Making A Great Persuasive Essay

Nerves abound as the teacher walks through the room.  Every student waiting anxiously, stirring in their seats as names are called out one by one. Finally, your name is called; stiffening as your paper lands on your desk, you gasp. One glance at all the red ink and your heart sinks; the essay you spent all night writing barely resembles the original copy. You think to yourself, “But I tried so hard. What did I do wrong?”

This story can be echoed by students across the country. Whether you are answering an ACT or AP test prompt, or submitting a college scholarship essay, persuasive writing is not about trying hard but understanding how to craft an effective argument. There are several common mistakes that are easy to fix.

  1. Planning the Essay

Too often students are given a prompt, brainstorm a few ideas, then begin writing. To really plan an essay you need to figure out more than just your thesis statement. A good plan should include how you are going to defend your thesis, what arguments others might pose and how to counter them, and what evidence you will use to support these claims. With a good plan the essay can almost write itself. All you need to do is link the arguments together.

  1. Supporting a Claim

What is the difference between a claim and evidence? While most people can articulate the difference, these often become muddled in essay writing. A claim is a statement that presents a perspective and a belief on a certain subject. Evidence is a factual statement that provides support for a claim. For example, If I stated that M&Ms are the best candy, few people would accept it. However, if I provide concrete evidence I can give weight to this claim. But evidence can have varying strengths. Good evidence can look like this: “Fox News reported that M&Ms sold the most units and were the highest revenue generating chocolate candy in America for 2017.” This evidence has a strong source, provides a metric for comparison, and covers a large sample size. By leaving any of these out the evidence loses credibility and effectiveness. Let’s see what bad evidence would look like: “Mr. Johnson’s fourth grade class voted M&M’s as their favorite candy”. This extreme has very little credibility, a tiny sample size, and provided no metric for comparison. Just remember, whenever you make a claim it needs good evidence to support it.

  1. Understanding Perspectives

Trying to make an essay stand out can be hard. But one surefire way to catch a grader’s eye is to show understanding of what drives different perspectives. By arguing against the emotions or motivations of counterpoints you can move past just responding to a prompt and start providing real insight. Anyone can rewrite a prompt in their own words, but few are able to dissect that prompt and move past just regurgitating the same old lines.

All these things can bring strength and life to your essay writing that might be missing in your peer’s. This is not about changing your style of writing, merely approaching your essay differently. Focus on writing clearly with sound arguments and you will see a lot less red ink marring your essays.

Scholarship Winner Jumps 7 points on the ACT

“This win is Bella’s future,” said Dawn Heckert, mother of our scholarship winner, Annabelle Heckert. Dawn has won her fair share of giveaways and raffles throughout the years. When she found out the essay piece she wrote for Get Smarter Prep’s scholarship contest was in fact what we selected, she knew she won something special.  However, it wasn’t until Annabelle started coming to her sessions with our Premier-Level Tutor, Caleb Pierce, and started seeing a change in Annabelle that she really understood the gravity of what she won.

Originally, Annabelle didn’t think much of taking the ACT. She knew she would eventually have to if she wanted to go to college, but she wasn’t excited about it. Taking the ACT was a step towards college, but she didn’t even know where she wanted to attend or which major she was interested in.  Annabelle was grateful she won the scholarship contest and she knew she was going to give it her best effort, but it wasn’t until the very first session with Caleb that she knew this was going to be life changing.

“She came home and was excited to share these different strategies with me,” said Dawn.  Annabelle’s excitement continued to increase after each session with Caleb. With each session her confidence also escalated. 

“You gave her confidence and unlocked something inside of her that was stifled,” exclaimed Annabelle’s mom, “Confidence is the most important thing you can give a student now days.”

Annabelle took the ACT exam February 10th at her high school, Blue Valley West. When she was taking the test,  the ACT proctor noticed she was taking the test differently than other students. Annabelle was going back and forth between questions and passages within each section, which is one of the strategies students learn at Get Smarter Prep.  After the test was complete, the same proctor approached Annabelle and asked her what she was doing. “I was using my different strategies!” replied Annabelle.

“We are just so excited for her and proud of the effort she put towards this training by Get Smarter Prep!  Caleb told her there were strategies to beat this test and she wanted to see if it was true. And man did she do it!” said Dawn.

Annabelle knows her training was unique.  She put in the effort, came to class with a fantastic attitude ready to learn, completed her homework, and confidently walked into the ACT using the strategies and methods she learned during her tutoring sessions.  

Annabelle still doesn’t know where she will attend college, or even what she is leaning towards for a major, but she does know she has completed a piece of the puzzle by taking the ACT.  She knows for a fact that with the help of Get Smarter Prep she has done better than she ever thought possible, and that different possibilities now exist that weren’t there before.

“Get Smarter Prep has opened an even greater future for her as she explores what’s next!  You have changed her story for the good!” exclaimed Dawn.

