How to Write a Scholarship Essay Step-by-Step
There are thousands of scholarship opportunities out there and many of them require students to submit an essay as part of the application. Writing scholarship essays can be daunting, especially if you don’t enjoy writing or don’t think of yourself as a good writer.But don’t skip applying for scholarships just because the applications seem overwhelming. There are plenty of great opportunities out there for students just like you, and you don’t have to go it alone.
We’re here to help with our tips for writing and editing a scholarship essay.
Choosing an Effective Scholarship Essay Topic
This is the most difficult part of the process for many applicants. How do you decide what to write about? The most compelling essays will provide insights into who you are as an individual. Consider what the essay tells the reader about you. You may think you don’t have an interesting story to tell, but you probably do.
Try asking yourself these questions to find your topic.
- Have you had to overcome adversity?
- Have you interacted with someone who inspired you?
- How have they affected you?
- How did you affect them?
- How have unexpected events impacted your life?
- Have you created or done something you are proud of?
- Our Scholarship Essay winner started a pickle business to earn extra money.
- Avoid controversial topics, such as politics and religion, unless the scholarship essay specifically asks you to write on these subjects.
- Even if you address both sides of an argument well, the reader may react negatively to the essay. It’s better to avoid these topics and chose something less divisive.
If you’re struggling with turning your topic into an essay, try these tips.
Create a Mind Map
If the essay prompt has you stumped, creating a mind map may help you find the right angle on the right topic. If you’re applying for several scholarships, you can keep this mind map to refer back to later for additional inspiration.
Start With an Outline
Scholarship essays may not be the academic papers you’re used to writing, but it’s ok to start with what you know. If you’re not used to writing this type of essay, create a formal outline as you would for any paper and go from there. You can refine the essay when you edit it, but there’s no reason you can’t work with a familiar structure.
How to Write a Scholarship Essay
These tips may seem unconventional, but they can make it easier to write an essay for a scholarship competition or college admissions application:
Talk to Yourself
- Record yourself answering the question out loud.
- Transcribe the recording.
- Add structure by organizing the transcribed text into an outline.
This tip works because most people speak at a rate of 200 words per minute, while they write or type at 30 to 60 words per minute. So, the act of writing interferes with the flow of thought.
It takes just a few minutes of speaking to get enough material for a good essay.
This process will also yield a more passionate and personal essay because you will say what you mean directly, without interruption.
Tell a Story
Once you have a topic, it’s time to convert that into something compelling. Think of your essay like a story, giving specific examples and anecdotes. This gives the reader a sense of you as a unique individual and will help you connect with them on a personal level.
If you talk about adversity, discuss how it has taught you life lessons or made you stronger as a person. You want your essay to stand out from the crowd and be memorable in a positive way.
Create Interest From the Beginning
Chances are, the person reading your essay has been reading a lot of essays. What can you do in the first few sentences to hook their interest? Is your essay about an unexpected event in your life, or an impactful interaction you had with someone?
This may be the most difficult part of writing a scholarship essay. If you find yourself getting stuck on your intro paragraph, skip ahead and come back to it once your first draft of the essay is done.
We can tell you first hand, after reading thousands of essays from our scholarship essay contests, that every student applying for a scholarship is in need of money for college. Don’t spend too much of your essay focusing on that (review committees know you need money for college). The essays that stand out share a unique story or experience that is individual and memorable, and lets us get to know the candidate further.
How to Proofread a Scholarship Essay
Proofreading can be one of the most nerve-wracking steps! You don’t want a typo to detract from all of the time and effort you put in to your essay. Try these tips for polishing your final product:
- Run spelling and grammar checks with your word processing software (always thoroughly review these suggestions).
- Proofread a print out of the essay (the change in scenery from screen to paper can help find new errors).
- Read the essay out loud, marking every place where you stumble.
- Each verbal stumble may be a sign of a problem in the essay. It might be a sign of a spelling, grammar or logic error, a problem with word choice or a problem with the flow of the essay.
- Identify and fix the problems.
- Repeat the process by reading the essay out loud again, until you can read it from start to finish without stumbling.
Have someone else proofread your essay as well. Ask a parent, teacher, school counselor, or other trusted individual to read your essay out loud and provide honest feedback. Pay attention to any remaining errors, and anything they may have found confusing.
Once you get the ball rolling, writing scholarship essays gets easier. Don’t forget to save all of your essays in one location. As you apply for more scholarships you may find portions of essays or ideas that you can reuse.
Scholarship Essays Do's and Don'ts
Do chose a topic that you can write about from a personal perspective
Do make sure your essay addresses the essay prompt (if applicable)
Do read your essay aloud to yourself (this is a great way to find typos and sentences that can be improved)
Do proof your essay thoroughly before submitting (if possible, have a parent or teacher proof it too)
Don’t plagiarize any portion of your essay
Don’t sound negative or preachy in your essay