Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Colleges look for you in the essay. Beyond SAT scores and community service hours, who are you?

Your dream college reads thousands of essays to choose their dream students. These students will contribute to campus life, plan to graduate, and donate money to the school.

Universities, charities, churches, corporations, and others provide scholarships. Scholarship committees give thousands of dollars to students with accomplishments and goals that mesh well with their organizational objectives. For example, community service is the backbone of charitable organizations. Be prepared to vividly demonstrate your volunteerism.

  • Write at least an hour every day.
  • Read at least an hour every day.
  • Consider your audience.
  • Completely answer the essay question.
  • Use correct grammar.
  • Tell the committee something new. Because they read your application, they already know that you are Secretary of the National Honor Society.
  • Read the essay aloud.
  • Request someone to proofread the essay.
  • U.S.A.Y. Essay Writing

Scholar Ready instills writing skills for three purposes — admissions essays, scholarship essays, and college-level compositions— with one service.

Usage: Grammar

Style: Word choice, rhetorical devices, sentence structure

Audience: Grabbing their attention, tone, elaboration

You: Choosing a topic, organizing your life experiences, brainstorming, self-editing techniques

You can't hide
“5-4-3-2-1. Ready or not, here I come!” exclaims your fearless tutor in a daily game of Hide and Seek.

You see, I love one-on-one tutoring because the student can’t hide. On the surface, little Lisa needs to improve her writing. Oh, but when I open my eyes, and start searching, the big secret is out: Lisa struggles with reading comprehension.
Look in the mirror. You are rocking that outfit. Your shoes, clothes, and accessories form a cohesive picture and convey who you are to others. How do you know that you look cute? You look at In Style and Essence Magazines, you glance at pictures of clothes on the web, and you visit clothing stores to develop your fashion literacy. Now, if you saw a woman wearing plaid culottes (yes I am going there), polka dot tights, and a hot pink shirt, you would say, “She looks crazy.” That clown suit clashes with your fashion literacy.
Reading comprehension works the same way. When you read professional writing, you develop your literacy. You begin to understand how words and punctuation can blend together to produce a symphony that communicates your thoughts. Without enough reading comprehension, you’ll have a tough time developing your ideas as a writer.
In honor of today, the National Day on Writing, develop your reading comprehension. Follow these steps for each chapter that you read:

  1. Make sure that you understand all of the words in the chapter. It’s ok to read with a dictionary at your side.
  2. Understand the setting of the chapter. What is the time period? Where is the action taking place?
  3. Who are the characters? What are they doing? How are they interacting with each other?
  4. Understand the purpose of each chapter.
  5. Understand the main idea.

Thanks to Annie Harris, Reading Specialist, and elementary school teacher, for these tips.

When will your essay attain perfection? Never. Writing is not Algebra; no formula guarantees a great paragraph. Although I have edited a variety of admission and scholarship essays, the winning compositions share several traits. Outstanding essays possess the following:

  1. Only 1 topic per 500 words
  2. Logical organization
  3. Vivid examples to support the thesis statement
  4. Sentence variety
  5. Limited grammatical errors
  6. An introduction that interests anyone who just spent 5 hours reading 100 essays
  7. A conclusion that leaves the audience wanting more
  1. Before you submit your essay, read the composition aloud.
  2. Have a teacher, tutor, or other trustworthy person proofread your essay.
  3. Remove any variation of the following from your personal essay:
  • "I think..."
  • "I believe..."
  • "I personally believe..."
  • "My personal view is..."
  • "Me, personally..."
  • "In conclusion..."
  • "To sum things up..."

From the six topics, he has chosen to respond to this one:

"A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you."
Is there a correct response to this topic? Could you give me some tips on how he can organize a paper so broad in scope? — Stumped by Structure

This topic is similar to a question Texas A & M University asked its undergraduate applicants in the past. According to one of A &M's recruiters, the purpose of this diversity topic is to glimpse a potential Aggie-in-the-making's views toward different types of people.

While there is no correct response, please encourage your son to avoid negative stereotypes about people. Many other students — his competitors — will be probably be submitting essays about Barack Obama. Emphasize the importance of originality. Once he chooses a topic, he can use the following tips to structure the personal essay.

  1. Write a strong thesis statement.
    He may be limited to 500 words. Choose one experience or encounter to write about; avoid cramming all experiences into one essay.
  2. Jot down 4 reasons that support the thesis statement.
  3. Do the 4 reasons have anything to do with the thesis statement?
    He will distract his audience (scholarship and admissions committees) if he strays from the topic. Eliminate anything unrelated to the thesis.
  4. Elaborate on the reasons. Back up the reasons with personal lessons, goals, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or feelings.
  5. Does the elaboration support the thesis statement?
    He will distract his audience if he strays from the topic. Eliminate anything unrelated to the thesis.
  6. Remember to include an introduction and a conclusion.
  7. Did he spend 15 minutes on this process and give up? Work on Steps 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 for at least 90 minutes. The ideas will come.

Hi Ms. Jennifer,
I'm applying for scholarships at the University of Texas-Austin and at Texas A & M University. UT's scholarship deadline is December 1, and A & M's scholarship deadline is December 15. Each school's scholarship competition requires 2 essays (Topic A and Topic B from the Texas Common Application). Essay B challenges me because I don't know what to write about. Here is the prompt:

"Choose an issue of importance to you – the issue could be personal, school related, local, political, or international in scope – and write an essay in which you explain the significance of that issue to yourself, your family, your community, or your generation."
How do I choose a topic that will help me win ?- Aisha W.

