How to write a scholarship essay

June 21st, 2021 by Al C

We don't recommend using a typewriter for your scholarship essay

With the increased cost of college tuition, students often need to apply for grants and scholarships in order to pay their way through school.

There are scholarships and grants for everyone from recent graduates to first-generation college students – even if you’re still a high school student.

Most scholarships require more than just good test scores. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to win one of these awards, read on. The scholarship application process usually includes an essay question that the scholarship committee will ask you to answer.

Scholarship applications can be stressful for students – especially international students. The worst part is that applicants don’t always know what they are doing wrong and how to fix it. This takes skill and preparation (and some good luck!).

Read this blog before you start writing – it will give you lots of tips that will help you write a great essay, so that your chances of winning the scholarship increase dramatically!

Writing a Winning College Scholarship Essay

Great scholarship essays show the real person behind the application and this could be what gives you the edge over the competition (as long as you meet the other criteria for the scholarship).

Scholarship Essays

Scholarship essays are like college admission essays. They have a lot in common and they are similar in the way that you write them. Prospective students applying for scholarships are in competition with each other, as many will have good grades and great prospects. Your essay is a great chance to distinguish yourself from other applicants.

When applying for a scholarship, it is important to write an essay that the committee will notice. The committee will receive many, many versions of the same essay. All of these similar essays will blend together – in other words, you need to stand out by writing an attention-grabbing story in a unique voice.

These are some tips to think about when writing your essay:

Scholarships are not always based purely on grades, so it is important to mention what makes you strong outside of academics.

It is best to find a scholarship related to your academic or future career goals.

One way to make sure your essay meets the requirements of each scholarship competition is to do some research on which type of essay it requires.

How to write a winning scholarship essay – scholarship essay tips

It’s not enough just to know what you want to write about. You also need to meet any given requirements and develop a plan for researching the topic before starting on your essay.

Scholarship Essay Instructions

Make sure to read the scholarship essay instructions fully

Before you start working on your essay, make sure to take a moment to read the instructions and fully comprehend what is required of you. If it’s not clear, then look over them one more time until you have all of the information that you need. Do not start writing until everything is clear in your mind. If you have any questions about the essay, contact the scholarship committee and ask for instructions. This shows that you are serious about the essay prompt and will not make you look worse than if you did nothing at all.

Pay attention to the prompt and be sure you maintain focus on that

When reading the prompt, make sure to read it carefully several times and try to understand what is being asked. Scholarship prompts typically ask a variety of similar themes, such as how receiving the scholarship or gaining your degree will change your life. A good way to start the essay would be figuring out which specific question the prompt is asking you.

You should also avoid adding anything unrelated to the prompt. You should be able to talk about the specific topic in-depth. Stay focused on the prompt when writing your essay.

If you can, choose a topic that you are interested in

You’ll create better work and be more expressive if you care about what you’re writing. You may get to choose the topic of your scholarship essay for some applications.

So if you have a choice, choose a topic that you are passionate about. This should make it easier to write your scholarship essay without having to do more work.

If the prompt is asking for your past, present or future goals and aspirations (or something else), it’s best to tie those into how receiving this scholarship will change what you’re able to do.

If you make your writing from your heart, it will be more meaningful.

Avoid Negative Topics

Don’t do essays that are about negative things. That’s not good to read or write.

Scholarship program administrators are most impressed with essays that inspire and give hope, shed light on overlooked problems, or tell stories of overcoming great obstacles.

Don’t be shy

Who are you? What makes you special? This is your chance to talk about what you want to say that you couldn’t say in other parts of the application. When you tell the story of your own life in a scholarship application or essay, it will seem more real to the people reading it.

Spelling and grammar are important

People notice mistakes in grammar. Even small mistakes can distract a reader from your message, and nailing the spelling and grammar in your scholarship essay shows your writing ability and attention to detail. This includes good sentence structure and a wide vocabulary throughout your entire essay.

Proofreading your essay is crucial to submitting an application that will be in with a chance of winning.

