Funding My College Education Essay

If you're planning to apply for a college scholarship, you will probably need to submit an essay along with a resume, transcript and other background information. Looking at a few sample essays before you start writing can help you get inspired to craft a winning essay of your own.

Two Original Essays to Review

There are many different types of scholarship programs, each with its own criteria. Two of the most common types are academic scholarships and professional association scholarships.

Academic Need-Based Scholarship

Colleges and other types of organizations often award scholarships to students who have demonstrated outstanding academic achievement and also have financial need. Letters written for this type of program should emphasize outstanding academic accomplishment in terms of grades and financial need, as well as extracurricular activities and community involvement.

Applicant Name
City, State, Zip


Scholarship Committee:

The value of education is something that I have understood since a very young age. Neither of my parents had an opportunity to attend college, and faced many struggles in their personal and professional lives because of this. They made a commitment early in my life to do everything within their power to instill in me a love of learning and an understanding of the importance of hard work and dedication.

Because of their love and sacrifice over the years, I have been able to devote the time and energy necessary to academic accomplishment even though money has always been tight. In my senior year at XYZ High School, I have a 3.9 grade-point average and have been named Salutatorian of my graduating class. In addition to focusing on my own studies, I also worked as a math and science tutor throughout my years in high school as a way of contributing to my family's budget.

Additionally, I have also been active in my school and community outside of the classroom, serving on the student council as Secretary Treasurer for two years, serving as an officer in the Future Engineers of America chapter at my school, and volunteering at a local Boys & Girls Clubs of America chapter during school breaks.

My family has made many sacrifices to allow me to focus on education throughout primary and secondary school. I now have an opportunity to become the first person in my family to attend college, though I'm in need of financial assistance to realize what has been a long-term goal for me and a dream for my parents.

If selected for this scholarship, I will continue to apply the same diligence to my collegiate studies as I have to this point, making education and service to others my top priority. I will represent your organization well during my years in college and beyond. Thank you in advance for your consideration.


Bill Achiever

Professional Association Scholarship

Professional associations frequently set up scholarship funds to provide educational expense assistance to people preparing for careers in the field they represent. Letters written for this type of program should emphasize a commitment to success in the profession with examples to illustrate, as well as information on how the funds will benefit the applicant.

Applicant Name
City, State, Zip


Scholarship Committee:

As a sophomore at XYZ University, I am honored to have an opportunity to apply for the Society for Professional Widget Makers Scholarship program. I am committed to pursuing a career as a professional widget maker and, as you can see from my transcript, am making progress toward earning a degree in this field with an excellent grade point average.

In addition to focusing on my studies full-time, I am also involved in a number of campus and community activities. I am involved in the ______________ and ______________ organizations at my school, and have also volunteered with ________________ during school breaks. I also hold down a part-time job as a ________________, where I have an opportunity to learn valuable skills that will help me in my Widget Making career while earning money to fund my education.

As you know, a college education is quite expensive, but it is an investment that is certainly worthwhile. I received a partial scholarship from XYZ University as an incoming freshman, and am paying for the rest of my educational expenses with student loans and the money that I earn from my job. Receiving this scholarship will enable me to continue to make progress toward my degree in preparation for a career as a widget maker.

I greatly appreciate your consideration. Please know that this scholarship will make a significant positive impact on my ability to continue in school and will be greatly appreciated. I look forward to becoming an active member of the Society for Professional Widget Makers once I graduate from college and begin working in the field. I can assure you that I will be a dedicated professional that you will be proud to count among your ranks.


Suzy Student

Four More Resources for Sample Essays

The above documents are simply two examples of letters that may be appropriate for scholarship programs. There are many other ways to approach writing these types of documents. If you'd lie to review additional samples, see:

  • San Diego State University lists the full text of several winning application essays based on different situations ranging from samples for incoming freshmen through a graduate students.
  • University of Michigan - Flint offers an example essay written from the perspective of a nursing student seeking funds to continue her studies.
  • offers a selection of topic-based essays, including documents focused on describing obstacles the applicant has overcome as well as people who have been major life influences and more

Considerations for Using Sample Essays

One of the most important things to remember when reading through a sample essay is that it's meant to be a guide and an example only. You should never plagiarize sample essays, no matter where you found them, and you should never copy specific details from these samples or attempt to imitate their styles.

Showcase Your Personality

A significant strength of your scholarship application is the fact that it comes from you. Your individuality and personality will help you write the best essay you can, and it's an asset to draw upon your past experiences and unique thought processes when you prepare your work.

Use Your Voice

Rather than trying to use a preset style or tone in your work, give your writing a genuine voice that is professional yet compelling. Many winning essays reflect this combination of characteristics, but you shouldn't force your essay to sound a certain way or write it to cater to a specific type of reader.

Use Sample Essays

Use available sample essays as you brainstorm topics and ideas for your own work. Try to think of a list of concepts to fit the scholarship theme, and write those concepts down. If you get stuck or you need something to stimulate your thought process,try using persuasive writing prompts to generate a new set of ideas.

