Popke Scholarship Essay

Sample Scholarship Essays

If you’re applying for a scholarship, chances are you are going to need to write an essay. Very few scholarship programs are based solely on an application form or transcript. The essay is often the most important part of your application; it gives the scholarship committee a sense of who you are and your dedication to your goals. You’ll want to make sure that your scholarship essay is the best it can possibly be.

Unless specified otherwise, scholarship essays should always use the following formatting:

  • Double spaced
  • Times New Roman font
  • 12 point font
  • One-inch top, bottom, and side margins

Other useful tips to keep in mind include:

  1. Read the instructions thoroughly and make sure you completely understand them before you start writing.
  2. Think about what you are going to write and organize your thoughts into an outline.
  3. Write your essay by elaborating on each point you included in your outline.
  4. Use clear, concise, and simple language throughout your essay.
  5. When you are finished, read the question again and then read your essay to make sure that the essay addresses every point.

For more tips on writing a scholarship essay, check out our Eight Steps Towards a Better Scholarship Essay .

The Book that Made Me a Journalist

Prompt: Describe a book that made a lasting impression on you and your life and why.

It is 6 am on a hot day in July and I’ve already showered and eaten breakfast. I know that my classmates are all sleeping in and enjoying their summer break, but I don’t envy them; I’m excited to start my day interning with a local newspaper doing investigative journalism. I work a typical 8-5 day during my summer vacation and despite the early mornings, nothing has made me happier. Although it wasn't clear to me then, looking back on my high school experiences and everything that led to me to this internship, I believe this path began with a particularly savvy teacher and a little book she gave me to read outside of class.

I was taking a composition class, and we were learning how to write persuasive essays. Up until that point, I had had average grades, but I was always a good writer and my teacher immediately recognized this. The first paper I wrote for the class was about my experience going to an Indian reservation located near my uncle's ranch in southwest Colorado. I wrote of the severe poverty experienced by the people on the reservation, and the lack of access to voting booths during the most recent election. After reading this short story, my teacher approached me and asked about my future plans. No one had ever asked me this, and I wasn't sure how to answer. I said I liked writing and I liked thinking about people who are different from myself. She gave me a book and told me that if I had time to read it, she thought it would be something I would enjoy. I was actually quite surprised that a high school teacher was giving me a book titled Lies My Teacher Told Me. It had never occurred to me that teachers would lie to students. The title intrigued me so much that on Friday night I found myself staying up almost all night reading, instead of going out with friends.

In short, the book discusses several instances in which typical American history classes do not tell the whole story. For example, the author addresses the way that American history classes do not usually address about the Vietnam War, even though it happened only a short time ago. This made me realize that we hadn't discussed the Vietnam War in my own history class! The book taught me that, like my story of the Indian reservation, there are always more stories beyond what we see on the surface and what we’re taught in school. I was inspired to continue to tell these stories and to make that my career.

For my next article for the class, I wrote about the practice of my own high school suspending students, sometimes indefinitely, for seemingly minor offenses such as tardiness and smoking. I found that the number of suspensions had increased by 200% at my school in just three years, and also discovered that students who are suspended after only one offense often drop out and some later end up in prison. The article caused quite a stir. The administration of my school dismissed it, but it caught the attention of my local newspaper. A local journalist worked with me to publish an updated and more thoroughly researched version of my article in the local newspaper. The article forced the school board to revisit their “zero tolerance” policy as well as reinstate some indefinitely suspended students.I won no favors with the administration and it was a difficult time for me, but it was also thrilling to see how one article can have such a direct effect on people’s lives. It reaffirmed my commitment to a career in journalism.

This is why I’m applying for this scholarship. Your organization has been providing young aspiring journalists with funds to further their skills and work to uncover the untold stories in our communities that need to be reported. I share your organization’s vision of working towards a more just and equitable world by uncovering stories of abuse of power. I have already demonstrated this commitment through my writing in high school and I look forward to pursuing a BA in this field at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. With your help, I will hone my natural instincts and inherent writing skills. I will become a better and more persuasive writer and I will learn the ethics of professional journalism.

I sincerely appreciate the committee’s time in evaluating my application and giving me the opportunity to tell my story. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Scholarship Essay Do's and Don'ts

Do:Follow the prompt and other instructions exactly. You might write a great essay but it may get your application rejected if you don’t follow the word count guidelines or other formatting requirements.
DON'T:Open your essay with a quote. This is a well-worn strategy that is mostly used ineffectively. Instead of using someone else’s words, use your own.
DON'T:Use perfunctory sentences such as, “In this essay, I will…”
DO:Be clear and concise. Make sure each paragraph discusses only one central thought or argument.
DON'T:Use words from a thesaurus that are new to you. You may end up using the word incorrectly and that will make your writing awkward. Keep it simple and straightforward. The point of the essay is to tell your story, not to demonstrate how many words you know.

