With a new school year here is how to Write a Scholarship Essay, now’s the perfect time to get serious about searching for and winning scholarships to pay for College. We recently shared the 2021 edition of our expert tips for how to win more scholarships, so that’s a great place to start! Many scholarships require you to write an essay. You’ll need to be able to convince the selection board that your application is worthy of the money.
Your scholarship essay can be a window into your world if it is done well. The scholarship essay gives readers a glimpse into your unique personality beyond what a GPA can. It allows you to express your voice and tone, which is very exciting. They can be even fun to write! Scholly has collectively read and written TONS of scholarship essays. We’ve created a scholarship essay checklist to help you write great essays and dramatically increase your chances of winning college money!
Here’s the ultimate guideline on how to Write a Scholarship Essay. Complete the package with a bonus guide for more information on what you should AVOID in essays.
Top Tips on how to Write a Scholarship Essay Article Follow these guidelines to write a strong essay.
As with any essay you write for school, you want your scholarship essay well-structured.
This will allow the reader to absorb and digest the information easily. It should also have a good “flow.”
These are seven steps that will help you write your best work regardless of the context.
Have a strong opening sentence to the essay, sometimes called a “hook.” This is a great overview of types of essay hooks, but remember, stay true to your own voice and tone (more on this later). For scholarship essays, it is a good idea to start strong with a picture of yourself in 10 years.
Keep to the tried and true introduction, body, conclusion structure. Even though the essay prompt may seem loose, your essay should have a clear start, middle and end.
For new ideas, start new paragraphs. It is better to have shorter paragraphs than long, difficult-to-read paragraphs.
Don’t end your essay abruptly. For example, you could wrap it up with a statement about why you want to follow your academic path.
Get familiar with the prompt… and follow it!
You should read the prompt multiple times to be fully clear on what it asks. Many scholarship essays share similar themes. For example, how more financial freedom will affect your life. The prompt should not have a question within it (e.g. We recommend that you frame the prompt as a question. For example, you might ask: “What is my direct impact on the environment?”
Although it may seem obvious, do not forget the prompt. Part of the assessment is your ability to address a specific topic. Although it can be tempting to let your thoughts wander, remember to stick to the prompt.
Select a topic you truly enjoy
While you should stick to the prompt in most cases, there are some situations where you can choose your topic or the main focus. You can write about an event, subject, or value that is important to you. If you take pride in what you write, you will produce better work and be more authentic. This will help you improve your scholarship essay without requiring more work.
Let’s see what we mean. Let’s suppose that a prompt asks for you to tell us about a time when you were proud of yourself. There may be several examples. It could have been when you first jumped off the high diving platform. Or it might have been when you returned $100 from a wallet that you found. You don’t have to choose which example essay readers would like to hear. Choose the one that resonates with you the most. Although it may sound cliche, genuine writing and from the heart will make you a stronger writer.
Do some research
Who are the people or organizations that provide the scholarship? Visit their homepage to learn more about them. Learn more about their mission and why they gave this scholarship. You will be able to better tailor your essay to the readers if you are more familiar with them.
Many scholarship providers also feature previous scholarship winners on their website, often with the essay (or an excerpt from it) that won. These essays will give you a good idea of the experience.
Learn the word/character limit
Many scholarship essays will give you a limit on the number of words or characters that your essay can contain. It can be difficult to know what “250 words” really means if you aren’t used to keeping track of these parameters. Two hundred fifty words are equivalent to one page typed, double-spaced. So 500 words equal two double-spaced, typed pages.
It is a good idea to take an essay (or any other piece of writing) and do a word/character count. This will give you an idea of how long it takes. Microsoft Word and Google both have functions to do this, but you can also use a letter counter like this one. Stick to the word length or character once you have it. If you exceed the limit, you may be disqualified. You may be disqualified for going over the limit.
(Oh, and by the way, this paragraph is 160 words long and 858 characters in length).
