Scholarship Tips & Advice

Guide to Writing a Scholarship Essay

A Student's Guide to Writing a Scholarship Essay

Quite often when students wish to apply to a college or university, they may be required to submit an essay. The strength of this essay, along with grades and extracurricular activities can help students win a scholarship. Scholarships usually entitle students to some amount of financial aid. Besides this, they are also an important way of signifying that your achievements were strong enough to merit this recognition. Even later, when applying to jobs, listing scholarships on a resume says a lot to potential employers. For these reasons, it is important to take the time to craft a thoughtful, well-written essay. Follow our guide to learn more about how to create a great scholarship essay.

Follow Essay Instructions When Provided

When instructions are given regarding the format or subject of an essay, always make sure to follow them. If the instructions request no more than five hundred words, stay within that limit, since anything longer may be rejected. Adhering to the guidelines makes it easier for the admissions committee to read the essay, and it also shows them that you can follow directions.

  • The Right Scholarship (PPT) - Before focusing on the essay, make sure that you are actually eligible for the scholarship that you are applying to.
  • Writing the Essay - Reading the essay's instructions is the first step before proceeding any further.

Knowing One's Audience

When you write a scholarship essay, think about who will be reading it: the admissions committee. It is easy to imagine them as a group of faceless administrators. However, go a step further. They are just as human as you are, with the difficult task of deciding who to award a scholarship to. Just like you, they have hopes, goals, dreams, and passions, and they can recognize these aspects in other people too. As you write your essay, appeal to these sensibilities and give them an idea of who you are.

  • Be Memorable - Apart from knowing your reader, find out how to make them remember you!
  • Essays and Tone - Recognize how your language and tone change depending on whom you are speaking to, and adapt it accordingly in your essay.

Create and Adhere to a Theme or Concept

In order to avoid rambling and going off tangent in your essay, pick a theme or topic at the very beginning and stick to it. In some cases, the instructions might specify a topic or give a selection of themes to choose from. The theme should be a subject that you are well familiar with. As with other essays, outline the theme and your topic in the introduction. This way, readers will know what to expect as they continue to read the essay.

  • Sample Themes - Look through a list of common themes that are often asked for scholarship essays.
  • Example Questions - Familiarize yourself with some essay questions that appear most often on scholarship application forms.

Don't Be Afraid to "Toot Your Own Horn"

While we are normally raised to be modest, a scholarship application is an instance where you do need to talk about yourself and your achievements quite frankly. Don't be afraid that it will come across as boasting. In fact, the schools want to hear about what you've done so far, and what you are capable of. This should include sports, clubs, work experience, leadership positions, volunteer or community work, and so on. Make sure that everything you include is factual. Don't exaggerate or include things that you have not actually done.

  • What to Include - Read a list of important items to include in a scholarship essay.
  • Bragging Rights - Make sure that the information you include is actually relevant to the theme and the program that you are applying to.
  • Brainstorming (PDF) - Jot down your achievements and accomplishments during the brainstorming process.

Explain What Makes You Stand Out

Imagine that you are standing in a sea of all the other students who are applying for the same scholarship. What makes you different or special compared to them? Although you may not think that you are special, each of us is unique in some way. To get some ideas, talk to friends, family members, teachers, and neighbors. They all see you from different perspectives, and their feedback can be quite helpful in realizing what makes you unique.

  • Your Personal Profile (PDF) - Use this guide to learn how committees evaluate students and how to make yourself stand out.
  • The Personal Essay (PDF) - Learn how to get through the difficulty of writing about yourself.

Choose Your Words Wisely

The saying goes that pictures are worth a thousand words, but essays, when written well, can be just as powerful (and even more so)! Think of it as painting with words. Just as a skilled painter would take great care in choosing exactly the right tones and shades of colors, a writer must choose words with precision. When you write your essay, skip the clich├ęs and drab prose. In describing yourself, choose compelling words that paint a picture of who you are as a person. After creating the first draft, ask a few people to read it and give you their feedback. Based on this, you can modify the essay and strengthen it.

  • Perfecting the Essay (PDF) - A four-step approach will help you polish your essay to perfection.
  • A Sample Essay - Read an example scholarship essay and note how it combines a professional tone with personal notes and honesty.