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Planners and Searchers

Prompt: In 600 words or less, please tell us about yourself and why you are applying for this scholarship. Please be clear about how this scholarship will help you achieve your personal and professional goals.

Being African, I recognize Africa’s need for home- grown talent in the form of “planners” (assistants with possible solutions) and “searchers” (those with desperate need) working towards international development. I represent both. Coming from Zimbabwe my greatest challenge is in helping to improve the livelihoods of developing nations through sustainable development and good governance principles. The need for policy-makers capable of employing cross-jurisdictional, and cross- disciplinary strategies to solve complex challenges cannot be under-emphasized; hence my application to this scholarship program.

After graduating from Africa University with an Honors degree in Sociology and Psychology, I am now seeking scholarship support to study in the United States at the Master’s level. My interest in democracy, elections, constitutionalism and development stems from my lasting interest in public policy issues. Accordingly, my current research interests in democracy and ethnic diversity require a deeper understanding of legal processes of constitutionalism and governance. As a Master’s student in the US, I intend to write articles on these subjects from the perspective of someone born, raised, and educated in Africa. I will bring a unique and much-needed perspective to my graduate program in the United States, and I will take the technical and theoretical knowledge from my graduate program back with me to Africa to further my career goals as a practitioner of good governance and community development.

To augment my theoretical understanding of governance and democratic practices, I worked with the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) as a Programs Assistant in the Monitoring and Observation department. This not only enhanced my project management skills, but also developed my skills in research and producing communication materials. ZESN is Zimbabwe’s biggest election observation organization, and I had the responsibility of monitoring the political environment and producing monthly publications on human rights issues and electoral processes. These publications were disseminated to various civil society organizations, donors and other stakeholders. Now I intend to develop my career in order to enhance Africa’s capacity to advocate, write and vote for representative constitutions.

I also participated in a fellowship program at Africa University, where I gained greater insight into social development by teaching courses on entrepreneurship, free market economics, and development in needy communities. I worked with women in rural areas of Zimbabwe to setup income-generating projects such as the jatropha soap-making project. Managing such a project gave me great insight into how many simple initiatives can transform lives.

Your organization has a history of awarding scholarships to promising young students from the developing world in order to bring knowledge, skills and leadership abilities to their home communities. I have already done some of this work but I want to continue, and with your assistance, I can. The multidisciplinary focus of the development programs I am applying to in the US will provide me with the necessary skills to creatively address the economic and social development challenges and develop sound public policies for Third World countries. I thank you for your time and consideration for this prestigious award.

Scholarship Essay Do's and Don'ts

DO:Research the organization and make sure you understand their mission and values and incorporate them into your essay.
DO:Focus on your strengths and turn in any problems or weaknesses into a success story.
DO:Use actual, detailed examples from your own life to backup your claims and arguments as to why you should receive the scholarship.
DO:Proofread several times before finally submitting your essay.
DON'T:Rehash what is already stated on your resume. Choose additional, unique stories to tell sell yourself to the scholarship committee.
DON'T:Simply state that you need the money. Even if you have severe financial need, it won’t help to simply ask for the money and it may come off as tacky.

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Saving the Manatees

Prompt: Please give the committee an idea of who you are and why you are the perfect candidate for the scholarship.

It is a cliché to say that I’ve always known what I want to do with my life, but in my case it happens to be true. When I first visited Sea World as a young child, I fell in love with marine animals in general. Specifically, I felt drawn to manatees. I was compelled by their placid and friendly nature. I knew then and there that I wanted to dedicate my life to protecting these beautiful creatures.

Since that day in Orlando, I have spent much of my spare time learning everything there is to know about manatees. As a junior high and high school student, I attempted to read scholarly articles on manatees from scientific journals. I annoyed my friends and family with scientific facts about manatees-- such as that they are close relatives of elephants--at the dinner table. I watched documentaries, and even mapped their migration pattern on a wall map my sister gave me for my birthday.

