How to Write a Winning College and Scholarship Application Essay: Pro Tips from an Expert

March 15, 2023

Writing essays for college and scholarship applications can quickly become overwhelming. There’s so much to consider and a lot of questions to ask before putting pen to paper. We spoke with Amy Bennington Buist, an educational consultant who works with students during their essay-writing process, to hear her tips on how to write essays that stand out in the college and scholarship application process. 

MSSF: Why is a good essay important for college and scholarship applications?

Amy: We are in an increasingly test-optional and competitive admissions environment, which puts more weight on essays and makes them extremely important to stand out from other applicants. Essays offer more personal insight than a test score or application page. It can showcase your passions and personality while highlighting your writing ability. In the eyes of a college or scholarship, the essay will help them understand the student and how they will benefit their program.

MSSF: Since an essay carries so much weight in the application process, how should a student approach writing an essay?

Amy: Students should view the essay as an opportunity. This is when they can set themselves apart from the crowd and showcase their personality, passions, and lessons they have learned from their life experiences. Shifting their mindset and viewing the essay as an opportunity instead of a requirement can boost a student’s outlook and even help them overcome writer’s block. Colleges and scholarships want to know applicants better, and this is one of the first chances a student has to do that. 

MSSF: What common mistakes do students make, and how can they avoid them?

Amy: A big part of writing is rewriting, and it’s important to check spelling and grammar and go through several rounds of revisions to get those mistakes worked out. Asking for help from teachers, family members, or mentors and reading the essay out loud can help students identify and correct errors that may have otherwise been overlooked. 

MSSF: If a student applies to multiple colleges or scholarships, is it bad practice to reuse essays?

Amy: If an essay prompt is similar to another essay you wrote, it is absolutely acceptable to reuse an essay for another application. However, reread the essay before submitting it. You need to make sure the essay answers the prompt question and that you have updated details to tailor it to the opportunity. 

MSSF: What additional tips do you give students during the writing process?

Amy: I have several tips I recommend to students:

  1. Look at this as an opportunity to showcase yourself beyond your application. This will help inspire your writing to be more personal and expressive.
  2. You don’t need to reach the max word limit. You’ll likely have a stronger essay if you can get your point across succinctly and captivate the audience with rich details and examples.
  3. Make sure to have a good structure and flow. You can identify this by reading it aloud or having someone read it to you.
  4. Include details, examples, and anecdotes to bring your story to life.
  5. Show your authentic self within the essay, so don’t go overboard with vocabulary. The essay needs to sound like you.
  6. Appreciate your reader’s time—they are busy and have many essays to read, so be memorable and succinct.
  7. Finally, understand the importance of taking a break. Step away from your essay for an hour or a few days and come back to it with a fresh perspective. 

Learn more about Amy and her services at
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