With more than $1 million in essay scholarships in the Fastweb database, suddenly learning to put your thoughts on paper is more important than ever.
The personal essay may be the hardest part of your scholarship application. But if done well, it will give you the edge over your competition. It’s where the “real you” can shine through.
If you find it difficult to write, try talking into a tape recorder. After you’re done, you can transcribe the recording and edit the result. This can be the genesis of a good essay. Most people speak at a rate of 200 words per minute, but write or type at a rate of only 30 words per minute. So the act of writing can get in the way of your creativity, interrupting the flow of thought. You will also be more expressive when you talk, yielding a more personal and interesting essay.
Make your essay a hit with these tips from scholarship providers:
- Think before you write. Brainstorm to generate some good ideas and then create an outline to help you get going.
- Be original. The judges may be asked to review hundreds of essays. It’s your job to make your essay stand out from the rest. So be creative in your answers.
- Show, don’t tell. Use stories, examples and anecdotes to individualize your essay and demonstrate the point you want to make. By using specifics, you’ll avoid vagueness and generalities and make a stronger impression.
- Develop a theme. Don’t simply list all your achievements. Decide on a theme you want to convey that sums up the impression you want to make. Write about experiences that develop that theme.
- Know your audience. Personal essays are not “one size fits all.” Write a new essay for each application—one that fits the interests and requirements of that scholarship organization. You’re asking to be selected as the representative for that group. The essay is your chance to show how you are the ideal representative.
- Submit an essay that is neat and readable. Make sure your essay is neatly typed, and that there is a lot of white space on the page. Double-space the essay, and provide adequate margins (1"-1 1/2") on all sides.
- Make sure your essay is well written. Proofread carefully, check spelling and grammar and share your essay with friends or teachers. Another pair of eyes can catch errors you might miss.
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Andrew Bares and Kelly Lavorgna had put their Catskills vacation home on the market twice in the last four years, and no one had bought it. This time around, they are taking a more novel approach: They are holding an essay contest.
For 200 words and $149, someone could walk away owning 391 Woodstone Trail, a two-bedroom cabin on five and a half acres in Bethel, N.Y., about two hours north of New York City. The winner will be the person who best answers the question: “How would owning the lakefront dream home change your life?”
“The reality is, somebody is going to win this house for $149,” said Mr. Bares, 42, and married to Ms. Lavorgna, 57. Since few good things in life are this close to free, whoever wins the home will have to pay property taxes — about $11,000 a year — as well as income taxes, because the prize would be treated as income. The tax could be substantial, depending on the appraised value of the home and the winner’s personal income.
Also, if the contest does not attract 5,500 applicants, bringing in a sum of $819,500 for the house, it will be canceled, and participants will receive a $100 refund. The remaining $49 becomes a nonrefundable administrative fee.
If the contest is a success, the couple plan to start an online platform so that other sellers can follow their lead.
Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna are among a small group to try this unconventional sales method. In 2015, for example, an innkeeper in Maine dispensed with her bed-and-breakfast through an essay contest; she had acquired it in the same fashion in 1993. Such contests are uncommon largely because they involve serious legwork, with no guarantee of success. Rather than hammer a “for sale” sign into the lawn and wait for the open house, these sellers have to set up and run a contest, generating enough buzz around a single property to convince thousands of people to gamble on it. Already, Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna have had to extend their deadline, originally set for Jan. 31.
So far, Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna, who live in New Jersey, have spent about $40,000. They hired a lawyer to establish rules and guidelines, judges to read the entries and a publicist to spark interest. They built a website with a promotional video showcasing the property and its surroundings, located in a gated community called the Chapin Estate. They declined to say how many people have submitted essays, as the contest is continuing.
The contest strategy has the potential to appeal to far more potential buyers than might otherwise purchase homes in the area. “I’m absolutely amazed by who enters these contests,” said Sara F. Hawkins, a lawyer in Phoenix, who has handled about five similar competitions, including the one in Bethel. “They’re from all over, all walks of life.”
In the promotional video, set to inspirational music, Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna walk hand-in-hand through the wooded property, roast marshmallows at a campfire and play horseshoes with friends. They have been trying to sell the property because they rarely visit it, which is due in part to the fact that they own two bed-and-breakfasts in Cape May, N.J. The house, just steps from a lake, has a log cabin-y feel, with vaulted ceilings and a stone fireplace.
The video makes it all seem so dreamy. But it also poses the question: If no one was willing to buy the property when it was listed for $825,000 in 2015, why would 5,500 people want to bid on it now?
It all comes down to money, Mr. Bares said.
“I do believe that there are at least 5,500 people who would be willing to pay $149 for a vacation house that’s within two hours of one of the great cities of the world,” he said. “I think that the pool is huge.”
But Christine Vande Vrede, a saleswomen at Chapin Sotheby’s International Realty, with offices in the Chapin Estate, doubts that the pool is so vast. “I don’t see this happening in this neck of the woods,” she said. Unlike internationally famous vacation spots like the Hamptons, people who buy homes in this part of the Catskills “have a regional knowledge,” she said. (Unless, of course, you consider Bethel’s claim to fame, as the actual location of the Woodstock festival in 1969.)
The Chapin Estate has sprawling Adirondack lodge-style homes spread across 20,000 acres of forested land with lakes and mountain views. One listing asks $6.75 million for a 14,400-square-foot compound with two homes, a horse stable and riding arena. A more modest one asks $775,000 for a three-bedroom lodge.
By contrast, Ms. Vande Vrede described 391 Woodstone Trail as “basically a three-car garage with a finished apartment above it.” She added that “what that home has to offer might not be what our clients are looking for.”
Mr. Bares paid around $750,000 for the land in 2007, before he met Ms. Lavorgna. He spent another $350,000 building the home. If the essay contest is successful, it will have raised nearly as much as the 2015 list price of $825,000. “They are trying to short circuit the market,” said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants, who described the contest as “more of a gimmick than a real contest.”
These types of contests are not without problems. A winner might not comprehend the tax implications, and ultimately be unable to afford the cost of owning and maintaining the property. Contestants who don’t win might challenge the results. There are complicated legal issues associated with holding a national contest, as laws vary from state to state. Without enough contestants, sellers would have to return hundreds, if not thousands, of checks, itself a daunting task.
Mr. Bares and Ms. Lavorgna see the contest as not only a way to sell a difficult property, but also as the start of a business venture. In addition to their two bed-and-breakfasts, they also own an interior design company. They have been featured on HGTV, on Caribbean Life and Flea Market Flip, where they won $5,000.
Using the essay contest as a model, they are designing an internet platform where sellers could list homes for sale by contest. Initial setup plans would cost between $5,000 and $10,000 for access to contest rules, legal plans, promotional materials, social media and a judging platform. Mr. Bares anticipates that the seller would ultimately pay about half the price of a broker’s fee, which is usually about six percent of the selling price.
Their hope rests on the notion that if people can turn their homes into ad hoc bed-and-breakfasts using platforms like Airbnb, what’s stopping them from selling their home in a game of skill? If the entry fee costs about the same as a night on the town, buyers just might take a chance. “Everyone seems to be looking for a deal these days,” Ms. Hawkins, the lawyer, said. “Why not this?”
A version of this article appears in print on , on Page RE1 of the New York edition with the headline: Write an Essay, Win This House. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
An article last Sunday about an essay contest to win a house in the Catskills misspelled the given name of the lawyer handling the competition. She is Sara F. Hawkins, not Sarah.