Stick to the word count

stick to the word count in your essay

When you write a scholarship essay, the prompts usually tell you how many words (or characters) to use, so follow instructions and stick to the rules. You would be surprised how many applicants go over the word count, and despite submitting a well written scholarship essay, they make a bad first impression by sending something in that doesn’t meet the scholarship requirements.

You may not know what 250 words looks like. It’s hard to tell. As a general guide, you need to write 250 words for one typed page (double spaced). That means you need to write 500 words for two pages and so on. Microsoft Word and Google Docs both have functions to show you your word count.

You can’t go over the word or character limit. If you do, you may be disqualified. You do not need to write an essay that exactly hits the limit, but it is good to come close.

It’s easy to think that when you write more than the word limit, people will think you are working harder, have put in extra effort, and are therefore more deserving of the scholarship money. In truth, the people reading your essay care about how well you follow directions as much as they care about a well written essay.

For a great scholarship essay, do some research

What do you know about the organization awarding this scholarship? Look them up online. Learn about why they are offering the scholarship and their mission statement.

Learn about the award provider’s mission and objectives. As you write your scholarship essay, think about the point of the company’s mission and what it is they are looking for in a successful candidate. Then share a story from your life that demonstrates how passionate you are for the organization or cause.

Many scholarship providers also showcase previous winning scholarship essays on their websites. You can see what a winning essay looks like and learn from their experience. Studying other scholarship essay examples will give you many ideas about what to write in your personal statement, how to create your essay’s introduction and a really good understanding of the scholarship essay format you should use.

Start the essay writing process early

Time management is key when applying for scholarships. Plan ahead to ensure you have the proper time available and be sure to check deadlines and requirements.

Give yourself plenty of time to come up with a thought-provoking essay. Take the time to brainstorm ideas, compile an outline, and edit your entry thoroughly just like you would for any assignment.

It is best to do your work before the deadline. That way you have time to make sure that it is good and you can fix anything if it needs to be fixed. When you finish writing the essay, leave a few days before you edit it. You’ll have a better chance of finding errors and places for improvement if you do not edit it right away.

Here are some scholarship essay tips:

Make sure you have a good introduction

Introduce the essay with a strong introduction or “hook.” Try to make your first sentence engaging enough to grab your reader’s attention.

Introduction, body, conclusion – a classic framework. Start with an introduction. The introduction should tell the readers what you are going to say in your essay. Write a body that tells about the main idea of your essay. The body should have many details, sentences, and paragraphs to support your argument. Finish by writing a conclusion that tells the reader what you talked about in the body of your

New ideas should always start new paragraphs. Paragraphs should be short and concise for easy reading!

Try to tie up any open threads and bring your essay to a conclusion with a personal statement.

Be truthful

The most memorable essays are written with the utmost authenticity and are often built around a series of events that detail how these experiences have impacted your life. Remember, you do not need to embellish or make up details to try to seem more deserving for the scholarship money.

Show, don’t tell

This is the most important tip for writing an essay. Instead of just explaining how you feel, try to paint a vivid picture through your words. For example: instead of saying that I’m really stressed at work and school, illustrate what stress looks like to you – late nights studying and forgetting to shower for days?

Keep it concise

Clear, specific and concise writing is one of the best tips for a solid scholarship essay. 

Providing a compelling and concise essay is challenging, but necessary. Employing simple language with specifics and vivid imagery will help you do just that.

Write about resilience

Use your life experience in your scholarship essay

Scholarship essays are rigorous and require a lot of thought. Often, the essay will ask you to write about an important issue in your life that required you to be very resourceful when solving it, or a specific hardship you have overcome.

Many applicants make the mistake of writing more about their struggles with overcoming obstacles and not giving much insight into how they actually accomplished it.

One of the most important components for crafting a worthy scholarship essay is to focus on one event that has influenced or had an impact on your life. If you have experienced many different adversities throughout your life, it can be hard to narrow down which one to focus on.

