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Students: try this one simple thing to write a better scholarship or admission essay

If you’re in Grade 12 you'll soon be getting ready to write essays for scholarships, and perhaps for admission as well. Students often tell me they find it difficult to come up with ideas about what to write.

A few weeks ago, I went to an event where I attended an interesting talk by Mary Jane Copps, a.k.a. The Phone Lady. The topic was around writing a blog and how it can help your business. During the talk, Mary Jane gave tips on how to come up with ideas to get started writing (Mary Jane has been writing a blog post every week for several years, so she knows what she’s talking about). One tip had a big impact on me: instead of sitting down to write using the keyboard on your laptop, pick up a pen and paper. Her message? The simple act of holding and using a pen will engage your brain to help you begin writing.

So what makes pen and paper different than typing, and how does it apply to scholarship essay writing?

It's quite well documented that there are several learning benefits of handwriting versus typing. Science tells us using our hands in different ways helps to develop different parts of our brains. Handwriting engages the brain’s motor pathways that deliver learning. Typing information simply doesn’t deliver learning in the same way, so it’s important to think not only about what we learn, but also to connect it with how we learn. For example, handwriting is better than typing for remembering information. Studies suggest handwriting lecture notes commits the information to memory better than typing notes.

But is handwriting really better than typing for creativity? Some suggest it is. In a US study of children in grades two to five, students who composed text by hand consistently produced more ideas than when they typed on a keyboard. Others say there is some evidence but so far it is inconclusive.

Handwriting your essay might not be the never-fail magic solution but, when you’re stuck for an idea, it’s a simple thing you can try so why not give it a go?

Besides, there are other benefits to handwriting your essay versus typing it, including the ability to:

a) write/doodle additional ideas in the margin, and easily connect ideas with arrows

b) keep a running copy of your edits (you might want to go back later and use something you crossed out; if you use a word processor you may delete an idea and then it's lost)

c) avoid the distractions of a laptop, such as pop-up notifications, and the irresistible lure of checking social media.

Happy pen-and-paper writing!

Need help with scholarships? Contact me to discuss my services.

About the author

Janet MacDonald is a Scholarship Coach with mycampusGPS Education Consulting. She is a former Canadian university admissions officer. For seven years, she was the coordinator of a scholarship program at a major Canadian university. Janet has helped her student clients win hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships.

You can find her online at, and on LinkedIn.

Learn more about Janet MacDonald by visiting the About Page.

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