Take enough time
As with any writing assignment, it is important to allow yourself sufficient time to consider the prompt, plan, draft and revise. An organized essay is more likely to win than an unplanned one.
To brainstorm, draft and revise your essay, we recommend leaving at most two weeks before the deadline. To avoid burnout, it is best to allow yourself a few days between each stage of your essay writing process. If you approach your essay with fresh eyes, you will be able to spot simple mistakes and areas for improvement.
Plan and Brainstorm
This is an important point that we cannot stress enough. A road map will make essay writing much easier. To get ideas flowing, the first step is to create a road map. This will help you choose an essay topic that makes sense to you. Here are some excellent essay brainstorming techniques.
Once you are clear about the focus of your essay, you can start to outline. While some students prefer not to outline, it can make the process of drafting much quicker. These resources will show you how to make a basic outline for your essay and how to go about the outlining process.
You can also outline the details that you want in your introduction, body and conclusion depending on how long and detailed the scholarship essay is. You don’t want it to be complicated, but you shouldn’t skip the planning.
Appear to ethos, pathos and logos
What-os? Let’s start by explaining what ethos, logos, and pathos are. Logos, pathos and ethos are ways to persuade your reader. They are techniques that make your work more persuasive and powerful.
This is a great overview of ethos, pathos, and logos, but in short, here’s what each refers to:
Ethos = How you establish your credibility, reliability or authority in the subject matter. (Hint: You’ll be heavily relying on personal experience when writing your scholarship essay).
You might, for example, discuss how your experiences working part-time have influenced your opinions on minimum wage laws.
Pathos – How to use emotional appeal. (Imagination, creativity, etc. Tell your story, or present your case.
You might, for example, paint a picture showing all the wildlife that was lost to massive brush fires.
Logos = How logic and ration can be used to communicate your point.
You might use statistics, for example, to show how dependent modern society is on its cell phones.
Here’s a graphic that breaks down ethos, pathos, and logos. In the end, your ideal essay will use all three of these support methods to make it as convincing and earnest as possible.
Your life is interesting and valuable! To make yourself more worthy of the scholarship money, you don’t need to embellish. Your authenticity is the most powerful thing. Trust us; it’s easier for readers than you might think to spot baloney within an essay.
Here’s an example. You might be tempted to use dramatic language if you are a tutor. For example, “Over the past four years, I have had the privilege of helping shape thousands of lives.”
Have you ever tutored thousands? Most likely not. You’re too busy. We get it. It’s simple to embellish.
You could instead say, “After four years of tutoring almost 150 people in math and sciences, I feel that my math and science skills are significantly improved.”
We are confident that your unassisted accomplishments are impressive.
The show, don’t tell.
This is the most important rule of writing. Instead of explaining everything, paint a vivid picture to your reader. Don’t simply describe everything. Say it You’re probably stressed from juggling College and work. Illustration of what stress looks like in Your life. Are you working all night and drinking a lot of coffee? Are you doing homework during your lunch breaks at work? Make a picture and share it with others. Specific, believable examples.
Here’s an example:
You don’t have to say, “I tore the ACL playing ice hockey.” Be more vivid.
You might try something like this: “It felt like an anvil had crashed down on my knee.” As the crowd fell silent, I lay on the ice in pain. There was something very wrong.”
In the second example, notice how immediately we FEEL the effects of the injury!
These are some suggestions for “showing, not telling” and an overview of the top literary devices that will make your writing stand out!
Be precise and concise.
We encourage you to use evocative language. However, we want to emphasize that you must be clear and concise. Get to the point. The most effective words and images are usually the easiest to remember. Avoid generalizations and use specific examples. More succinct sentences.
Let’s demonstrate. This sentiment feels too general and wordy.
Nature is beautiful, and I love it. It’s the best thing about nature. It’s my favourite place, and I love any activity that takes me outside.
This rewrite expresses that same idea in a more concise and specific manner.
Being in nature is a great way to recharge, whether you’re hiking, swimming in the ocean, or planting seasonal flower bulbs in the garden.
