If you’re like most college students, you could probably use more money for tuition. Luckily, there are a lot of options, including loans, need-based aid, and scholarships

Since they give you cash for school and the money doesn’t have to be paid back (so you can focus more of your time on making the grade), scholarships are a great option. But if you actually want a shot at receiving a scholarship, you have to put some work in up front by applying and writing a compelling essay. Here’s how to do just that.

Give them what they want

Every essay question is a little different, so don’t submit the same essay with every scholarship you apply for. Make sure you answer the question that’s asked completely, or it’ll show that you don’t care enough to read the prompt. And while you’re at it, scour the instructions. Know the due date, the word count, the formatting requirements, and make sure you do everything it tells you to do.

What’s your point?

Start the essay crafting process by creating an outline of what you want to cover. Your essay should have a main point that you’ll summarize in one sentence within the first two paragraphs. Don’t start writing until you know what your main point is.

Make sure your main point matches up both with the essay prompt and the awarding organization’s mission.

Hook ‘em

When you start putting words on the page, begin your essay with a good hook in the first sentence or two to get the reader excited about reading the rest of what you have to say. No one’s going to want to keep reading if it they’re nodding off from the start.

Tell a focused story

The people reading your essay don’t want to read a list. They want to know who you are and that they’re giving money to a real person and not a generic robot. Weave your main point into a story. Talk about your progression toward a certain view or a powerful experience in your life. Stay focused on one unique thing or specific accomplishment or your point will get off track.

Be sure you keep it interesting with descriptive language after writing a killer hook. And it helps if your story has a reasonably happy ending to give the reader that feel-good first impression.

Make it perfect

While your essay won’t be graded, there is a lot on the line here. It should be technically good. Connect your paragraphs using good transitions to make it feel like a coherent, polished document. Check your verb tenses and make sure they’re all the same. Use spell check and grammar check after you proofread to see if you missed anything. And re-examine the formatting instructions at this point too.

Check it twice

You shouldn’t be the only person to see your essay before you submit it. Have your parents, siblings, teachers, that well-meaning friend who’s always correcting the grammar of your text messages, and anyone else you can find read the document for content and correctness. Also, ask if they enjoyed reading it or what would have made it more enjoyable. If other people like reading it, judges will too.

After you’ve gotten help from everyone you can, go over it again yourself. You may even want to leave it alone for a few days and then come back to it with fresh eyes.

Give yourself time

Your essay will be better if you spend more time on it and get help from others as well. Start well before your deadline to maximize the greatness of your essay and minimize the pain of procrastination.

Searching for scholarships? Check out the listings on ThisWayToCPA and learn more about AICPA scholarships, including the AICPA Legacy Scholars Program, and prior recipients.