Archive | November, 2012

Writing Contests Are Moneymakers

26 Nov

Hit the mark dead center when you focus your essay for a writing contest.

How long would it take you to earn $500? Sixty hours after deducting taxes and such?

High school students often overlook a great moneymaker — writing contests and other kinds of writing competitions. High school counselors and teachers frequently get flyers and email notifications about essay contests, but it’s the rare student who enters them. With a little research and a focused essay, you can win $500 or $1,000 or more for the effort of an hour or so — nice pay for a relatively short investment of time.

Here are some tips about writing contest essays:

  • As you research contests choose topics about which you can write passionately, so that you are vested in your essay.
  • Read all the material provided by the organization. “Listen” to what the organization is telling you about how the essay will be judged.
  • Make sure you understand the actual topic.
  • Outline the question. Often there are several areas of focus the organization would like you to address. Make sure you — as the illustration above indicates — hit the mark of what the contest creators want.
  • Research the issue thoroughly, choosing reliable sources. Make sure you have the latest information, as often these are news driven. For example, if you are being asked to discuss solutions to solve a university system’s budget crisis, you need to know the current issues. Go to creditable sources, such as several news organizations that will give you varied perspectives about the issues.
  • Organize your essay appropriately, according to the essay type. For example, a reflective essay is organized differently than a persuasive essay.
  • Get feedback from a trusted adult, and revise your essay carefully.
  • Proofread meticulously — make sure there are no errors.
  • Follow all the specific directions for submission. It would be sad if your entry was thrown out simply because you didn’t, for example, put your contact information in the correct spot.

One current example is the annual John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Essay Contest ( Each year the JFK Library challenges high school students to write a focused essay about an elected official who has risked his or her career to demonstrate political courage. The website offers many links to help students about the elements of a strong essay, guidelines for citations, and other information. This is a very prestigious contest — one that could provide you with $10,000, as well as an exciting trip to Boston.

At the time my oldest child was applying to colleges, affirmative action was an issue regarding college admission. Colleges had been admitting quotas of minority students, relaxing standards at times so as to achieve ethnic diversity on their campuses. One statewide organization sponsored an essay about this topic, and my daughter entered the contest. She worked hard to get the latest news information — which was breaking almost daily — and wrote a strong persuasive essay arguing against quotas. She was one of a half dozen students who won a $400 award, which the organizers presented to her and the other winners at a stunning reception at the top of the Transamerica building in San Francisco.

Winning that award was a huge confidence builder for my daughter, who went on to get her master’s degree in education and to teach high school English.

My theory is that someone has to win these contests — and that someone might as well be one of my students . . . or even you!

Postponing College: Pros and Cons

12 Nov

Some of you may be thinking that you’re TIRED of school and want to take some time off and work or travel before attending college. Here are some pros and cons:


  • You may be able to save some money for college if you work.
  • You might be more mature and refreshed before starting college studies.
  • You could travel and see more of the world, thus gaining an appreciation for people of other cultures and also for your family, community, and country.
  • You might learn more about yourself and get insights into what kind of college major and career you would like.


  • Some colleges will not hold your admission/registration, and you would have to go through the application process all over again.
  • You will probably be most academically ready for college the fall after high school graduation. It’s possible that you may lose some knowledge for math and English placement tests if you wait a year.
  • The income you earn in a gap year must be reported for purposes of financial aid, and you will still have to also report your parents’ income. A year off does not make you independent for purposes of financial aid.
  • Travel and living expenses can be expensive — and you might find that you can’t save as much money as you thought, especially if you need to buy a car and fuel it for job transportation.
  • Good intentions often dissipate. When I have had students tell me they want to take a year off, I have observed that most likely they never attend college later on. The exceptions are rare.
  • College scholarship organizations often do not want to hold a scholarship for a year. They like to see immediate results for their fundraising efforts.
  • College tuition and living expenses are only going up each year, so postponing college can make funding college more expensive.

From the above you can probably imagine that I would not advise a gap year between high school and college. Instead, if students tell me they want to travel abroad, I suggest that they find a college that encourages and supports those kinds of programs. I have numerous former students studying in Europe this year — even a young man who is studying engineering figured out how to arrange his studies so he could go to Scotland for a semester.

If you’re not sure what you want to study, colleges have great career counseling centers — and you could even begin now by taking online tests (one is  — avoid doing any that require you to pay, as there are many that are sponsored by government and educational organizations).

What I’ve sometimes noticed is that students who want to take a year off to work often are simply nervous about leaving home. Visit colleges with your family. Arrange campus tours. Plan an overnight in a dorm with someone you know. Learn to overcome your fears.

However, if you’re got a great plan to travel or do an internship related to a potential career, that could work out well. In any case, talk as a family and then make a proactive plan that includes your college education later.

Here’s a great web article from Fastweb that provides info about gap year programs that can benefit you down the road:


How to “Read” a Scholarship Organization

8 Nov

Learn to “read” a scholarship group.

You increase your chances of winning a scholarship significantly if you understand the organization that sponsors the scholarship and the kind of student that organization would choose to reward with a scholarship.

Before you start filling out the scholarship application, do some research:

  • Read all of the materials that accompany the scholarship application. Often the organization will give some history about the group and/or the scholarship.
  • Go to the organization’s website and read all about the organization.
  • Ask your school counselor or other adults about the organization.

Then, ask yourself these questions:

  • Who are these people?
  • Why do they give scholarships?
  • For what kind of student are they looking?
  • What kinds of qualities do they want to see in the scholarship winner?

For example, your local Rotary Club is part of an international organization made up of business leaders in communities. Rotary members focus on fund-raising so as to sponsor various community-service projects, which often include scholarships for local high school students.

You can imagine, then, that Rotary Club members may be looking for students who represent the best of their own qualities, especially leadership and a mindset that community service is important.

Because my daughter had done a lot of community service for her school — organizing a school-wide effort to paint student murals on exterior walls and to spruce up the girls’ bathroom — she was a natural for a  great scholarship from Lowe’s, the home improvement store.

As you work on your scholarship application for an organization, think about those qualities that you have and those activities you have completed that would appeal most to your audience — that organization’s scholarship review committee.

CAUTION: NEVER misrepresent who you are to a scholarship organization. However, you do want to relate on that application the best of who you are that will dovetail with that organization.

And remember . . . always complete every application for which you are qualified. You won’t win every single scholarship for which you apply, but you also will not win any scholarship for which you don’t apply.