With a full 15-hr. Premier-Level Tutorial Annabelle’s score jumped up 7 points from a 24 to a 31 in a condensed four and a half week program! Get Smarter Prep couldn’t be more proud of this year’s Scholarship Winner, Annabelle Heckert!

4 Steps to Begin Your Scholarship Search

College is a huge investment. While the benefits of higher education are undeniable, another truth is just as evident. College is expensive. Given this reality, scholarships can be a college student’s best friend; after all, it’s money you don’t have to pay back! When it comes to college scholarship applications, it definitely pays (both literally and figuratively) to put in the extra work. So where to begin? Just follow these simple steps to begin your college scholarship search!

Set Up a Meeting With Your School Guidance Counselor

Your school counselor should have a great idea of scholarships that are available within your area. They also have experience assisting former students with the various application procedures, as well as the knowledge of what successful applicants have done in the past. Before your meeting, be sure to prepare a list of colleges you are interested in applying to and a list of activities or organizations you are currently associated with. This information will help your counselor identify scholarship opportunities that are tailored to your specific interests and needs.

Visit Your Dream School’s Website

A college’s website or financial aid office is the best resource to find out about university specific scholarship opportunities. Even if you haven’t started applying for admission yet, visiting your prospective schools’ websites can give you an idea of when scholarship applications are due as well as GPA or test score requirements for different levels of merit-based aid. Many schools have a scholarship application process that is separate from the admissions application, so don’t assume that by applying for admission you are also applying for aid.

Check Out Employers

Many companies offer scholarships or tuition assistance programs to their employees and their family members. Simply being related to someone who works for an organization that offers scholarships or grants could be a new opportunity, so be sure to ask your parents or other family members for that matter (Holiday get-togethers could be a great time to ask around!). If you have a part-time job, don’t forget to check with your employer as well. Who knows, maybe your weekend job could end up providing you more than just gas money!

Search the Internet

A simple Google search will yield more scholarship opportunities than you could ever have the time to explore. Thankfully, there are many scholarship search engines that make the process a lot easier to digest. A great place to begin is the U.S. Department of Labor’s free scholarship search tool. There, you may search for scholarships by keyword or filter by location or demographic details. There are many similar websites that offer similar services, so be sure to look around until you find one that works well for you.

By Jennifer Murphy, Standard-Level Tutor @ Get Smarter Prep


Western Illinois University

Name: Caitlin Pennington
College: Western Illinois University      
Major: Music Therapy

  1. What first drew you to Western Illinois University?

I was first drawn to WIU when I learned about the music therapy program. I was also very interested in the Western Commitment scholarship program.

  1. What other colleges were you considering?

I was also considering Maryville University, Drury University, University of Missouri – Kansas City, and University of Kansas.

  1. How was the adjustment from high school to college?

Adjustment from high school to college was easy in some ways and more difficult in others. I was very excited for the independence that comes with living on your own, but I was not prepared for the level of independence that was expected by the professors. I also was not prepared for the amount of time that was not spent in class. Unlike high school, you may only be in class for two or three hours a day; the rest of the day is yours to spend how you want/need. Getting a planner and managing my free time wisely was imperative for my success. Getting involved on campus (but not overextending myself) was also a huge help in adjusting to college.

  1. What was your favorite class? Why?

My favorite class was Music Therapy Clinical Skills (even if it was at 8:00 AM). This course allowed me to learn the basics of being a clinician and offered hands-on experience in music therapy. This was the first experience I had in actually planning and executing interventions that I will be using in my career.

  1. What clubs or groups were you involved in?

I am involved in the Western Illinois University Singers, Madrigal Singers, and Concert Choir. I am also a member of Mu Phi Epsilon, a professional music fraternity, and the WIU Music Therapy Association. Outside of school, I sing in a church choir in Macomb.

  1. Anything else you want to tell us?

Buy a planner!! There is no way I would have survived if I hadn’t written everything, and I mean everything, down.

  1. In one sentence, what do you love about your school?

I love the opportunities that Western provides for its students; from the incredibly knowledgeable professors and advisors, to the free activities around campus, to the great scholarship program, Western provides the opportunity for all students to succeed.

A Semi-circle of Circle Sideways

As a high school student without a clear view of your career path, it can be challenging to choose a set of colleges for consideration and then to actually pick one for attendance. My advice is to find a healthy balance in following your heart and your head, and open your mind to the notion that you can excel at anything you do regardless of whether you select an less-expensive state school or an Ivy League institution.

In the fall of 1999 during my senior year, I narrowed down my college considerations by focusing on evaluating Journalism Schools in a handful of universities. Journalism appeared to be a perfect fit given my love of language and gravity toward good grammar. By graduating third in my high school class of more than 400 and having a resume full of sports and extra-curricular involvement, I ended up being offered a $10,000 annual scholarship to Boston University and a scholarship to the University of Kansas that would cover full tuition and books. Rather than becoming saddled with more than $100,000 of debt, I put my pride aside and chose KU knowing full well I could be happy anywhere.

