Writing a Scholarship Essay

Determine the audience for your essay.

Each scholarship organization has particular goals. This can influence how it wants to spend its scholarship money. Do a little research on the organization so that you understand who is giving out the money. 

winning-scholarship-essayA good place to start is by looking at the mission statement of the college, university, or institution. Every higher education institution should have a mission statement and it should lay out the priorities of the school. Most philanthropic organizations will have mission statements too. Be sure to address its mission statement directly in your essay.

Follow the instructions.

If the essay directions ask for answers to particular questions, make sure you answer them. If the essay instructions call for 500 words, don’t write 700. If it asks for double-spaced paragraphs, make sure to format your paper like this.

  • Double check the instructions after you’ve finished writing. This will help make sure you’ve covered what you need to cover in the essay.

Write something original.

College scholarship essays are sometimes boring because writers often use cookie-cutter answers to the assigned topics. Make sure your essay has passion and personal voice. This will help your essay stand out to the scholarship committee.

  • For example, tell a story to start out your essay. If you are writing about an influential person in your life, start out by telling the story of when you first met this person. If you are writing about an influential book, talk about the first time you read it. Describe how you couldn’t put the book down, or how you stumbled through it, looking up every second word.
  • Keep things personal. The scholarship committee is interested in getting to knowyou, not “modern society” or “humanity.”

Use specific examples.

Avoid vague statements that don’t say much. Go for vivid imagery to paint a picture for your reader. Incorporate specific examples of your volunteer work, detailing how you helped a certain person, for example. Use descriptive phrases that paint a picture of your contribution.

  • For example, instead of writing, “I helped a homeless single mother by gathering donated school supplies for her children,” you could write, “Sharon, a single mother of two, teared up when I presented her with a backpack full of notebooks and pencils for her children.”
  • Avoid fluff language that doesn’t say anything. “I’m a people person” or “I’m devoted to learning” are not specific or personal. They communicate nothing about you.
  • Consider how much more descriptive these are: “Since I can remember, I have never met a stranger. Whether it’s at my job bagging groceries or serving as class president, I can easily strike up a conversation with anyone.” or “Finishing high school with a chronic illness wasn’t easy, but I took distance learning courses and studied on my own because I value learning and am devoted to pursuing it.”
Ask someone else to edit your essay.
Once you’ve finished your essay, ask someone else to read it and give you feedback. Getting someone else’s eyes on your work will help you figure out whether your points are clear, what you need to improve, and what works well.