How to Write a Scholarship Essay
College scholarship essays are part of many applications as a way for the scholarship committees to learn more about the candidates and their motivations. They have the power to make or break your scholarship application. Because of this, writing a scholarship essay can often seem stressful and daunting.
As a way to ease the essay writing process, we have compiled steps for writing strong scholarship essays, tips to make them stand out to a scholarship committee, and questions students often ask as they begin their scholarship applications. Here are the top scholarship essay tips to earn scholarship money:
- Thoroughly read the prompt and instructions
- Create a solid essay outline
- Start writing early
- Open with a solid hook
- Prioritize basic writing skills
- Keep it descriptive, yet concise
- Be honest
- Be professional
- Be creative
- Let your individual voice shine through
- Stand out from the rest
- Finish with a powerful conclusion
- Revise and edit your first draft
- Read your scholarship essay out loud
- Prepare to submit your scholarship essay
Read below for more context and frequently asked questions about scholarship essays.
1) Read the scholarship essay prompt and instructions
Read the prompt before writing. It sounds like a simple suggestion, but if you don't understand what the prompt is asking, you won't be able to properly answer the question. Additionally, do research on the donor to understand the purpose of their scholarship. Many organizations have a mission statement and individual donors are often giving the scholarship in memorial of a loved one. Keep in mind the purpose of the scholarship provider's essay topic so you are able to understand and appreciate the scholarship program.
Understand what the scholarship committees are asking for, and ensure that you know the word limit, page requirements, and/or other scholarship requirements in advance. If the essay question has multiple parts, pay attention to each part to make sure you are fully answering the question. It seems simple, but a scholarship provider looks to make sure you are properly answering the question.
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2) Outline your scholarship essay
Don't start writing blindly. Once you have a good understanding of the scholarship essay prompts, make note of what you want to say and in what order. How do you want to open it? What are the key points you want to address? Answering questions like these can help ensure your essay is cohesive and well-written.
3) Start writing your scholarship essay
Don't wait until the last minute to start writing your scholarship essay. The earlier you start writing your essay, the more time you have to plan, write, and edit. You have a better chance at success if you start early, rather than waiting until just before the scholarship application deadline to begin.
4) Open with a hook
Now that you have your scholarship essay format, it's time to begin the writing process. When you read strong scholarship essay examples, they almost always lead with something insightful or intriguing. Grab the reader's attention in a way that encourages them to read on. Don't start with a quote, a dictionary definition, or a generic cliché. Make what you have to say original, and show the committee right off the bat that you have something to say.
5) Use basic writing skills
Never underestimate the importance of good writing skills. Whether you're a high school student or a college student, using proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar is extremely important. Scholarship applications will be more credible, and it will show donors you have put thought and care into your essay.
6) Keep your scholarship essay descriptive but concise
As you get into your main paragraphs, remember that you are telling some sort of story. If your writing is bland and provides little detail, you are less likely to illustrate your point. Using the "show, don't tell" method is a helpful way to keep your writing interesting and descriptive. At the same time, don't go overboard with your descriptions. Be detailed, but don't let that cover up the point of your essay.
7) Be honest
Not every essay prompt is easy to answer. However, it is important that you are honest in what you write about in your essay. Don't make up a story that you think sounds impressive. A personal statement is looking to hear about what makes you special, not what stories you can create to make yourself sound more qualified.
8) Be professional
One of the most important scholarship essay tips to remember is to be professional. Put personality in your writing, but remember that you aren't talking to your best friend or sending a text. In other words, steer clear of slang words, excessive punctuation, and text lingo.
9) Be creative and different
The review committee will read many essays when choosing who will receive their scholarship award. When deciding who they give the scholarship money to, the review committee will look for essays that stand out. This means combining all of the scholarship essay tips from above to create a scholarship application that highlights your strengths, uniqueness, and personality. Be personal and follow scholarship essay tips, and you will write a compelling essay.
10) Let your voice shine through
Scholarship essays are brief but give you the time to tell the scholarship committee who you are and why you are the best candidate for the scholarship. Robotic and strictly informative essays may be technically adequate, but if you want your essay to stand out, make your personal statement personal. Showcase your personality in a way that is professional but shows the committee what makes you special.