When I was chosen from hundreds of applicants to take part in a summer internship with Sea World, I fell even more in love with these gentle giants. I also learned a very important and valuable lesson: prior to this internship, I had imagined becoming a marine biologist, working directly with the animals in their care both in captivity and in the wild. However, during the internship, I discovered that this is not where my strengths lie. Unfortunately, I am not a strong student in science or math, which are required skills to become a marine biologist. Although this was a disheartening realization, I found that I possess other strengths can still be of great value to manatees and other endangered marine mammals: my skills as a public relations manager and communicator. During the internship, I helped write new lessons and presentations for elementary school groups visiting the park and developed a series of fun activities for children to help them learn more about manatees as well as conservation of endangered species in general. I also worked directly with the park’s conservation and communication director, and helped develop a new local outreach program designed to educate Floridians on how to avoid hitting a manatee when boating. My supervisor recommended me to the Save the Manatee Foundation so in addition to my full-time internship at Sea World, I interned with the Save the Manatee Foundation part-time. It was there that I witnessed the manatee rescue and conservation effort first hand, and worked directly with the marine biologists in developing fund-raising and awareness-raising campaigns. I found that the foundation’s social media presence was lacking, and, using skills I learned from Sea World, I helped them raise over $5,000 through a Twitter challenge, which we linked to the various social media outlets of the World Wildlife Federation.

While I know that your organization typically awards scholarships to students planning to major in disciplines directly related to conservation such as environmental studies or zoology, I feel that the public relations side of conservation is just as important as the actual work done on the ground. Whether it is reducing one’s carbon footprint, or saving the manatees, these are efforts that, in order to be successful, must involve the larger public. In fact, the relative success of the environmental movement today is largely due to a massive global public relations campaign that turned environmentalism from something scientific and obscure into something that is both fashionable and accessible to just about anyone. However, that success is being challenged more than ever before--especially here in the US, where an equally strong anti-environmental public relations campaign has taken hold. Therefore, conservationists need to start getting more creative.

I want to be a part of this renewed effort and use my natural abilities as a communicator to push back against the rather formidable forces behind the anti-environmentalist movement. I sincerely hope you will consider supporting this non-traditional avenue towards global sustainability and conservation. I have already been accepted to one of the most prestigious communications undergraduate programs in the country and I plan to minor in environmental studies. In addition, I maintain a relationship with my former supervisors at Save the Manatee and Sea World, who will be invaluable resources for finding employment upon graduation. I thank the committee for thinking outside the box in considering my application.

Scholarship Essay Do's and Don'ts

DO:Tell a story. Discuss your personal history and why those experiences have led you to apply for these scholarships.
DO:Write an outline. If you’ve already started writing or have a first draft, make an outline based on what you’ve written so far. This will help you see whether your paragraphs flow and connect with one another.
DON'T:Write a generic essay for every application. Adapt your personal statement for each individual scholarship application.
DO:Run spellcheck and grammar check on your computer but also do your own personal check. Spellcheck isn’t perfect and you shouldn't rely on technology to make your essay perfect.

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Sample Essays

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From The New Yorker’s “Comma Queen” to Madison’s most famous children’s author, this year’s Wisconsin Book Festival features more than 70 book-related events, geared for all ages. Isthmus asked book critics Becky Holmes and Michael Popke to preview some events they’re looking forward to.

Adam Johnson

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Oct. 22, 7:30 pm

Short fiction is well represented at this year’s festival. In addition to Wisconsin’s own Nickolas Butler (Beneath the Bonfire), Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Adam Johnson (The Orphan Master’s Son) will shine the spotlight on Fortune Smiles, his new collection of post-millennial stories that delve deep into love and loss, natural disasters, the influence of technology and how the political shapes the personal.

Jerry Apps

Wisconsin Historical Museum, Oct. 23, 10 am, Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium, Oct. 23, 3:30 pm

Jerry Apps, the 81-year-old historian, naturalist and novelist who splits his time between Madison and Wild Rose, has been part of nearly every Wisconsin Book Festival. This year is no different. He will read from Whispers and Shadows, his collection of succinct and stand-alone autobiographical essays, and also participate in a joint event with the Wisconsin Science Festival to talk about his latest book, Wisconsin Agriculture: A History.

Wesley Chu

Central Library, The Bubbler, Oct. 23, 5:30 pm

Time travel: Where would science fiction be without it? Wesley Chu’s novel Time Salvager lines up all the tropes (tricky gadgets, a toxic abandoned Earth, a damaged loner with a dangerous job) and mixes them into a new cocktail that satisfies our never-ending cravings. Chu’s a funny guy, though, so Time Salvager includes a generous shot of humor to make the whole thing go down with a smile.

David Crabb

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Oct. 23, 9 pm

A former goth kid fills one of the festival’s few nighttime slots. Author, storyteller and performer David Crabb wrote a solo stage version of his life and then adapted it for a memoir called Bad Kid. He will talk about growing up gay in Texas in the ’80s while listening to Taylor Dayne, Rick Astley and Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam. And because he’s also a comedian, you know this event will be laugh-out-loud funny.