Be careful with exclamation points.
Exclamation marks are a sign of excitement, as we all know. Do you get it? Right?
We love exclamation marks! While it is exciting to win college scholarship money, exclamation points can become too much.
As a general rule, you shouldn’t use more exclamation marks in your scholarship essay. Also, make sure that they are appropriate for the prompt. Some of the most creative scholarship essay prompts we’ve ever seen are ones that asked for a joke or funny story. You can use exclamation marks in this instance more freely.
Many people mistakenly believe an exclamation mark makes a sentence stronger. However, powerful statements can be made without an exclamation mark.
A powerful statement is, “I look forward to becoming a legal practitioner as a way of creating a more just, egalitarian world”. To make the statement more powerful, you don’t have to add an exclamation mark at the end.
Recognize Your Resilience
Scholarship prompts often ask about your personal life. You’ve conquered hardship. This type of question is a favorite because it allows the reader to see a student’s resilience, problem-solving ability, and other important aspects that are crucial to a scholarship essay.
Many students make the mistake of writing 100% about their hardships without discussing or acknowledging how they overcome them. When choosing a winner, essay readers don’t just look for the most difficult story. They want a complete narrative that includes the student’s efforts to overcome the challenge.
We recommend that you also focus on a major event or experience. This is a more powerful way to write, especially when you are limited by words or characters. Although you may have experienced many hardships in your lifetime, your essay will be more focused when you pick one.
Be professional, but be you.
You should avoid swearing, colloquial, or conversational language. However, you do want to be you, which means that you must write in your own voice. As long as it’s professional, readers will want to hear you sound like you. It doesn’t need to be a long essay to be great. It should be clear and concise, but it must also be real!
Here’s a great piece on the difference between voice and tone and how you can use yours to stand out.
Be humble but not too proud of yourself.
This is a humble-brag. Perhaps. You can share your achievements in your scholarship essay. But don’t list everything. You need to find the right balance.
The following example sounds a little like brag about “pile on”:
“As a straight-A student who is always first to get the answer in my classes, captains my debate team and proudly volunteers at the homeless shelter, I believe I am deserving of this scholarship.”
You can instead say, “The discipline that I bring to my academics, volunteer work, and research reflects the hard work I will put into college, and I would appreciate financial assistance to help me attend.”
Your “Thank You” should be brief.
Writing should reflect your character, dedication, integrity, and honesty. There is no need to end your essay with a lengthy “Thanks for reading this essay” paragraph.
Avoid filling your scholarship essay with praise and gratitude. Instead, use your personality and words to answer the prompt in detail!
A brief thank-you is appropriate if you have the space. However, you should be as concise as possible. You can say, for example, thank you for reading my essay. Polite, but to the point.
Take an exploratory walk around the block, then revise.
Robert Graves, the author, said that “There is no such thing as good writing. Only good rewriting.” This statement is true. Nothing comes out perfect on the first attempt. So revise, revise, revise!
We love taking breaks during revision. Take a break from your work and come back to it later. This will allow you to see your essay from a fresh perspective, which will enable you to take it to the next level.
It’s a good idea if you feel comfortable giving feedback to another person. You can trust a friend, teacher, or peer to give feedback, and you should be open to suggestions.
Proof your scholarship essay!
Finally, PROOF your work! It should be clear and concise. Grammar and spelling mistakes are some of the most common ways that scholarship essays can be rejected. A perfect essay will increase your chances of being chosen.
Do you need your work immediately proofed and improved upon? You are in luck. We’ve got you covered with Scholly Editor, an AI-powered proofer that provides immediate feedback and suggestions on word choice, grammar, sentence structure, voice and much more! Good luck with your essay writing!
What to leave out of your Scholarship Essay
Let’s now look at the things you should leave out of your scholarship essay.
These rules are not meant to be a guideline but will guide you in writing the most compelling and original scholarship essay possible.