  1. List 20 potential issues. Indicate the scope and stakeholder of each issue. For example: Houston's lax enforcement of drunk driving is a local issue that impacts the citizens of my hometown, Houston, Texas. Granted, your issue may impact more than one of the following groups of stakeholders: your community, your generation, your family, and yourself. At this point, don't worry about that. Simply list who each issue influences.
  2. Choose 5 issues that have the most significance. Ask yourself, "Which issue did I learn the most from?" While presidential politics, trade deficits, and sub prime lending sound impressive, and believe me, have several teachable moments, choose a topic that only Aisha can write about.
  3. Write a mini-essay (5 sentences) for each of the 5 issues. Remember to emphasize the learning experience, the scope, and the stakeholder of each topic.
  4. Read the mini-essays. Which composition had only one group of stakeholders? Furthermore, which composition was the easiest to write? Congratulations, you've found your topic.
I can show you better than I can tell you

Youth is a season of firsts. First job, first trip abroad, first music lesson, first community service project — these are the elements of a teenager's life.
These experiences allow scholarship committees a glimpse into an applicant's life beyond a grade point average and SAT score. Young Johnny, let your audience feel your struggle of learning Karate. Young Tasha, allow your audience to explore the bird cages as you did during your zoo internship.
As a writer, your mantra should be: "I'll take you there."
Show, and not tell, to take your readers there.
"The man smelled bad."
"For the months Andy endured radiation to treat his cancerous lymph node, he couldn't bear to wear deodorant. But this aversion to manly-smelling antiperspirant didn't stop him from doing things a Right Guard Man could do.
The sixty-year-old, who was hairier than any baboon at the zoo, lived his life. It was a sweaty life. He mowed the lawn, and gnats left the stuffed garbage cans to follow what they believed to be a decomposing snack. Andy watered the lawn and fought off the swarm of buzzard flies. Small children with keen noses and poor manners taunted "Here comes Mr. Stinky Pants" as Andy worked. Andy's wife agreed with the kids. She destroyed the pants. Their washing machine was no match for the stench."

Which man smelled worse?

I'm currently a high school student, and I want to study electrical engineering in college. I definitely need to apply for scholarships, but I hesitate when writing essays. My first language is Spanish. I struggle with essays. Since I'm an immigrant, does the essay matter when I apply for college scholarships? — Essay-challenged engineer

A: Before you apply for a scholarship, learn about the award's citizenship requirements. Then, verify your immigration status. Contact the admissions counselors at your prospective schools, explain your trouble with essays, and ask the college representatives about special programs for immigrants.

Work with an English teacher or tutor to improve your writing skills. Clearly expressing yourself will increase your chances of success as a college student and as an engineer.

Ms. Jennifer, are there any online resources that I can use to check my grammar? — Reneé L.

A: Go to for free guides to English usage.
$13,000 on the web
What does an award-winning essay look like? The University of Oklahoma gave me almost $13,000 for this essay.

Ms. Jennifer, on your website, it says that colleges are looking for "you" in the essay. I got your e-mail regarding how to organize an essay with only 1 topic. I'm trying to figure out how this applies to my daughter, Keisha, a junior in high school. She is a B student and loves being captain of her drill team. Keisha wants to major in dance in college. My friends' children write about winning engineering competitions and building computers. Is dancing a good enough topic to write about for admissions committees? — A. Miller

A: Absolutely. Encourage Keisha to focus on what makes her outstanding — dance. Her extracurricular and volunteer activities should center around dance. Encourage her to offer private lessons in her spare time, and hold free recitals for the community. Keisha should record her experiences in a journal. When September arrives, she can meet those essay questions with compelling topics.

Jennifer, I heard a speech you gave in which you discussed teens' writing styles. I couldn't help but to nod when you said that half of teens carry the lack of grammar and punctuation from their personal lives into their school assignments.
My son's essay about "To Kill a Mockingbird" included the characters' names in lower case. He doesn't realize that spell check and grammar check on the computer won't catch everything. He even used an abbreviation in an essay for a summer program application. He wrote BTW (by the way) like he was sending a text message to one of his little friends. How can I ensure that my son, a high school sophomore, uses an appropriate writing style for schoolwork? — Dedicated Dad

A: Dear Dedicated Dad,
The abbreviations, slang, and woeful grammar in teenagers' personal communications are here to stay. According to "Writing, Technology, and Teens," a Pew Internet and American Life Study, 85% of youth ages 12 through 17 use electronic communication for personal reasons. This means that nearly 9 out of 10 members of every varsity squad are texting each other on cell phones, e-mailing, or updating their MySpace and Facebook profiles.

What does this combination of writing and technology mean? Almost 2 out of 5 teenagers in the study admit to using abbreviations like BTW and LOL (laughing out loud) in schoolwork. 25% of teens also have used emoticons in academic writing. What do you think happens to the 1 out of 4 applications to Howard University with smiley faces on them?
When your son communicates, he must ask, "Who is my audience?" When writing for academic purposes, he must be vigilant about grammar and word choice.
Here are 4 ways he can prevent the electronic slang from slipping into excellent speech:

  1. Request that a trusted individual reads the composition. Inform the reader about the intended purpose and audience of the writing.
  2. If a phrase, sentence, or word appears awkward, don't guess at its correct usage. Keep a dictionary and "Elements of Style" (Williams Strunk and E.B. White) handy.
  3. Read the composition aloud.
  4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 as often as possible.