Still Thinking You Need Another Sample?

If you have no idea where to start when trying to win a scholarship, you may feel reassured after looking at a few sample essays. They can spur good ideas that might help you outline your work, choose which of your topics is most fitting, and find a writing style that makes you feel comfortable. No matter what approach you take, get at least one other person you trust to review your essay before sending it in. Make revisions as needed and proofread carefully before submitting your scholarship application packet.

Financing Your College Education

by Julie Bogart

Get help navigating the ins and outs of financial aid.

These days, there’s no getting around the fact that college is expensive. According to the College Board’s most recent Trends in College Pricing report, the average yearly cost of just tuition and fees at a four-year college or university can range from $13,500 (for in-state students at public schools) to $32,300 (for students at private institutions). Add on books, room, board and other expenses and you could be in the $50,000-per-year range.

But before you let cost discourage you from applying to the school of your dreams, you should know that there is more than $130 billion in federal aid available to students, in the form of grants, federal loans, work-study funds, and education tax credits and deductions. With help from the federal government, as well as aid from state governments, private sources and merit scholarships, it is possible to afford the college of your choice. But how? Where do you even begin?

Mark Rogers, a representative from CitiBank’s Student Loan Corporation, says, “There are many different options to consider — from scholarships and grants to loans for students and parents, each of which [has its] own criteria and timing.”

The Basics

There are two different types of financial aid — merit-based and need-based.

  • Merit-Based Aid: Merit-based financial aid is what many people refer to as scholarships awarded to a student by either an individual college or outside organization without regard for financial need. Students typically receive merit-based scholarships for academic achievements though some can be awarded for special talents leadership skills or other personal characteristics; athletic scholarships also fall under this category. At many colleges every admitted student is automatically considered for the merit scholarships at that school. At other colleges students must complete a separate application.
  • Need-Based Aid: Need-based financial aid is awarded to a student on the basis of financial need. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is generally used for determining federal state and institutional need-based aid eligibility. At private institutions a supplemental application may be necessary.

Use Your Merit

Before you delve into the world of need-based aid find out what merit can do for you.

According to Rogers students “should always start with ‘free’ money such as grants and scholarships.”

Merit-based scholarships usually require very high qualifications with regard to grades and test scores as well as excellent recommendations and extracurricular/community activities.

It pays (literally) to start searching for scholarship opportunities early. Colleges often list numerous merit scholarships available for incoming freshmen on their websites and in their catalogs. Tina Bennett, director of financial aid at Marymount Manhattan College says that high-school students should start researching the scholarship qualifications at the colleges they’re interested in during their junior year (although if you think you know where you might want to apply you can certainly start looking during your sophomore year).

Ask your guidance counselor for a list of local scholarships — you have a better chance of receiving a local less competitive scholarship award than a larger national one. Investigate the merit scholarships offered by your community or state as well as those from local organizations such as clubs businesses churches synagogues and other associations. Perhaps there’s a PTA scholarship for example or a town-sponsored scholarship essay contest.

Then move your search to the Web. Many websites such as FastWeb’s “Find Scholarships” option and’s “Search Scholarships” option can help you locate the types of scholarships you qualify for. While some scholarship requirements are super specific like you must live on a farm in the South others like AXA Achievement Scholarships are open to students “who’ve accomplished something exceptional in a job sport or extracurricular activity” according to Jan Goldstein, the Director of AXA Foundation one of the nation’s leading scholarship providers.

A word of caution: As you search the Web beware of scholarship scams. If a scholarship requires an application fee for instance don’t apply. Also make sure the scholarship information you find online is up-to-date and apply to as many scholarships as you qualify for — it can’t hurt and every little bit helps.

Chuck Knepfle, Assistant Provost and Director of Student Financial Assistance at Miami University of Ohio says that because the aid process varies by state and by school the best source for any student is a college’s financial-aid office.

“You don’t have to be a student at that college to get information,” Val Meyers, Associate Director of Financial Aid at Michigan State University says. “Financial aid staff members are always happy to help.”

Some colleges’ academic departments offer merit scholarships according to Meyers. So even if you don’t qualify for a scholarship as an incoming freshman you may still be able to apply for and receive a scholarship as a college sophomore junior or senior.

When you apply for a merit scholarship make sure you’re using any separate application that may be required. Include all requested information such as essays and activities. Some applications may also ask for personal recommendations. When in doubt include them. And of course read and follow the directions carefully.