Ron Legro & Avi Lank

Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery-DeLuca Forum, Oct. 24, 10 am

Two former newspapermen with the long-gone Milwaukee Sentinel, Ron Legro and Avi Lank, have kept busy in recent years documenting the efforts of Frank A. Kovac Jr. — an amateur astronomer who built a two-ton rotating globe planetarium in Wisconsin’s north woods. Located two hours north of Madison, off U.S. Highway 8 between Rhinelander and Crandon, the Kovac Planetarium is the subject of the duo’s inspiring book, The Man Who Painted the Universe.

Kevin Henkes

Central Library, Children’s Room, Oct. 24, 10:30 am

The newest book from Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes is aimed at his youngest fans. Waiting is a gentle story about five toy animals who sit on a windowsill and wait. Henkes, a longtime Madison resident, writes for audiences from birth to young adult, and has been writing and illustrating children’s literature since the 1980s. Now his original readers can enjoy his latest work with their own children.

Wayne Wiegand

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Oct. 24, 10:30 am

A library-hosted book festival wouldn’t be complete without an event that celebrates — what else? — libraries. Wayne Wiegand’s just-published book, Part of Our Lives, does exactly that. An author, historian and academic, Wiegand attended the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and UW-Milwaukee, and he taught at UW-Madison’s School of Library and Information Studies from 1987 to 2002. While there, he established what is now called the Center for the History of Print and Digital Culture.

Mary Norris

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Oct. 24, noon

Mary Norris has spent more than 35 years copyediting The New Yorker and earning the nickname “Comma Queen.” Between You & Me is a delightful discourse on the most common spelling, punctuation and usage challenges faced by writers. Sassy and smart, Norris turns reading about grammar into entertainment — even explaining when it’s okay to use the f-word in print. She also stars in a series of enlightening videos devoted to the English language.

Another Time and Place: Jennifer Chiaverini and Mary McNear

Central Library, The Bubbler, Oct. 24, noon

Never underestimate the ability of a book to divert, to inspire, to restore. Jennifer Chiaverini, author of the wildly popular Elm Creek Quilt series, has recently begun telling the stories of women during the Civil War. Her latest book is Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, the story of first lady Julia Grant (wife of Ulysses S. Grant) and her personal slave, known as Madame Jule. Mary McNear’s Butternut Lake books, about small-town life in northern Minnesota, are known for their sweet depictions of second-chance love. Moonlight on Butternut Lake is the third installment in this series. Both authors deliver emotional content in entertaining packages.

Gary Cieradkowski

Wisconsin Historical Museum, Oct. 24, 1:30 pm

Baseball in October — there’s nothing like it. Gary Cieradkowski, an award-winning graphic artist and baseball historian, will step up to the plate and talk about The League of Outsider Baseball, a handsome history of players from obscure corners of the sport, with illustrations that pay homage to the old tobacco baseball cards manufactured in the early 20th century. As a New York Mets fan, Cieradkowski also might have something to say about Major League Baseball’s 2015 postseason.

David Maraniss

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Oct. 24, 1:30 pm

Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story is an intimate and emotional portrait of Detroit in the early 1960s, when Lyndon Johnson called the city “the herald of hope in America” and the U.S. automobile industry was at its height. Author David Maraniss regards this book as the middle volume in a 1960s trilogy, set between his earlier works Rome 1960 and They Marched into Sunlight; fans of Maraniss’ singular approach to nonfiction can dive into these books in any order. Maraniss, a three-time Pulitzer winner, is a Madison native and is best known in these parts for his popular biography of Vince Lombardi.

Adam Benforado

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Oct. 24, 3 pm

In his first book, Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice, Drexel University criminal law professor Adam Benforado reveals how existing legal structures in the United States fail victims and society as a whole. He cites flawed assumptions about how law enforcement assesses risk, why criminals commit crimes and how eyewitness memories work.

The Limits of Truth

Central Library, The Bubbler, Oct. 24, 4:30 pm

Where do fiction and nonfiction intersect? That’s one of the frustrating questions that “nonfiction” writers Matthew Gavin Frank and University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire assistant English professor B.J. Hollars will attempt to answer while discussing their own work. Frank’s The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America’s Food mashes personal and cultural history, and Hollars admits he made up 25% of the drowning incidents chronicled in Dispatches from the Drownings: Reporting the Fiction of Nonfiction.

