the words you know--it keeps your writing more natural, more you.

Finally, keep in mind the school or organization sponsoring the scholarship. Let their values guide what you write. This doesn't mean that you should merely say what they want to hear; stick to your ideas, but express them in a way that your reader will appreciate. An essay for an athletic scholarship should read differently than one for a faith-based scholarship. Each of your application essays should be unique. One size will not fit all.

After You Write
These tips may seem obvious because they are. And that's usually where scholarship applicants trip up. So, take heed!

  • Rewrite. First drafts are just that, and they don't win anything. Good writing requires review and revision.
  • Use spellcheck but don't rely on it solely. Read your writing thoroughly and eliminate silly mistakes such as confusing our with are, or their with there. Same rule for an automated grammarcheck--let it be your starting point.
  • Proofread multiple times. Does your writing flow? Is your premise supported by subsequent paragraphs? Have you addressed the topic thoroughly? Is your copy lean and mean? Are you observing the correct style for the application?
  • Get a second opinion. Ask someone you trust for an honest appraisal of your essay before you submit it. If any feedback rings true, rewrite as needed.
  • Follow instructions regarding word count, format, or other formal guidelines. You don't want your essay rejected on technicalities.


Nitro and Other Options
We're more than just your source of the knowledge to pay for college. Our quarterly Nitro College Scholarship will award someone $5,000. All you need to do is provide brief answers to just three questions. (While you're at it, tell your friends. If someone you refer wins, we'll give you $1,000!)

There are four factors we consider in assessing each submission: quality, completeness, creativity of ideas, and creativity of the social media element. So tell us about yourself. It only takes a few moments and who knows? You might just be starting the next semester with a nice Nitro check in hand.

If you're essayed-out or just not that into writing, you can still have a shot at some free dough. Check out these no-essay scholarships.

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