How to Write a Scholarship Essay
Scholarships come in many different forms: there are no-essay scholarships, raffle scholarships, and essay scholarships, just to name a few. While entering your name into a hat is easy enough, many other students are thinking the same thing. Scholarships with involved applications and essays may take more time, but rest assured, fewer students are going to be applying to them for that very reason. If you’re looking to write a stellar essay with the possibility of winning scholarships, take a look at the tips we’ve collected to help you write your best.
1. Breaking down the essay prompt
Scholarship committees use essay prompts to help them get to know you. The money they are awarding is an investment in you and your future. Your essay needs to put your best foot forward to show them you are deserving of this award.
Common prompts you may see are as follows:
- How will this scholarship help you?
- Why do you deserve this scholarship?
- How have you impacted your community?
- What are your academic or career goals?
- Tell us about you.
- Tell us about a time you failed/had an idea or belief challenged and what you learned from it.
- What makes you unique?
- What drove you to choose your particular major?
While these questions may seem generic, it is up to you to use them to showcase who you are. A memorable essay starts by reflecting on your personal experience.
What impactful moments can you connect with the topic at hand? It’s a good idea to begin by brainstorming how you connect to the topic. A mind map, bubble chart, or even just a bulleted list of events can be a great way to help organize your ideas.
Most scholarship sponsors have a mission they are looking to uphold and it’s usually explained in the memo or brief put out by the sponsor. Be sure to do some of your own research as well. You can look at the sponsor’s website and read more about their organization.
Review your brainstorming and see if any of your impactful moments can connect to scholarship’s mission.
Many scholarship essays have a minimum or maximum requirement for word count or page limits. Typically, you will see a word count of 500 words, which equates to about one typed, single-spaced page. This limitation may prove difficult for some students, but when committees are reviewing hundreds or thousands of submissions, keeping to the rules of the scholarship will keep your submission qualified.
Don’t allow your essay to be disqualified on account of going over the word count. No matter how wonderful your essay is, if it doesn’t meet this simple rule, it will likely never be read. Choose your words wisely!
2. Writing an essay
You may not have the strongest writing skills, but don’t let that deter your from applying for a college scholarship.
Stick to the given topic
As you start writing your scholarship essay, remember you are being asked to respond to a prompt. Straying from the given topic (even if you are trying to intentionally tug at the committee’s heartstrings) will usually ensure your essay is rejected. Stick to the topic to keep your essay qualified!
Writing a first draft
Try to think of your essay as you on paper. Keep it true to you. While using a thesaurus may allow you to provide an eloquent reflection of yourself which also highlights your sagacious character…the judges will see right through that. Stick to the way you speak to present your own personality.
A good rule of thumb is to note a couple of points you are trying to make in your piece, and then record yourself verbally saying what you want to write. Use this recording and transcribe it into a first draft. This enables you to capture how you speak, but also allows you to focus on your thoughts. There are lots of tools out there to help you dictate your speech, some may even transcribe.
Check your grammar
After writing down your first draft, carefully look over it for mistakes. Even if writing is not your strength, careful proofreading and an extra set of friendly eyes can help you catch grammatical errors. If you have time, it’s nice to give yourself a day after writing a draft before you review. This will help you avoid overlooking mistakes.
Reading your essay aloud can help you hear mistakes and notice errors. Your word processor may have the option to read aloud your draft. Carefully follow along and be on the lookout for when something doesn’t sound or look right. Some grammar errors to pay attention for are:
- verb tenses (keep past events in past tense and current thoughts, events, and feelings in present tense),
- easily confused homophones (there/their/they’re and to/too/two just to name a few),
- shortened acronyms (OMG, there is so much information here it’s TMI),
- lowercase letter ‘i’ instead of the capital version “I.”
Seemingly small errors can add up and can potentially cost you the scholarship. Using a spell checker can help catch major issues, but an older and trusted adult can also be extremely helpful in giving you honest and useful feedback. Asking for constructive criticism can be hard but realize any feedback you receive is not a personal attack, but rather helping you to become better.
3. Completing the scholarship application
Most scholarships require you to fill out an application. While filling out an application can seem straightforward, there are some tips to ensure you remain qualified.
- Scholarship applications usually have specific deadlines. Write down the due dates and make a schedule of when you want to have your application ultimately completed. You may want to plan to submit your application a week earlier than the deadline to ensure you have some extra time in case you run into bumps along the way. Pro tip! Book some milestone deadlines to avoid doing all the work last minute. Plan out milestone dates for drafts, editing, application completion, and submission.
- Gather any needed application materials as soon as possible. You may want to create a file (either a digital or physical one) to collect all your materials in one place. Staying organized will help you be prepared. Your collection of documents may be helpful as you apply to other scholarships.
- Apply for smaller scholarships along with the larger ones. Small amounts of money will add up. Large awards usually have a large candidate pool, so while it’s a good idea to apply to as many scholarships as possible, keep in mind that you might have better odds applying to scholarships with smaller award amounts.
- Continually apply for scholarships. Scholarships are available to students all throughout their high school and college experience—some opportunities may even be available for younger students. Be on the lookout for scholarships throughout your college experience. Talk to your department or the financial aid office of your school for more scholarships that are available and tailored to you.
Other ways to pay for college
While extremely helpful, it may not be possible to pay for all your schooling with scholarships alone. By filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid ® (FAFSA), you may be able to receive federal grants, specific school-aid, and available federal loans with a variety of repayment plans.
Private student loans may be available with reasonable rates, but no matter what kind of loan you apply for, you should fully understand the terms and conditions associated with the loan. Being financially responsible as you embark (or continue) on in your quest of higher education can be daunting, but possible.