Evan Thomas

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Oct. 24, 4:30 pm

Former Newsweek editor-at-large Evan Thomas interviewed 35 one-time aides of Richard Nixon and ploughed through recently released tapes and archival material to present a new examination of our country’s most infamous president in Being Nixon: A Man Divided. Fellow historian and bestselling author David Maraniss will interview Thomas in what promises to be a lively and relevant discussion.

Matthew Thomas

Central Library, The Bubbler, Oct. 24, 6 pm

We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas’ epic 640-page debut novel about life, love and loss among the middle class of 20th-century America, became an instant bestseller in 2014 and landed on many year-end best-of lists — even drawing comparisons to The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen’s acclaimed turn-of-the-millennium novel.

Mark A. Smith

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Oct. 24, 6 pm

Mark Smith’s new book, Secular Faith: How Culture Has Trumped Religion in American Politics, published 10 days before his Wisconsin Book Festival appearance, couldn’t be timelier. By charting the political development of five contentious issues in American history — slavery, divorce, homosexuality, abortion and women’s rights — he argues that U.S. Christians today have more in common morally and politically with atheists than with their Christian predecessors in previous centuries.

Robert Reich

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Saturday, Oct. 24, 7:30 pm  

Political economist, professor and perennial TV talking head Robert Reich’s new book, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few, lays out the ways capitalism no longer serves the middle class as it did during the decades after World War II. Ever a populist, Reich argues that government has allowed a small minority of the very rich to set the rules and stack the deck in their favor; he reminds us that as citizens, we must identify who the government is for, then set policies that reflect that goal.

William Bostwick

Central Library, The Bubbler, Oct. 24, 8 pm

What would the Wisconsin Book Festival be without an appearance by an author who writes about beer? This year’s distinguished guest is William Bostwick, beer critic for The Wall Street Journal, whose 2014 book, The Brewer’s Tale, traces the history of beer back to Babylonian times and is now available in paperback. Bostwick doesn’t make as many references to Wisconsin as you’d think, but he does write about Milwaukee and the beers that made it famous.

Margret Aldrich

Central Library, The Bubbler, Oct. 25, 11 am

In August, Madison became the first “City of Distinction” to be recognized by the global Little Free Libraries movement, which embraced the “Take a Book/Leave a Book” phenomenon when it was begun by two Wisconsin men in 2010. Author Margret Aldrich, a former Utne editor who built her own Little Free Library in front of her Minneapolis bungalow, has written a charming book on the topic, The Little Free Library Book.

Andrew Maraniss

Central Library, Community Room 301, Oct. 25, 12:30 pm

Andrew Maraniss, son of renowned Vince Lombardi biographer and fellow Wisconsin Book Festival presenter David Maraniss, scored big with Strong Inside, the sports-meets-civil-rights story of Vanderbilt University student Perry Wallace, the Southeastern Conference’s first African American basketball player. The book debuted on two New York Times bestseller lists and stayed there for months in 2014. “My love of sports and my love of writing came from my dad,” Maraniss told Isthmus in June.

Maryrose Wood

Central Library, Children’s Section, Oct. 25, 1:30 pm

The Unmapped Sea is the fifth installment in Maryrose Wood’s series The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. Comparisons to Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events immediately come to mind; however, Wood’s books offer a fresh take on a tried-and-true formula that combines whimsy with suspense. Found running wild in the forests around Ashton Place, the children — along with their plucky governess Miss Lumley — solve mysteries and learn manners in Victorian England. In The Unmapped Sea, they explore the wolfish curse on their family. Aimed at the older elementary school audience, these books are also read-aloud pleasures for younger children.

Turning Inward

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Oct. 25, 2 pm

Switching genres for authors who’ve already enjoyed success in another writing style can be tricky — especially when that new style takes the form of an intimate memoir. Biographer Blake Bailey turns his eye on his own life and family in The Splendid Things We Planned. Similarly, novelist Kate Christensen chronicles her culinary discoveries upon relocating to Maine in How to Cook a Moose. Bailey and Christensen will jointly discuss their motivations for choosing to write their memoirs.

Sarah Vowell

Central Library, Community Room 301 & 302, Oct. 30, 7 pm

In Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, Sarah Vowell uses her quirky voice to entertain us with tales from those parts of history that bored us in high school: presidential assassinations, the Pilgrims and now, the Marquis de Lafayette. According to Vowell, Lafayette was motivated to help George Washington defeat the British by his love of glory, his belief in the enlightenment and by a deep desire to get away from his in-laws. Vowell, a former contributing editor at This American Life and frequent guest on The Daily Show, combines humor and scholarship to delightful effect in her latest book.


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