How To
7 min read

A Step-by-Step Guide For Writing A Winning Scholarship Essay

Rachel Chaiet

August 1, 2022

Introduction

A scholarship can make a tremendous difference in your life. Not only do scholarships look fantastic on your resume, but they also impact your financial future. That’s why it’s important to write a scholarship essay that will help you stand out in a sea of applicants.

Scholarship essays are unlike the styles of writing most students are familiar with. A good scholarship essay balances broaching accomplishments, telling your personal story, and speaking from the heart.

While scholarship application season can cause a lot of stress, don’t fret just yet. In this blog post, we’ll teach you the steps, tricks, and tips to help you write an effective and exceptional scholarship essay. 

What is a scholarship essay? 

A scholarship essay is a common requirement in scholarship applications. Each scholarship will typically provide essay prompts for students to write about. Typical prompts include: “How will this scholarship help you?”, “Tell us about yourself.”, and “Tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it.”.  

Many students applying for scholarships have similar achievements: top grades, high SAT scores, extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and employment history. Scholarship essays are arguably the most critical part of the application because it helps students get personal and show the judges why they deserve to win.

How do I write a compelling scholarship essay?

Brainstorm

Before you put pen to paper, you need to get your ideas flowing. Take the time to have a brainstorming session where you can flesh out your thoughts. Think about what you want to include in your essay and how you’ll organize it. Make sure your ideas relate to the scholarship essay prompt. 

Scholarships are usually given out by different companies and organizations. So you’ll also want to think about how you can demonstrate that you agree with the company’s philosophy. During your brainstorming session, research the scholarship and its organizers so that you’re well-equipped to align yourself with the philosophy.

Outline

Behind any good essay is a good outline. They make the writing process go much faster and easier. Your outline should draft each element of your scholarship essay. 

Start with an introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion, and jot down the content you will have under each. Your introduction should grab attention, introduce the reader to your topic, and address the scholarship essay’s prompt. The body of your essay should elaborate on the prompt and make your points. The conclusion should touch on the lessons you’ve learned and why you deserve the scholarship. It should also include a thank you to the scholarship committee. 

Write

Now that you’ve finished your outline, you can get down to the actual writing. Let your personality shine through your essay. While you might be tempted to tailor yourself to the reader, don’t. You want it to be authentic and specific to your journey. 

Now is the time to embrace the storyteller inside you. People do not want to read your resume, so don’t just list off your achievements. Help them feel like they’re getting to know you through your writing.

Take a break

Ever felt mentally drained from working on the same thing for too long? We’ve all been there! And what helps the most is taking a break. Breaks help us refresh our minds, de-stress, and boost creativity, so we can come back to the task at hand with a newfound focus and perspective. 

When writing your scholarship essay, take a break after you have finished your first draft. You’ll be able to catch mistakes easier and think of new ways you can present your ideas.

Rewrite

Now that you have your first draft on paper and have taken a moment to reset, you can return to your scholarship essay with fresh eyes. 

One helpful technique is to rewrite your essay into an entirely new draft. It can help you think of new ideas or a more exciting way to develop your story. After you’ve written the second draft, you can combine the best part of both drafts to create a final copy. 

Once you have your final copy, look over it carefully. Keep an eye out for grammar and spelling mistakes. You should also try reading your essay out loud to help ensure your writing is paced well, flows, and makes sense. 

Peer review

Have a friend who has a way with words? Or a mentor who is a fanatic about eloquent writing and proper grammar? 

Get as much feedback on your scholarship essay as possible. It will go a long way. Outside perspectives will help catch any mistakes you may have missed. They also might suggest elements you may not have thought about. 

Tips for writing a scholarship essay

  • Keep an eye on your word count while writing and ensure you don’t exceed the limit.
  • Be succinct and clear in your writing. Every sentence should have a clear purpose and impact. 
  • Scholarship essays should be written in a formal tone. However, you still want to infuse your personality into your writing. 
  • Your essay shouldn’t read like an endless list of achievements. Only list achievements that apply to your future studies and the scholarship.
  • The thesaurus is your friend—to a point. Don’t add too many complex words just for the sake of it. Your essay should be easy to read and expressive. 
  • Include a simple and brief thank you in your conclusion paragraph. 
  • Conduct research on the scholarship provider before writing. Write your essay so it aligns with their philosophy.
  • Read the scholarship brief and essay prompt thoroughly. Make sure you know what their expectations and standards are. 
  • Highlight how the scholarship will significantly impact your life and help you accomplish your goals.
  • Proofread as many times as possible, with breaks in between each time. 

