How to Write Creative High School, College and Scholarship Application Essays

My middle school daughter is applying for one of our high school programs, called Distinguished Scholars. She spent several weeks before Winter Break working on two different essays. One that was to introduce herself, her interests and why she wanted to apply to the program. The other essay requirement was to set up a non-profit organization of her choice and explain why she chose that society issue to address. I thought she did a great job of brainstorming different ways to approach each essay and wanted to share that process for future high school and college essay writers.

Friendship First Essay (2 pages)

 I watched as for a week, all she did was plan out her non-profit, including detailing the programs it would provide so she would have a good understanding of what she was representing. She based it on the peer mentoring program she's in and mixed it with wanting to help kids with disabilities (her oldest brother has autism). But she took it from just being a middle school program to being a full school journey experience. Pages and pages of details, programs and ideas. It was inspiring! Then she decided to write a business letter to address that essay. Specifically, a business letter requesting a donation for her non-profit. Here's the non-profit essay. PS - I deleted the street addresses, etc for privacy.

MJ Ferguson
xxx Street
City, State Zip

December 12, 2014

Paul Williams
XXX High School
xxx Street
City, State Zip

RE: Friendship First
Dear Mr. Williams,
Thank you for your interest in the Friendship First Program. Our program helps children with disabilities feel like they fit in. Many students with disabilities are left out or bullied. We want them to be welcomed by their peers and enjoy positive social experiences.
In elementary school, we have developed a curriculum for teachers and school counselors to use. In the curriculum, there are short videos that model different disabilities and positive peer friendships. Teachers follow up with a series of questions to spark classroom discussion. The Friendship First website allows students to interact with animated characters that model friendships. The animated characters go through different situations and the students can make choices for the characters to do and see what happens. Along the way, students receive positive guidance.
The program changes as the students move from elementary to middle school. There is a Peer Mentor Program for incoming 6th to 8th graders who can apply to join. These mentors are matched up with special needs kids in their grade level. The mentors help with making friends, social situations, and stay buddied through middle school. The mentors train over the summer and through the school year. Ideally these friendships will follow into high school and even after that.
In high school, the Peer Mentor Program is continued but with an added social media aspect. On a Friendship First Forum, there are links for groups to chat with other students, with special needs or not. The goal of the social media addition is to teach teens to interact appropriately on social media. We also have events organized to get the mentors and students with disabilities together to create positive social experiences.
We hope that with this program, students with disabilities will be accepted in the student body, be bullied less, as well as teach the general student body to have more respect and understanding for working with people with disabilities throughout their whole lives.
This program came to be because I grew up with an older brother who had autism and to understand him, you either had to take the time and make an effort to get to know him or grow up with him. I know people probably look at him weirdly when he does certain things, but that is who he is. This program also came to be because when people act differently, the easiest choice is to either ignore them or even bully them to look “cool”. It takes a courageous person to stand up for them and be their friend.
I appreciate your interest in the Friendship First program. If you have any questions, you can contact me at xxx-xxx-xxxx.

MJ Ferguson
Director of Friendship First program


Why the Distinguished Scholars Program (1 page)

This was the most difficult essay for MJ to write. She had a hard time adjusting from the attitude of focusing on others and not yourself to needing to brag about her talents, service she's given and her interests. Because really, that's what the essay is for. It's the judges/professors first glimpse at who you are. If they aren't excited or impressed with what they see, then they'll move on to the next person. MJ spent a few days organizing lists of the awards she's received, competitions she's participated in, her talents, service projects, and what specifically makes her interested in the program she's applying for.

*As a side note - this is a great document to create on your computer and continue adding to it every semester. This way you don't forget important activities or awards from earlier in your education career.

For this essay, MJ played with writing it as a serious essay, but it just wasn't working well. She brainstormed some more and decided to use her creative writing talents to make it into her own little fairy tale. I really liked how it hit all the requirements of the essay, but was done in a way that is so totally my daughter.

Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Olathe, there lived a girl named MJ with caramel-brown frizzy hair. On hot and humid days, her hair looked liked Taylor Swift with an Albert Einstein twist. At least until she discovered the wonders of anti-frizz hair products!
One day in eighth grade, her teacher asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. MJ thought and thought and thought. But there were so many choices.
She loved going to the Kansas City Astronomy Club to view the stars through their humongous telescopes. But wait! She also loved hiking and adding fossils to her rock collection. But wait again! She enjoyed learning about the world and other countries’ histories. She was even in the Geography Bee twice and really liked it! Maybe she should study science and teach about the stars, the earth, or even the world.
Mixed in with all that geeky stuff was a very creative side, too. Oh so much creativeness. Acting and crafting and music – oh my! The frizzy-haired girl participated in three middle school plays (in one role, she even barked like a dog). Craving cinnamon rolls? She learned how to make the most delicious, moist rolls using potatoes. And music. Oh the joy! Singing, playing the flute, and bringing music to life on the piano brought her happiness every day. Not to mention books. MJ was a readaholic. Friends and teachers almost never saw her without a book in hand. She not only loved to read, but to also create her own stories. Attending writers conferences helped her learn about plot, conflict and how to make her characters interesting. Maybe she should be a baker, a music teacher, or a novelist?
Poor MJ’s head hurt from all the career paths she could take. How could she possibly choose? Then she heard about the Distinguished Scholars program and just knew it could help her explore her geeky side and creative side – and hopefully discover a way to mesh them together for her own happily ever after.

In Closing

A few things to take from this article are:
  1. Be organized and take the time to really prep before you start writing.
  2. Don't be afraid to think outside the box. Sometimes that's what makes you stand out above everyone else.
  3. Be creative in a way that is totally you.
  4. Start tracking all your awards, accomplishments, camps, clubs, etc now so you don't have to rethink all those years every time you write an essay.

Would you like to comment?

CatSnap said...

Great article! Does MJ know if she was accepted into the program? She did such a fantastic job! :)
Well done, MJ!!!

Danyelle Ferguson said...

We find out in two weeks. The interview was great. Crossing our fingers!