So here are the things you should avoid.
Who doesn’t love an inspirational quote?! We sure do. A great quote can be very empowering, no matter how you use it. It’s better not to include them in scholarship essays.
DO NOT drop infamous quotes. Many of these are too common. Example: Mahatma Gandhi stated that you should ‘be the change in the world’. This is why I am applying for the scholarship. I’m going to College to become a nurse to help change the world.
The thing is, being a nurse is admirable on its own. It doesn’t need to be tied to any other’s grand statements about humanity or life. This essay is about and. Famous quotes are only a distraction.
DO includes meaningful advice or wisdom that you have received from important people in your life. This will be more personal and give you a unique view of yourself and your values.
Example: “My mother, who is a registered nurse, has encouraged me to care for others and make the world a better place.” This is why I plan to follow her example and attend nursing school.
Use of general terms and platitudes
Stands out in the mix. This is the name of the game to win scholarships. This means that you won’t have to repeat the same thing as hundreds of other applicants.
Platitudes are super common, overly simplified statements that people use all the time. To avoid sounding like everyone else, you should not use these phrases in scholarship essays.
DON’T discussing the scholarship opportunity with platitudes such as, “It would be the world to me win this money” and “Winning this scholarship will be life-changing.” However, these statements don’t tell us much about who you are.
DO illustrate the changes that will occur if you are awarded scholarship money. This scholarship money, for example, would allow me to have one part-time job rather than two and give me more time to study.
Themes or stories
You will be asked to write a scholarship essay.
Cliches are phrases, stories, or themes that are overused to the point that they lose their power and meaning. They will definitely harm your scholarship essay.
One of the most popular cliche themes in scholarship essays is “Cinderella”, or the “underdog” storyline. (Think: Cinderella gets her glass slipper. Only the scholarship is the glass slipper). Many cliches are about someone who overcomes all odds and triumphs with a little help.
We love a Cinderella story in real life as much as anyone else, but it is easy to see why this story ends up in scholarship essays so often!
DO NOT just share a story about you that portrays you as a down-on your luck student who could have it all if only you won this scholarship money. This is what it might look like: “I have never won anything in my life. There are no giveaways, contests, or competitions. If I win this scholarship, I can save money on College and buy a house. I can also travel the world and become the youngest Supreme Court justice in American history.
We aren’t going to lie. We love dreaming big! We want to make sure you don’t fall for cliché narratives when writing scholarship essays. This will reduce the power of your essay and decrease your chances of winning.
Be realistic and specific about your goals, your past, and yourself. Focus on one main goal that you will be able to achieve if you are awarded the scholarship money. Example: “As a Spanish double major, I would love to study abroad in Madrid to fully immerse myself into the culture and learn Spanish. This scholarship money would fund my semester abroad if I won it.
Another one is probably obvious. You’d never swear in a scholarship essay, right? You might be surprised at the number of people who swear in scholarship essays.
DO NOT use profanity or curse words even though they are common phrases we hear on TV and in real life.
Try not to say, “I worked my arse off for 18 years, and now I’m ready to apply myself further in this rigorous pre-med program.”
Is it possible to offend someone with this kind of conversational tone? Most likely not. It’s safer to be safe than sorry. We know that you can be creative!
Do express your enthusiasm, perseverance, preparedness to tackle the next chapter without using curse words. To find new and exciting ways of saying things or to create a visual representation of your experiences, you can always refer to a thesaurus.
Example: “College was a marathon, and I worried that I might not make it to the end. Now that I have graduated, I know my limits, and I am thrilled to start graduate school.
Texting is becoming the norm in the modern world. We’re all used to abbreviating words or using acronyms every day (smdh, lol-ing at how common this language is). Keep your text in the group chats and not in scholarship essays.
Your scholarship essay is a wonderful place to show your professionalism and eloquence.
DO NOT use statements such as, “College should not be free for all IMO. But because it isn’t, I need this scholarship to help fund my education.” This statement looks absurd when taken out of context. This type of thing is very common and distracting to the reader.
