How to write a killer scholarship essay

By Tkrause
Have you ever wondered how scholarship judges decide which students win scholarships and which ones are rejected? We can tell you firsthand that it’s no easy task. In some cases, thousands of eligible, deserving students may be competing for just one award. So, how does a student stand out in a crowd? It’s simple. Aside from stellar grades, test scores, and impressive extracurricular activities, it often comes down to one thing — the scholarship essay. If you want to make it into the winner’s circle, follow our simple steps for crafting a killer scholarship essay that’s guaranteed to get you noticed.
  1. Forget the five-paragraph rule

    Unlike your high school English papers, scholarship essays require a bit more creativity, so it’s best to approach your written response as a creative story. This means you’ll need to have an opening paragraph that grabs your reader’s attention within the first two to three sentences, so keep it interesting. Tease the reader and reel him/her in with small hints of what’s to come. Under no circumstances should you spit back the scholarship essay prompt or underline a thesis statement; if you've done your job right, the reader will know what the purpose of your paper is without being knocked over the head with it.
  2. Think outside the box

    Writer’s block is real and usually shows up when you’re under a deadline. If this happens to you, try some brainstorming activities. For example, our $10,000 RESIST THE IST: DEFY STEREOTYPES SCHOLARSHIP asks you to tell us about a time you defied a stereotype someone had of you or you had of others. List some examples of stereotypes you are familiar with (sexism, being gifted as an athlete, or wearing a certain style of clothing) and then think how these relate to your personal experiences. This should trigger some pretty powerful images and feelings, and when that happens, just start writing. But, here’s the fun part. Don’t feel like you are confined to an actual essay. Try putting your feelings into a haiku, poem, or even a song. As long as your words create a vivid picture, you’ll keep the reader’s attention.
  3. Stay on point

    One of the quickest ways to have your scholarship essay tossed into the rejection pile is to go off topic. If you are asked to write about your experiences with fighting stereotypes, don’t waste time telling the scholarship committee about why you deserve the scholarship or listing your academic accomplishments. This does nothing to enhance your essay, and it only shows the judges that you are unable to follow directions. Stay on point, and make every word count.
  4. Review, review, and review!

    We can't tell you how many great essays we've had to reject because of simple grammatical errors. If you're applying for a $10,000 scholarship, give it some thought and respect. Avoid using text lingo and always capitalize the letter “I” when referring to yourself (believe it or not, we've seen too many "i've" and "i'm" in essays). Check for common mistakes, such as using the wrong word (like their, they’re, or there) or neglecting to use proper punctuation. It may also help to put your essay away for a day or two. You would be surprised at how different things look with fresh eyes. Finally, have someone else read your essay before you hit submit. A teacher, mentor, or a friend may be able to give you some constructive feedback, which can help you craft that killer essay no scholarship judge will be able to ignore.

Just remember

Writing is like riding a bike; the more you practice, the better you will be. So, don’t get discouraged if you don’t win right away. Even John Grisham was rejected 25 times before his first novel was published.