However, by choosing a central theme you will be able to provide a more concise, coherent essay and will be able to tell the story of overcoming your obstacles in greater depth.

Use a professional tone, but also show who you really are

Instead of using overly colloquial language, focus on professionalism. But don’t be too formal – this is still your essay! Just keep readers interested by being yourself and sounding like you instead of trying to sound stuffy or formal.

Balance humility and pride

Your scholarship essay is the place to share your accomplishments and backstory, but don’t just list all of your virtues in an effort to prove that you deserve a scholarship. It’s important to strike a balance between being humble and proud of what you’ve accomplished.

Avoid these common errors

don't make these mistakes

Now that you have a general sense of how to approach your essay, let’s review what we should avoid mentioning.

Generic inspirational quotes

By all means put quotes on social media. Or on your desk. But for a scholarship essay, you should not use them.

Instead, include advice or wisdom you’ve been given from the people who are important to you. Doing this will add a personal touch and give readers insight into what motivates you.

Platitudes, cliches and meaningless phrases

Be original. Don’t paint the same picture as everyone else when you’re applying for scholarships.

Platitudes are common phrases that people use all the time. For example, “Good things come to those who wait.”

Try not to use them in scholarship essays because you will sound like everyone else if you do.

Cliches are overused phrases or stories that no longer have any power or meaning. If you want to write a great scholarship essay, don’t use any clichés.

Swearing 

Sounds obvious, right? You’d never even think of doing this in a scholarship essay, would you? You’d be surprised at how many people actually do – and it can cost them the scholarship! 

Try to avoid any swear or curse words, even if you hear others use them frequently in mainstream media or TV shows. 

It’s unlikely that you will offend anyone, but be safe rather than sorry.

Use a thesaurus to find new exciting words and paint vivid imagery of your experience.

Txt spk and emoji

Avoid emojis and text speak in your essay

While you may be accustomed to using abbreviations and acronyms in daily conversations, keep them out of your scholarship essays.

The scholarship essay is one of the best places to showcase your writing skills, so it’s important that you write in a formal style unless otherwise directed.

Avoid using slang and informal language in your essay. Keep it professional and academic but also personal. A scholarship committee is looking for a special person with unique qualities.

The same goes for emoji. Keep them out of your scholarship essay! ;p

Trending topics

Don’t address a currently trend, controversial topic unless the essay prompt asks you to. A winning scholarship essay will be about you and your experience, not the latest trending topics. 

It’s ok if you touch on these ideas as part of your essay, but not as the main theme.

The most compelling essays often deal with personal subject matter rather than popular topics.

DO take a strong stance on causes that you care about and show how winning this scholarship will help you continue fighting for them if appropriate, though. A critical thinker will stand behind something they can argue for convincingly.

Writing scholarship essays requires following the prompt and avoiding unrelated points. 

Photos, and fonts

Don’t make your scholarship essay a visual project. Keep it professional. You want people to read it without getting lost in all the pictures and fonts.

If you there are no formatting instructions, when uploading your essay to an application, use Times New Roman font and size 12.

If you copy-paste your essay into the text box on an application site, this will format your content for you.

Ensure that your writing follows all formatting requirements for headers and footers, margins, and single- or double-spacing.

Extreme statements

Scholarship essays should not only consist of extreme perspectives. Avoid unnecessary pessimism about the future and strong stances on irrelevant issues. 

If the prompt asks you about a problem facing the world today, you can answer by focusing on the hope for the future and the possibilities to overcome the issue. Many scholarship essays focus too much on the problem and not enough on the solution.

Criticism of other applicants

It is not okay to say that someone else – like another applicant – is less deserving of financial aid than you are. Scholarship committees really frown on this as a practice. You can tell the committee why you are deserving of the scholarship money without putting any other applicant down.

Your life story

Every scholarship essay needs to be focused and concise, so it is important to remember that you only have limited space. It can be tempting to write a lot about your life, but stay focused on the prompt given.

So while the story of your life may well be worth writing about, you probably can’t do it within the word limit set, and it almost certainly won’t meet the brief in full.  

