Sometimes it’s a good idea to save the best for last, but not when you write your college scholarship essay! Don’t leave the judges plodding along hoping that your writing will pick up its pace somewhere before the end. If you think it’s a good idea to begin your essay by stating, “Hi, my name is Felecia, and I deserve to win this scholarship because…” you may as well give up right now and find your nearest military recruiting station. Your name, rank, and serial number will be easier to recite in monotone than your scholastic statistics.
I realize that the parameters of an essay’s structure can limit your ability to get too creative, but you can always find a way to catch your reader‘s attention right from the start. One method, which I used in my scholarship-winning essay titled, “My Fabulous Future in Television Production,” was mentioning some aspect of life that nearly everyone can relate to:
As a child sitting in front of the television, you never really think about how that cartoon or TV show you’re watching came about. Furthermore, you are completely unaware of the hard work it takes to bring that show together. The only thing that matters to you is entertainment.
When people are reminded of some universal experience, like being an oblivious child engrossed by the antics of Bugs Bunny, they will nod to themselves as they think, “She’s right. I never did understand where my cartoons came from!” Now, you have a friend, because you’ve both shared the same fond memory.
A little bit of dialogue will enliven any story, and it‘s especially effective at drawing in your readers when the essay opens with some exclamation:
“Sammy, get down from there right now!” My mother called up to where I stood unsteadily on the roof of our house.
“Sure, Mom,” I piped back, in my squeaky six-year-old voice. I opened an umbrella, and in an awkward imitation of Mary Poppins, leapt right into my very first emergency room trip. The umbrella experiment was an utter failure, but there in the hospital, with both arms plastered in fresh casts, I resolved that I would someday feel the thrill of a free fall ending in a successful landing. Now, with my recently earned skydiver’s license in my wallet, I can say with conviction that you should never give up on your dreams.
A third way to make your opening (or your entire essay) interesting, is to use a relatable aspect of life to create an analogy that illustrates your main idea. Here is an example opening from another of my scholarship winning essays, where I compare the priorities in my life to positions of importance in a vehicle headed down the road of life:
Although I treat everything in my life with the utmost importance, here are three things that stand out above the rest. First of all, my education is in the driver’s seat, with a seat belt on. The priority riding in the passenger seat is the set of positive relationships I make with people along the road of life. My third priority—the passengers in the backseat—is community service and my other extra-curricular activities. As I drive toward success, a combination of the three will enable me to live a prosperous life.
Another attention-getting opening gambit is to throw an interesting quote into the mix. For instance:
According to legend, famous circus owner, P.T. Barnum, once said: “You can fool some of the people all of the time, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can never fool all of the people all of the time.” I know that ALL of you judges will be reading this essay, so I won’t try to fool your group into thinking I’m some great academic. My strengths and my passions lie in other areas of life, and I hope you will agree with me that certain non-scholarly accomplishments can be even more important than a high GPA.”
I’ll leave it up to you to devise your own scheme for catching the attention of the judges, but keep in mind that the first impression you give them will set the tone for the rest of your essay.