Tips for Writing Great Scholarship Essays
When applying for scholarships, essays serve multiple purposes and act as a decisive element of many applications. Therefore, it is important to take time to craft your words and perfect your overall essay.
Here’s why: your words speak for who you’ve been in the past, who you are now, and who you will be in the future; said another way, they offer insight into what kind of student you might be on campus and how you might contribute to society at large. Your essay helps organizations assess if their scholarships to you will be an investment or a waste of money.
Essays also provide an organization a glimpse of what kind of academic work you do: is your essay confusing and sloppy? If so, what confidence can they have that your scholarship will be put to good use in the classroom? Conversely, if your essay is clear, thoughtful, and well-organized, they may feel that offering you a scholarship might seem a safe bet and productive use of money.
Here are some tips for writing clear essays that make the mark:
Tip 1: Make sure you know what you’re writing about
Read each application’s essay prompt several times to make sure you know what it is asking of you. Look for information such as:
- Essay length (This is typically noted by a word count. Follow instructions here. If they ask for 500 words, don’t go over! If they ask for 1,000 words, don’t write less!)
- Essay subject (what the essay should cover and/or what questions it should answer)
- Instructions specific to each essay and application (Remember that each scholarship you apply for will likely require you to write a unique essay. Don’t assume that you can simply submit one essay or a slightly revised version with each application).
Tip 2: Organize your essay!
Your essay should have three primary parts:
- An introduction
- A body
- A conclusion
If this sounds familiar, it’s because you likely used this same structure throughout high school. The same rules for writing commonly apply whether you’re writing a one-page essay or a ten-page term paper.
Don’t Despair! If you despised writing essays in high school, don’t shudder: While the essay you submit for a scholarship should be organized, it can typically also be creative. Make your essay creative and vibrant with the language and tone you use!
Here’s more about each section:
An introduction creates context, tells the purpose of the essay, and makes an argument. That’s it!
Creating context means to give the reader any information they need to understand the body (the bulk) of your essay. Be creative here—you could tell a story, lay out interesting facts, or pose a question. Capture your reader’s attention and set them up for what’s to come.
After you’ve created context, write one to two sentences that bridge the context you created with the purpose of the essay. (Hint: This should allude to the writing prompt.) For example, you might write, “This story is relevant because it launched three pivotal moments in my life that ultimately changed my path.” Or “When you read these facts, you might be surprised. I was too, but then I realized that they directly affected me. That’s what this essay is about.” This helps the reader understand why your essay is important and relevant.
At the end of your introduction, make an argument!
This one’s easy. The argument is that they should give you the scholarship because of everything you’re about to share. “Because of my new course in life, I’m energized and excited for college. I know I will put this scholarship to good use.” Or “By making changes in my life, I set myself up to pursue my most important goal: becoming a sociologist. This scholarship will help me be who I want to be for my community.” Your argument should be directly related to the information you’re about to share and why it makes you competitive for the scholarship.
For the body of your paper, brainstorm three to four main points you’d like to make. These points should collectively respond to the writing prompt in the application. For example, if the prompt asks you to:
- Cover the ways in which you’ve dealt with adversity, come up with three meaningful instances and jot them down as your main points.
- Describe your goals for the future, write down three future goals or three important steps toward reaching one big goal. Make them your main points.
- Give the reader a sense of your life’s individual journey so far, consider three to four important moments that shaped your life and use those as your main points.
Then, in the body of your essay, devote one paragraph each to illustrating your main points. Here are three hints for doing so well:
- Be honest! Yes, you want to be professional. Yes, you want to use your words carefully. But you don’t have to hide your personality. Share what makes you unique! Share what makes you,
- Avoid clichés! Clichés are impersonal, generic, and boring. They don’t really tell your reader much of anything. Be personal and creative! Use original combinations of words and be fully descriptive. Clichés often act as shortcuts.
- Don’t use pointless words. You’re an interesting person with a lot to share, whether you believe it or not. Don’t sell yourself short by using filler words or repetitive information. Take the time to brainstorm interesting, new, vibrant information that you can share in your essay.
The conclusion is the inverse of the introduction. Briefly state why you should receive the scholarship.
Don’t simply cut and paste what you wrote in the introduction. Revise it a bit given what you’ve shared in the body of your essay. Then (briefly) restate the main points as evidence that you should receive the scholarship.
Finally, pan out to the big picture: Should you receive the scholarship, and given the information that you gave the reader in the body, what will happen? How will you use the money and how will their gift help you to benefit your family, support your community, or improve the world?
My essay is too long! If you’re having a hard time keeping your essay as short as it’s required to be, cut information from the intro and conclusion. Keep your main points salient and well-illustrated. The body is ultimately the most important part of your essay.
Tip 3: Use a proofreader or editor
In reality, even professional writers depend on a set of eyes other than their own to make their writing the best it can be. Let someone who’s a better writer than you—or at least a fresh set of eyes!—edit your paper and provide feedback.
Leave time for this important step! Your editor can help you make your essay more clear, concise, and interesting.