When applying for college scholarships, a great number of awards require you to write an essay. On many occasions, those scholarship statements are about you. They focus on something you did or a career goal you have. In addition to these typical types of statements, there are essay prompts centered on social issues.
Essays on social issues require different components than personal statements. It’s kind of like college application essays versus papers you wrote as a high school senior. One is more formal with quotes and citations while the other one is about your personal journey. Answering a scholarship essay prompt should look much more like an argumentative essay than an application you wrote for college admissions – this is what winning scholarship essays look like.
So, how should you approach common scholarship essay questions that ask about a social issue? The tips below are designed to help you navigate your way to a successful answer and to help you grow into a great scholarship essay writer.
Take a Position That Answers the Question: What Do You Think?
When writing a scholarship essay on a social issue, you must answer the question and take a position.
It’s important to remember that you are not simply reporting on the facts or describing an event; you are trying to persuade the judges that your point of view is the right one.
If you don’t take a position, it’s likely that your essay will fail to convey your feelings and ideas in an engaging way. In order to write an effective scholarship essay, you shouldn’t stay on the fence and describe two sides of the issue. Merely describing something is boring, ineffective, and worse yet, forgettable.
Keep in mind that any scholarship committee wants to know what you think. Above all else, they want to know what your analysis is. In other words, what is your prescription to help solve the issue you’re writing about? And, is your position bolstered by sound logic and evidence? You’ll need to check these boxes if you want to do well in answering these types of essay questions.
The last point you should know about taking a position is that it should be done in your opening paragraph – a point that is true for any essay format you use. This is because the scholarship application process is competitive, and the first thing a scholarship committee reads is your opening paragraph. If you don’t grab their attention right away, they may be motivated to move onto the next essay.
To be clear: the best way to gain the attention of the scholarship committee is by stating your position on the issue at hand. Are you against it? For it? Why? You should also explain why it’s important that you take this position over another one. After all, there are many different beliefs out there!
The best scholarship essays are those that offer new perspectives on a topic. Don’t say what is obvious or what others are likely to say. Instead, try to find something surprising and insightful about your topic. Remember, popular scholarships attract many applicants so you’re likely competing against many other students. They are all giving a perspective, too, and it won’t help to say what they’re saying.
Here are some examples of things NOT to say:
“There should be more scholarships for women.”
“People with disabilities should be treated better.”
“Our country’s prison system needs reform.”
All of these points are great, but they’ve been said in the above kinds of ways so many times before that they’re not going to get any points for originality. You have to express your own unique point of view on the issue, one that hasn’t been expressed by anyone else yet!
If you’re examining a topic that has been studied well, ask yourself what related issues we may not be thinking about or paying attention to? This can give you some ideas on how to form fresh a perspective on a social issue.
It’s also acceptable to take an established position and then add your own flavor to it. This is one way you can show a scholarship committee that you’re really thinking hard about the issue at hand. You may even want to show that you know what others are likely to say, but insist that they’re missing something important. For example, “when it comes to [insert issue], it’s likely that most people would argue [insert argument]. While this is compelling, it doesn’t consider [add your thoughts].”
Ultimately, try to ensure that your answer won’t be duplicated many times over.
Use Logic, Expert Opinion, or Stats to Bolster Your Position
When you’re writing a scholarship essay on current events and social issues, you need to make sure that you have all of the evidence needed to support your position. To do this, you’ll need to use logic, expert opinion, and evidence to build your position. Here’s how:
Logic: Your argument should be logically sound— For instance, if (depending on the issue at-hand), you say that, “All politicians make too much money” and then say that “The current mayor is not compensated enough for all the work that she does”, then this doesn’t make logical sense. The argument falls apart! This may seem obvious, but it happens all the time. Be sure to edit your work and ensure that your arguments make logical sense.
Expert Opinion: Your essay may include quotes from experts in the field—people who have been studying this issue for years (or decades). These quotes will help support your argument and persuade readers that even the experts agree with you.
Evidence: You may also include facts from studies or surveys that back up what you’re saying. For example: “In a recent survey taken by [name of organization], 47% of participants said they were bothered by [something specific about my issue]. That number goes up even more when taking into account …”.
The above points will give your position credibility. However, to ensure your position comes across clearly, sketch up an outline for your essay that includes your points, and then start writing.
Advice from Every Writing Guide … Good Grammar is Key!
It’s one of the most overstated essay tips, but it bears repeating: when writing a scholarship essay on a social issue (or on any issue, for that matter!), good grammar and clarity are key. You want to be sure that your point is clear, and that you’re communicating it well. This can be tricky—but it’s also one of the most important things you can do if you want your essay to get noticed by a scholarship committee.
One way to make sure your writing is clear is to use simple language. Avoid complex sentences and long words; instead, use short sentences with simple words. This is great advice for writing essays because many students run into trouble when they write to impress rather than to communicate. If someone may have to consult a dictionary while reading your statement, think hard about a simpler way to say make your point. Words are meant to be precise instruments, so when they’re not used that way, it can be confusing to your reader.
So, in simple terms, don’t get too wordy. Brevity wins the day here—you want your reader to understand exactly what you mean with just enough detail and explanation so they can follow along easily.
Scholarship essay topics may vary, but your approach shouldn’t. Easy scholarship applications are rare, if they can be found at all, so building your writing skills will be a big step in helping you pay for college.
If you really want to help finance your college education, start visiting scholarship directories and scholarship organizations now. Finding scholarships is the first part of the process and knowing how to answer common scholarship essay prompts is the second (there are also other skills like asking for a scholarship recommendation letter that can help you for other types of scholarship applications). There are tons of scholarships for college students and scholarships for high school seniors as well. If landing money is one of your professional goals while getting a college education, find scholarships, write scholarships, and be the next scholarship winner. Now it’s time to tackle those college scholarship essays!