11) Make your scholarship essay stand out
It's easy to write just anything, but it's harder learning how to write a scholarship essay that stands out from all the other scholarship essays the committees receive. If you want your scholarship to be creative and unique, steer clear of common clichés, song lyrics, and quotes. Scholarship committees want to hear what you have to say, not what somebody else already said.
The best essay examples are those that tell a clear story. While you may be tempted to share your whole life story in a scholarship essay, not every moment from your life is relevant to the essay prompt. Plus, the word count often doesn't allow this anyway. Instead, pick a key moment that highlights your character, your accomplishments, or something that you feel passionate enough about to write about. Stick to a scholarship essay format that allows you to share about yourself while still being concise and answering the essay prompts.
12) Make your conclusion powerful
When thinking about how to write a scholarship essay, remember the importance of a powerful beginning and ending. The end of your essay is the last thing read and therefore is the last thing the reader remembers. Tie the scholarship essay full circle without making general statements, such as "this is why you should pick me as your scholarship winner."
13) Revise and edit your first draft
No matter how good of an essay you've written, there is always room for improvement. Rough drafts are just the start. Take the time to look at your scholarship essay with a critical eye, pinpointing areas you can improve for the finalized draft.
14) Read your scholarship essay out aloud
A helpful part of the reviewing process is reading your essay out loud. This will allow you to catch mistakes you may not have noticed in your first edits. It also helps you get a sense of the essay's flow. When you read your scholarship essay out loud, ask yourself if there are parts that sound unnatural, forced, or out of place.
15) Prepare to submit your scholarship essay
Before submitting your scholarship essay, double-check that your spelling and grammar are correct, that you answered the essay prompt, and that you met the word count. If you have given yourself enough time to complete the essay before the deadline, you will have had the chance to review your essay before submitting it. Don't wait until the last minute to submit, so that there is no panic if something goes wrong before the deadline.
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Frequently asked questions about writing scholarship essays
There are so many questions that come with writing essays, but we've chosen to answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about how to write essays, ways to win scholarships, etc. Click here if you're wondering how to apply for scholarships.
How do you write a winning scholarship essay?
Earning financial aid from scholarship programs is heavily reliant on the strength of the essay submission. Just like writing college applications, the scholarship essay process takes thought and is often focused on the applicant's life or experiences. Because the topic often focuses on the student's life, it is helpful for students to think back to important moments in their life, ranging from experiences at a young age to middle school times up through the present.
Take these experiences and be creative, writing about personal lessons and experiences, rather than relying on clichés. Use what you're passionate about, for an essay about your dream school or career goals would be more compelling than one simply listing test scores and academic performance successes.
Follow the essential tips from above, layout a strategic essay structure, and submit the best representation of you. There isn't a guarantee for earning this financial aid through scholarships, but following these suggestions will give you a higher chance for future success on scholarships.
How do you begin a scholarship essay?
Open your first paragraph with something interesting that hooks the reader. At the same time, avoid corny statements and overly dramatic retellings. Don't tell the reader what you're going to do, such as saying "in this essay, I will..." for this is unnecessary. Use your intro to pique the reader's interest, while still giving an idea of what your essay will be about.
Do scholarship essays need a title?
This depends on the scholarship. Some essays may require or request a title, but most scholarships on Bold.org do not have a place to add a title. They are rarely required for Bold.org essays, but there are still exceptions. Additionally, other scholarships sites may prefer essays to be titled.
Where do I put my name in a scholarship essay?
This is another circumstance that depends on where you are applying for the scholarship. On Bold.org, you are submitting your application using your profile, so your name has already been shared in the application. Because of this, it is not necessary to include your name in the essay. Preferences may change depending on where you are applying for scholarships.
How do you answer "tell me about yourself" in a scholarship essay?
This question can be answered in so many different ways, but the most effective essays write less about academic credentials and more about interesting lessons and experiences that make them unique. If filled out thoroughly, your profile should already display your credentials, so use this space to share unique information about yourself, such as experience in the performing arts, time spent in a study abroad program, reasoning behind a college double major, work as an international student, and so on. Each person has a story; use this space to share it.
How do you start a scholarship essay about yourself?