DO remove all text talk in favour of your unique voice and tone. While you can still use mild humour and even talk the same way, it is important to keep your speech professional and academic.
Suppose the prompt asks for you to discuss a current trending topic or take a position on it, do not. These essays are about.
Based on the prompt, your personal experiences and your own opinions, you might choose to discuss a “hot subject.” But Don’t do this just to make your essay standout or risk alienating your readers.
While we encourage you to be authentic and open about your life, “hot takes” should be left for Twitter and not used in scholarship essays.
DO NOT Treat your scholarship essay as a platform to address a popular Twitter topic. Your stance on a current topic is 100 times more effective than a thoughtful essay.
DO take firm positions on causes you believe in, and explain how this scholarship will benefit you. You can discuss, for example, your commitment to fighting against wage inequality and gender equality.
We want to be clear. We are not suggesting that you clean up your beliefs, your writing or adjust your beliefs to appeal to certain readers. Critical thinkers are those who can stand behind a cause. They can convince others to support it.
It is important to pay attention to the prompt and avoid unrelated detours or tangents that lead to hot take territory. Photos, Emojis and Funky Fonts Although we love emojis, they should not be included in your scholarship essay. We’ve seen it happen many times. If you are asked to use an emoji creatively in your response, don’t do it. This applies to photos, fun fonts, and any other typeface that isn’t a standard typeface unless you are given permission to do so again. Don’t turn your scholarship essay into a work of art. However, it may sound like a great idea, keep your essay professional. You want your essay to be easy to understand without being overwhelming. DO stick with the standard: Times New Roman font size 12, size 12, if attaching your essay to a Google or Word file. Your content will be formatted Automatically if you paste your essay into a text box on a website. Will follow all formatting instructions to the letter, including single vs. double spacing, margins, headers/footers and so on.
Avoiding extreme perspectives is a good idea, especially when writing scholarship essays. Extreme declarations are those that only see one side a situation (and sometimes the negative side) and present it as fact. DO NOT make fatalistic statements about the future or take unnecessarily harsh stances on subjects. Example: “If this scholarship is not awarded, I won’t be able to go to College. I will also not get a job that I can support myself.” Or, “The American education system is completely broken, and there’s no other way to fix it.” You can see how these statements can make the reader feel that the writer doesn’t see the whole picture. DO Replace extreme statements with optimistic and open-minded perspectives for the future. While it is possible to take a strong and realistic stance on any topic, you should try to keep your outlook positive and proactive. If the prompt asks for your opinion on a current issue, you might say something like “While there has undoubtedly been immense damage to the planet, but I’m excited about pursuing a degree in environment science as a way to take action to reverse these toxic effects from climate change.” You’d find it much more engaging and dynamic.
It’s not a good idea to speak poorly of others or say that others are less deserving of scholarship money. Without putting down anyone, you can clearly articulate why your deserving!
DO NOT speak unkindly about others, especially hypothetical applicants whom you consider more worthy than you. It may seem well-intention-ed but it will be viewed as distasteful regardless of how well it is written. DO “Keep it in your lane,” they say. Don’t let the essay drift to focus on or nitpick other people. You can give compelling reasons why you are a great candidate for scholarship money, even if it means bringing in others!
As we have discussed, scholarship essays are limited in word and character. This means that you won’t be able to tell the whole story of your life. It can be easy to go off-track when talking about yourself. But, try to keep your focus. DO NOT write a complete biography of your life. Sometimes it can seem easy to think that exceeding the word limit will make you appear more hardworking or put in more effort. Your ability to follow instructions is something essay readers really value. Your autobiography might be amazing, but it is unlikely that you will be able do justice to it in 500 words (or whatever the requirement). CHOOSE focus on one central incident, challenge or personality trait, hobby, aspiration, or event. You could discuss only, for example, your love for animals, your passions in modern dance, and your memories of your younger sister’s birth.