Lindi Compton, an eighth-grade student, was named the 2016-17 Patriot’s Pen first-place winner. Her essay on the theme, “The America I Believe In,” won her a $5,000 award. Lindi was sponsored by VFW Post 5813 and its Auxiliary in Greensburg, Ky.
Each year more than 125,000 students in grades 6-8 enter the VFW’s Patriot’s Pen youth essay contest. The first-place winner from each state competes for national awards totaling $50,000, with each first-place state winner receiving a minimum of $500 at the national level. The national first-place winner wins $5,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in March.
The essay contest encourages young minds to examine America’s history, along with their own experiences in modern American society, by drafting a 300- to 400-word essay, expressing their views based on a patriotic theme chosen by the VFW Commander-in-Chief.
YOU TOO CAN WIN!
WHO CAN ENTER: The Patriot’s Pen program is open to students in grades 6-8 who are enrolled in a public, private or parochial school or home study program in the United States and its territories.
HOW TO ENTER:
Contact VFW Post 9934 for additional assistance and a copy of the entry form.
Telephone: (949) 248-1419
The 2017-18 theme is: America’s Gift to My Generation
Students can ask a teacher or youth group leader to supervise their progress in the competition. Then students can contact VFW Post 9934 and establish a contact person who is a member of that Post or Auxiliary.
Deadline — The completed essay and entry form must be in the hands of the VFW Post Chairman by midnight October 31, 2017.
Knowledge of the theme is worth 30 points. You must show a thorough knowledge of the theme in your work. Demonstrate you have researched the issue extensively.
Theme development is worth 35 points. Answer all relevant facts about the theme such as the who, what, where, when and why. Relate the theme to your own experiences.
Clarity of ideas is worth 35 points. Write your essay in an easy-to-understand format. Leave your reader with a clear understanding of your explanation of the theme.
WHAT ARE THE RULES?
- Essay length: 300-400 typewritten words.
- You must write your own essay.
- All essays should be typewritten in English with no color or graphics and cannot be less than 300 words or greater than 400 words in length. (Essays under or over these word amounts will be eliminated.) Every word is counted regardless of length. The essay title (theme) or added footnotes do not contribute to the word count.
In no way may contestants identify themselves in their essay. Do not put your name on your essay. The entry form is your essay’s cover sheet. Secure the Official Student Entry Form with a staple or other fastener on top of your essay. Essays must be written exclusively for this competition. Use of the same essay for other competitions will result in disqualification. Contestants are allowed to enter only once (one Post competition). Contestants found in violation of this rule will face elimination from the competition and will be required to return any and all prize money awarded or received.
The essay must be a contestant’s original work and a product of the contestant’s own thinking. The approach to the Patriot’s Pen theme should be positive and clearly focused. Poetry is not acceptable. Quotations may be used sparingly if plainly identified wherever used. A contestant’s teacher, counselor or parent may check the essay for punctuation, grammar and/or spelling, but the content must remain the contestant’s. Contestants will be judged on the basis of their essay alone and are not required to present the essay orally. All essays become the property of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW retains non-exclusive rights to use your essay and likeness in the promotion and execution of the organization’s programs and activities.
Guess what? You don’t have to excel in language arts to write a compelling scholarship essay. A big part of scholarship essay writing is thinking for yourself; everyone is capable of this. One common issue with essays is not answering or responding completely to the question or prompt. Thinking deeply is a process and you can learn it. In fact, is has to be learned. And like most processes that appear complicated, by breaking it down into steps or strategies, it becomes doable and even simple.
Plus, strengthening your essay-writing brain muscles will only aid you for college and life. (A compelling email in a professional gig can go a long way for your work life and even your salary!)
Essay writing can be intimidating, sure, but don’t let it keep you from winning free money!
20 Smart Strategies for Writing a Scholarship Essay
1. Go for it. Put your heart into it and don’t listen to any naysaying voices from anyone (even yourself, especially yourself). This is especially critical to beginning a project and to strategy #2.