Despite the large size of the university, I always tell prospective students that the community is as small as you make it. Whether you choose Greek life, opt to participate in activities ranging from sports to music to politics, or simply make friends through your core classes, it is easy to feel like part of something great. The William Allen White School of Journalism was exceptional, and I couldn’t have imagined how much relevant information and how many life skills I would learn in those classes. An internship promoted by one of my English professors became the catalyst for my three post-college jobs in marketing that led me to where I am today. Ultimately, I graduated with a B.S. in Journalism Strategic Communications with a French minor and a B.A. in Psychology. Together, these degrees help me excel not only in my career but in being a good, caring person who puts friends, family and clients first.

As the co-owner of Circle Sideways, a marketing and advertising firm located in Merriam, Kan., I am not just a copywriter but a marketing strategist, business consultant, entrepreneur, client therapist and more. My business partner, Anna Ladd, also graduated from a state school (I can forgive her for being a K-State Wildcat!), and the friends and connections we made in our college days have been invaluable in both supporting our journey and growing our business. I’ve often thought about how my life would be different if I had attended BU. All in all, I don’t think it would have made me any happier or more successful in what I find meaningful in life.

Learn more about Lee Stiegemeier and Circle Sideways on Circle Sideways website!

Kauffman Scholars

When you hear Kauffman Scholars what do you think of? You probably think of smart and intelligent scholars. You are absolutely right. Kauffman Scholars is a multi-year college access and scholarship program designed to help low-income students in Kansas City prepare for and complete a college education. Mr. Ewing Marion Kauffman wanted children to be successful in life and to not have to worry about finances. Mr. Kauffman established the Foundation in the mid-1960’s with the same sense of opportunity he brought to his business endeavors, and, with the same conviction.

Mr. Kauffman wanted his foundation to be innovative and to fundamentally change people’s lives. He wanted to help young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, get a quality education that would enable them to reach their full potential. He saw building enterprise as one of the most effective ways to realize individual promise and spur the economy. Today, the mission of the Kauffman Foundation follows his vision by focusing its grant-making and operations on two areas: advancing entrepreneurship and improving the education of children and youth.

If you want to be successful in the Kauffman Scholars program, you have to be serious about your education and what you want to be in life. I am a Class 4 scholar. I have been in this program since I was in the sixth grade, and now I am a sophomore in college. I have overcome a lot of obstacles since I entered the program. When you are in middle school, you have school and then you have Kauffman programming every day with coaches that you have all year. Your coaches teach you what to expect in high school and in college, including college admissions and the ACT. During high school, you have Saturday classes and you switch to your post-secondary coaches. When you enter college, you switch coaches again and you only have yearly meetings, but you have year-long goals, such as turning in scholarships. My adventure with Kauffman has been a roller coaster, but I love it. I always remember the motto “Who Are We? Kauffman Scholars. Why Are We Here? To Get Ready. Failure Not an Option.”

Jazmine Roberts is the Summer Intern at Get Smarter Prep.

Truman State University

Name: William “Boomer” Jenkins
College: Truman State University
Major: Exercise Science

1. What first drew you to Truman?

I had several people from my high school who had gone there before, so I knew the reputation was strong.  It was an affordable school that was semi-close to home. But honestly, they gave me a reallllllly nice scholarship and I couldn’t turn that down.

2. What other colleges were you considering?

Mostly other Midwest schools SLU, Loyola-Chicago, but Truman was my first choice.

3. How was the adjustment from high school to college?

Relatively easy.  Coming from such a small school (I graduated high school with 22 students), I knew that I wouldn’t be able to handle the massive classes at a huge state school.  Truman had the same intimate environment as my high school.  I roomed with someone I had known since I was 5 and I got active in a fraternity, so that helped.  Also, I was only a 3 hour drive from home if things got tough.

4. What was your favorite class? Why?

The first class I took: Sport Management.  I met a lot of people that I stayed friends with and the teacher (who was also my adviser) was a sweet British lady with the best accent.  It was one of the few classes that applied to what I want to do when I grow up, so it was a perfect fit for the first college class.

5. What clubs or groups were you involved in?

Beta Theta Pi Fraternity, Phi Epsilon Kappa (Exercise Science Honor Fraternity), Student Recreation Center staff, Men’s Basketball team student manager

6. Anything else you want to tell us?

Truman was great in that they provided free papers every day so I could get my crossword fix. Did me a real solid.

7. In one sentence, what do you love about your school?

I loved that it was a small school and campus, yet maintained most of the opportunities that I may have gotten at a larger school.

Boomer Jenkins is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.