Loans Grants and Work-Study

While scholarships are awarded on the basis of merit loans grants and work-study are typically awarded on the basis of financial need. Here’s what these types of aid are all about:

  • Grants: Grants are awarded on the basis of financial need and do not require repayment.
  • Loans: Loans are financial-aid awards that require repayment. They offer the opportunity to defer the cost of your educational expenses by borrowing now and repaying later (after you graduate). Some loan programs are based on financial need like federal loans which offer low-interest rates — your best option. Other loan programs are available to all students regardless of income like private loans which usually have higher interest rates. Many students use federal loans to cover tuition costs and private loans to cover other expenses like food housing and books.Some of the more popular federal loans include Stafford Loans for students and PLUS Loans for parents of students.
  • Work-Study: Based on financial need the Federal Work-Study program provides part-time employment to students to help with college expenses. Non-federal Work-study on the other hand is not based on financial need. So if you don’t qualify for Federal Work-Study you should inquire about non-federal student employment opportunities at your school.

How do you know if you qualify for this kind of aid? Simple. You fill out the FAFSA or Free Application for Federal Student Aid required by all U.S. colleges to apply and qualify for financial aid. Completing the FAFSA means that you’ll be considered for aid from the U.S. government such as the Stafford Loan PLUS Loan Pell Grant Perkins Loan and Federal Work-Study program. State governments and individual colleges also use the FAFSA to assess whether or not you need more financial help than the federal government can give.

If you’re planning to attend college in the fall you should fill out the FAFSA in January. (It won’t be accepted before January 1 but get it in as soon as you can after the first.) Because colleges only have a certain amount of money in their financial-aid budgets the earlier you apply for aid the better your chances of receiving it.

Unfortunately the FAFSA may reveal that you don’t qualify for as much federal financial aid as you actually need. Don’t despair! Private loans although not as ideal can help cover your expenses. Financial-aid offices at each school will provide information about their private loan providers as well as their terms and conditions.

No matter what you do Knepfle stresses that it’s important to understand completely all aspects of each loan you choose to accept as the terms and conditions of loans vary considerably. And remember that there are always alternative options. “One excellent way to finance [your education],” Knepfle says, “is to work with the school on a combination of loans and monthly payment plans. For example a student who owes a school $5,000 could pay $250 a month for 10 months and then only have to take out a $2,500 loan.”

Will I Drown in Debt?

While using loans to pay for college may be necessary it can also be a little scary. How will you possibly pay it all back?

Relax. While you obviously have to consider how much you and your family are comfortable borrowing Bennett says that you should also look at college loans as an investment. The investment in yourself will pay off in the long-run — a college education will help you secure a better paying job as well as provide you with the continued potential to increase your salary.

“The trick is to borrow only what is needed,” Meyers says, “and to live economically while in school thus minimizing the student’s loan debt so that it will be manageable.” Keep in mind that repayment usually doesn’t start until after you’ve graduated and that you can pay off your student loans over a fairly long period of time. The standard repayment period is 10 years though you may be able to consolidate your loans and extend the term of your repayment if you need to lower your monthly payments.

According to Brent Tener, Associate Director of Student Financial Aid at Vanderbilt University when applying to colleges be sure to look at schools that vary in terms of cost. “You normally will not know the net cost (the cost of attending a given school minus financial aid) until after you have applied for admission been accepted applied for financial aid and been given a notice of your eligibility,” he says. “Once you know the net cost of attending each school you can then evaluate which school would be the best option with all factors (not just financial) considered.”

No matter which financial path you find yourself on remember that paying for college — even the priciest of colleges — is doable. Start early research your options know what you’re getting yourself into and choose what’s best for you and your family.

More on Merit Scholarships

While most merit scholarships are offered by or through colleges themselves some scholarship sources aren’t dependent upon your attendance at a particular school. Check out these nationwide scholarships open to most college-bound seniors:

AXA Achievement Scholarship
The AXA Achievement Scholarship awards $10,000 to 52 students — one from each state the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. From this pool of state winners 10 are selected to earn an additional one-time scholarship of $15,000.

Essay Contests
A number of organizations offer scholarships based on essays. For example, the Atlas Shrugged Essay Contest offers as much as $10,000 for a winning essay based on a selected topic related to the novel by Ayn Rand. The annual John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest offers up to $8,500 to high-school students who submit an original essay about an elected official who has demonstrated political courage ( And, the Green Scholarship awards $500 to students who submit a brief essay describing how they are finding ways to conserve energy and preserve the environment.

Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation
Each year the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation awards 50 four-year $20,000 scholarships and 200 four-year $10,000 scholarships for use at accredited colleges and universities in the United States. These scholarships reward leadership and excellence as exemplified through academic achievement and extracurricular activities, including commitment to community service.

Davidson Fellows Scholarship
The Davidson Fellows Scholarship disburses $50,000, $25,000 and $10,000 scholarships to extraordinary young people under the age of 18 who have completed a significant piece of work. Application categories are mathematics, science, literature, music, technology, philosophy and “outside the box”.

Siemens Competition
Win scholarship money — from $10,000 to $100,000 — by participating in the Siemens Competition. The Siemens Competition seeks to promote excellence by encouraging students to undertake individual or team research projects in mathematics, engineering, the biological and physical sciences, or a combination of these disciplines. You must be a high-school senior to compete as an individual, while the team competition consists of two to three members from any high-school grade level.

Julie Bogart is the editor of My College Guide.

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