2. Do a free-writing draft. Write down everything the theme or prompt makes you think about, even if it seems silly or thoughts seem contradictory. Push yourself to write for 10 minutes or 20 minutes. Just flow! Write as much as you can. Free-writing means no judging or editing. Don’t get hung up on grammar, for now.
3. Take a break. Minimum break time should be at least 20 minutes. Move around. Physical movement stimulates brain activity.
4. Now, read through your draft. Loosely organize your thoughts. Break it up into paragraphs. Don’t delete anything, yet. Your thesis (main idea) belongs in your first paragraph. The rest of the essay will prove your thesis. Subsequent paragraphs will be full of your evidence. You can make an outline, if you prefer that type of organization. In fact, you can make an outline as your first step, and then proceed to strategy #2.
5. All your reasons for claiming what you say in your thesis is your evidence and the rest of your essay builds on these. Imagine that someone says to you, after reading your thesis, “Prove it,” or “Why?” Let’s say your essay question is “Why do you want to be a nurse?” In this case “To help people” is not a sufficient answer. It’s the beginning of an answer. (It’s also the same answer that 99.9% of people will give.)
6.Elaborate. What events/ideas have influenced your decision or confirmed that it’s the path you want to take? Read your answers and ask “Why?” Your reasons, your influences–these make up your evidence. This step is where you dig deeper. It’s the step that many applicants don’t take the time or energy to do. It’s also where the magic happens.
7. Use personal anecdotes and specific examples. Your personality is revealed through details. These belong solely to you and will set you apart.
8. Authentic personality and creativity is interesting. Weird for weirdness’ sake is not the goal. Everything must tie together and extra points if the way a story ties into your thesis isn’t immediately obvious.
9. At this point, you might revise your thesis. It isn’t unusual to revise your thesis based on what you discover while writing your evidence. A specific and unique thesis trumps a generic one.
10. Strike through any cliché and rephrase it using new words, your own words. (Instead of “think outside the box” you can say, “creative thinking” or “surprisingly unique way of thinking.” Except you can’t because now I said that, and copying me would be plagiarism, the deadly sin of writing.)
11. Ask someone who is educated (and experienced) to read through your draft for content. You want them to ask questions to help you dig deeper. You want them to point out anything that doesn’t make sense or needs to be clarified or expanded (so don’t get defensive). Ask them to check whether your essay answers the question or prompt completely.
12. While that person is reading your essay draft, take care of the scholarship logistics. Fill out the entry form, the envelope, save the website address, etc. Prepare anything that needs doing for the final submission ahead of time.
13. Don’t worry about grammar–it’s still not time. Use the feedback you received to improve your draft content. If you feel that you didn’t really receive much feedback, seek another source.
14. Read through your (almost) final draft and check that you are within the word limit. Make edits accordingly.
15. Format your essay: first, check the scholarship application. Use the font size and type and any writing format instructions specified. If none, then go standard: Times New Roman, size 12. (A scholarship essay is not the place for artistic formatting.)
16. Now, proofread for grammar. It’s time! (The OWL is a great resource for grammar questions, and a personal favorite is Grammar Girl.)
17. Let your draft sit all alone for at least a few hours, preferably a day. Go outside. Do some physical activity. Taking breaks is good for the brain, baby.
18. Get someone (a teacher or a professional) to proofread your draft for grammar as well as content. And yes, proofreading multiple times (with at least one other set of eyes) is required for writing a strong scholarship essay.
19. Send in your application early! Always aim to turn in work early so that if any unexpected roadblocks pop up, you have time for the detour. Also, when you turn it in early, you can spend the due date binge-reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
20. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If one essay would work for more than one scholarship application, you can build on the great work you’ve already completed! Don’t send in the exact same essay, but use some of your points or even your basic structure and then tweak it so it fits the particulars.
Need more? Read 10 Scholarship Tips You Need to Know, especially if you are lacking motivation. Now, go win yourself some money!