One of the hardest parts of writing an essay about yourself is figuring out how to start. You want to sell yourself but still be humble, come across as fun but not stupid, show your strengths without ripping on others, etc. So, how should you start?
Don't start with a basic list of your accomplishments, for that doesn't draw readers into your essay. Begin with a hook that illustrates the point of your essay, without explicitly saying it. There is no right or wrong way to start your essay as long as you promote your strengths without being boastful. This is a difficult line to teeter on, but if you are able to showcase yourself in a genuine way, your chances of receiving scholarship financial aid will be much higher.
What to say when asked why you deserve a scholarship
Scholarships essays are a great place to show off your achievements, experiences, and personality, and this doesn't have to be in an arrogant way! Use a prompt about why you are deserving to share your story. When people know more about you, it becomes more apparent why you are qualified for the scholarship.
Use this section to show how you excel in different areas, giving examples, instead of simply saying that you are adequate in those fields. Share about your community service experiences, talk about your post-secondary education or plans to attend college, and include a note of how many scholarships you are earned in the past and what they were for. Don't be afraid to highlight your credibility, but do it in a way that gives examples. The "show, don't tell" technique is preached throughout schooling, and these essays are a perfect time to put that skill to use.
How do you sell yourself in a scholarship essay?
After you lead into your essay with a strong hook, begin by focusing on your morals and personal strengths. Do this in a way that doesn't just say you are strong in a certain area but shows it. Maybe this is a personal anecdote that shows your helpfulness, or maybe it's an example of your previous awards to demonstrate your academic excellence. Focus less on general academic achievement and more on specific awards, extracurricular activities, community service, and other notable accomplishments.
If your profile already shows your GPA, research experience, awards, and other information in your bio, don't feel that you have to go into depth with a specific list of all of your academic achievements. Stick to the aspects of your resumé that are individual to you, and you'll be more likely to find success in the different scholarship opportunities you apply for.
How to make a good impression in a scholarship essay
Many of the things to put in a scholarship essay have already been mentioned, but it is also important to mention what should not be added to an essay. In making a good impression on the scholarship committee, you must ensure that your message is clear. Avoid getting into controversial topics that detract from the focus of your essay, and stay on track to show your organization and thoughtfulness in approaching the scholarship application.
Additionally, don't flat-out say you need the money, even if you are in desperate need of financial assistance. Begging for money or using lack of financial stability as a way of appealing to the committee does not send a good message and often reflects badly on the rest of your application. If you do mention your economic background, do it in a respectful way that doesn't come across as offensive to the donors.
The committees ask the questions they do to get a good judge of a person's ambitions, interests, and most importantly, character. There are possibly many reasons you deserve this scholarship, but many other students are worthy too. Don't insult other applicants in order to make yourself look better. At the end of the day, you can only control yourself, so keep the focus on the positives about you, instead of the negatives about other people.
How long should a scholarship essay be?
Most, if not all, scholarship essays have a required word count range for your essay to stay between. Look at this when reading the prompt and preparing to write your essay so that you have an idea of how much to write. Keep your essay well inside the range to be safe.
Strong essays are less reliant on the number of words and paragraphs and more reliant on the quality of the writing. A 400-word essay packed with power can be more effective than a 1000-word essay that is poorly written. Because of this, it is less important to worry about what the committee will think of the length of your essay, as long as it's within the limit, and more important to make your scholarship effective.
Can I reuse my scholarship essays?
In some cases, it is okay to use the same essay, but be aware of what the question is asking and the purpose of the scholarship. For example, if you are applying to a computer science scholarship that wants to know about your interests in the subject, don't use an essay that focuses on your relationship with your family members.
If the prompt is the same for several scholarships and you want to reuse an essay, there is no rule against it. However, be aware of the little changes you can make to improve the applications for various scholarships.
Where can you find scholarships to apply for?
Scholarships are a great way to combat student loans, and Bold.org's mission is to help reduce the cost of student debt, providing a scholarship opportunity for all sorts of people, with different experiences, educations, and interests. Use Bold.org as a starting point to find scholarships that are right for you. Other scholarship websites offer opportunities as well.
In addition, look for local scholarships in your area, for fewer people will be applying. Each individual college offers its own set of scholarships, opening up even more chances to limit college debt.