You can choose to focus on one period of time, or one important event in your life that will allow you to write your essay and show a different perspective from all the other applicants. 

Essay Writing Process

Scholarship essay writing process

Understanding how to write a scholarship essay can be difficult, but we’re here to give you some help.

Idea generation or brainstorming

Many students just dive straight into writing their essay. But if you want yours to really stand out, you should start thinking, planning and generating ideas before you begin writing.

Think about the essay prompt. Start to think of what you want to write about to address it fully.

To ensure that your idea fits with the prompt and communicates what you are trying to say, brainstorming is necessary. As you think of ideas, write them down as bullet points or notes on paper.

Outline

An outline is a useful tool to help you avoid structural mistakes, omission, repetition and fluff in your scholarship essay.

Your outline is like a complete answer to the essay prompt but without any of the detail.

As you write the full version of your essay you will have all the space you need to expand on what you’ve decided on in your outline.

Structure

The outline can help you structure your scholarship essay properly.

Your outline should allow you to see that you have answered the prompt, and done so in a logical order such as:

An introduction that sets out your ideas for the essay

Explanations that support the ideas you raised

A conclusion that summarises your points and wraps up the essay

Write

Once you’ve drafted your article and outlined its key points, you can begin writing the piece for real. Be sure to follow your outline and check it for anything you may have missed while drafting.

Try to be succinct, avoid rambling on about unrelated topics and make your point quickly and clearly.

If the scholarship doesn’t mention a maximum essay length, a good rule of thumb is that your essay should be around one full page long.

Take 5 (or longer)

Take a break!

When you’ve completed a first draft of your essay, stop for a little while. Take a break by getting outside for some fresh air or going for a short walk. This will give you time to take in your own work and get some perspective on it.

When you return from your break, the essay will seem clearer in your mind than before. If possible, wait until the next day to come back to your essay. Continuing to edit it fresh in your mind will help you make any final revisions.

Editing

With a fresh set of eyes on your scholarship application essay you may notice things that you want to change, add or remove. Is there a better way to say something? Do you need to elaborate more on a certain part? Is there something that doesn’t make sense?

You also need to look out for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes and typos.

When revising your essay, you should always ask yourself if there is a better way to express what you want to say. Are any of the sentences not necessary? Could they be shortened or rewritten? Is it clear how this section connects with another?

If you find that you’ve repeated the same words too often, you try to vary your language. It will make reading and understanding your essay easier for a reader who is not familiar with what you’re trying to say.

Tools such as Grammarly can help find errors in writing, so it’s a good idea to check your work there before submitting anything or sending off your application.

Format

Once you’re happy with the content it’s time to format your essay by following the instructions provided in the brief.

If no specific instructions are given, then our advice is to use a standard 12 point font like Arial, Times New Roman, Helvetica, Courier, or Georgia font.

Double spacing is a standard requirement for many scholarships.

It is also important to use a ‘Title Page’ and include the following information: name, address, year of study, current course(s), email address.

Ask someone to read your essay

It can be hard to be objective when reviewing your own work. That’s why you should ask someone else to read through it before you submit.

Ask them what they think about your writing, and if the essay presents all of the main points that were requested in a clear way.

If there are any gaps then ask them for ideas so that everything is well-balanced.

Ideally someone who has experience with reading essays would be the best person – someone like a teacher or counsellor. But really anyone like a friend or family member will do here because their perspective will be different than yours.

Take their advice and update your essay not submit your essay until you have made the requested changes.

This will give you an edge and help ensure greater success!

Don’t quit!

If you get tired, rest but don’t give up. Writing a scholarship essay is not an easy task, but if you break it down it is manageable. If you need more money to be able to afford to study abroad then winning some extra financial aid in the form of scholarships could make all the difference to your financial stability in college.

We hope that you’ve learned something new about how to write a scholarship essay in our article. Now it’s over to you…

Good luck!

Do you have any other scholarship essay tips? Let us know in the comments below!

Find your scholarship here.


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