How long should my scholarship essay be?

A scholarship essay should be around 500 words or less. Make sure you check the specific requirements of each scholarship before you start writing your essay, as the word requirement may vary.

You can learn more about the time it takes to write 500 words here

Examples of scholarship essays 

To spark inspiration for your scholarship essay writing, it’s a great idea to read some examples. You can learn from the tone, structure, and content of the short essay examples below. 

Scholarship Essay Example 1

Prompt: Why do you want to study film?

From childhood, I was infatuated with movies. From Disney flicks to Wes Anderson masterpieces, I would bore my family and friends for hours with my dissections of storylines, character plots, and thematic elements. No film was too vapid or frivolous to be subjected to my review. I’ve always felt that even Hallmark films are a product of our culture and time, and worthy of analysis. They tell us about societal beliefs, escapism, culture, and more. 

I’m interested in exploring the world of film because I want to know more about its relation to social movements and culture throughout time. As a woman, I want to use my experience to center more conversations around female depictions in film. After studying at New York University, my goal is to become a professor of film studies and a prominent culture writer. 

I’m applying for this scholarship because it will ease the financial burden of New York University’s tuition. I also align with your company’s mission and think that your work is incredibly important and pertinent to the film industry. Thank you for the opportunity to submit this application. 

Scholarship Essay Example 2

Prompt: How have you contributed to your community? 

Growing up, I suffered from extreme dyslexia. Learning to read was a struggle that I couldn’t overcome for years. I was incredibly ashamed of my learning disability and felt like an outsider amongst my peers. Luckily, I had an incredible best friend, Peter, who supported me. He’d help me with my homework, showed me incredible patience, and never made me feel like I was different. 

The kindness that I experienced from Peter was something I felt I had to pass on. As a high school freshman, I volunteered with dyslexic kids from disadvantaged communities across the city. I volunteered throughout all four years of high school. I helped dyslexic kids learn how to overcome the disability and cope with the challenges it presented. It was truly incredible to see the difference I made in their lives over the four years I volunteered there. I plan to find a similar volunteer organization to work with when I move to Denver for college. 

I gained as much as I gave from volunteer work, if not more. I learned the importance of compassion and the potential for growth in all humans. I wouldn’t be the same person without it. This scholarship would help me afford to continue my volunteer work throughout college, as it would lessen the financial burden. Thank you for considering my application. I appreciate all of the work that your organization does. 

Scholarship Essay Example 3

Prompt: How will this scholarship help you?

My first job was when I was 13. While my friends were off making snow forts and climbing trees, I helped wash dishes in my Uncle’s restaurant. I used the money to help my family get by. We lived below the poverty line for most of my life, which was difficult. Resentment could have eaten me up inside, but I’m grateful I never harped on those feelings. I knew this wasn’t going to be my life forever. I knew that one day I would break the cycle of poverty. 

Between shifts at the restaurant and helping out with my younger sister, I worked extremely hard in school. I excelled in science and math and got into one of the most prestigious pre-med programs in the country. I start Princeton in the fall, and I can’t wait to make my mark there. 

This scholarship will help reduce the financial burden of college. More than that, it will allow me to focus on my education and truly absorb the college experience. I know that my future is bright. Thank you for your time and dedication to this award. I appreciate all your organization does to help better the future of younger generations. 

Want some more inspiration? Check out a list of winning scholarship essay examples here

Conclusion

It’s no secret—college is expensive! Scholarships can help make this financial commitment a lot easier. And with over 1.7 million private scholarships available, there’s a lot of support up for grabs. 

The more scholarships you apply for, the better your chances of winning. And while writing multiple application essays may seem like a daunting task and time commitment, with a focused approach and our powerful tips, you’ll be cranking them out in no time. 

To make your scholarship essay really stand out, use Copy.ai. It’s a free AI writing generator that’ll help you create a powerful essay and save you precious time. You can use the time saved to apply for more scholarships! 

This article is part of a series that’s designed to help you learn to write in different formats for very different purposes. They include, but are not limited to:

How to Write a Research Proposal

What Is Freelance Writing

How to Write a Movie Review

How to Write a Student Recommendation Letter

How to Write a White Paper

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