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How to write a winning scholarship essay

Scholarship essays can be an intimidating prospect for students. Essays are always challenging, but now you have to write about yourself, with money on the line? It's no wonder students feel overwhelmed.

But don't worry! We here at WyzAnt have seen thousands of scholarship essays. Drawing from this experience, we've put together five tips for writing a winning scholarship essay. Use this advice to stay focused, stay confident, and write the best essay possible. Better yet, we've put past WyzAnt Scholarship winners on the site for you. You can read real winning scholarship essays and use them as examples or inspiration.

Whether you're applying for WyzAnt scholarships or any other, follow this advice and you're sure to do your best. With the right approach, anybody can write a winning scholarship essay.

1) Answer the question

First and foremost, make sure you're answering the right question. Scholarship essays often ask you to respond to a specific question or topic. This may seem obvious, but students sometimes make simple mistakes. Writing about something unrelated is to fastest way to see your essay rejected.

The 2011-2012 essay question was, "What is the most important lesson you have learned in your life?" Second place winner Iman provides a great essay example, directly answering the question in her conclusion.

Today I walk across the school campus, smiling genuinely, because I know that I'm unlike anyone else. This is the way the world should be, and this is perhaps the most important thing I've learned: my differences aren't my weaknesses, they are my strengths. They are what make us as a nation, strong.

2) Be yourself

We want to hear about you! Tell us about what makes you different and unique, and let us know what you’re passionate about. Write in your own voice and avoid unnatural "thesaurus words." And be careful that you don't write an essay about someone else. Students sometime make the mistake of focusing on people such as parents or teachers. It's OK to write about other people as long as you tie it back to your own life.

2012's first place winner, Jesse, mentions her sister and parents several times in her essay. They are, after all, important people in her life, and it's natural for students to write about other people who have influenced them. But Jesse stays focused on herself, explaining the lessons she learned from her family.

I would never have it any other way. Nevertheless, with my sister, I learned very early in life the value of money. When we were younger, times were hard, but our parents did their best to give us everything we needed. There was a time where the only piece of furniture our family owned was my sister’s and my bed—I knew, even before I realized it, how valuable it is to have everything I needed.

3) Get to the point

Scholarship essays often have word counts, and WyzAnt's is no exception. When your essay is only 300 words, make sure every word counts. Don't write a lengthy introduction and try to cram the body of your essay in the last 100 words. Make sure your essay is specific and focused - avoid big topics that are hard to fit into a small word count. Stay on-topic and get to the point.

2012 third place winner Elena hits the ground running with the first sentence of her essay, giving us a great example of how to start a scholarship essay.

Being the first born child in my family has given me the challenge of figuring out what my purpose in life is and what I should be doing to achieve my goals.

4) Edit, edit, edit

Always remember to edit your essay thoroughly. Make sure you've caught every grammar and spelling error. Remove unnecessary words and sentences. Read your essay out loud, or ask someone else to read it out loud to you. Double check the three points above. Did you answer the essay topic? Is your essay personal and unique? Don't rush to hit "submit." Even a little editing goes a long way and really makes your essay shine!

5) Share your essay!

Before you submit your essay, be sure to get constructive criticism from at least one other person. Once you've submitted your essay, be sure to tell your friends and family to vote (finalists are determined by popular vote!). Take advantage of social networks like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Think outside the box and consider all the different ways you can promote your essay. Most importantly, be proud of your essay and don't be afraid to share it.