TIPS ON WRITING A GOOD SCHOLARSHIP ESSAY FOR COLLEGE
Applying for scholarships would be a piece of cake if it wasn’t for the essay, which often forces us to reflect on ourselves, who we are as people, and what we’ve accomplished so far in life. While it can be the most difficult part of the application, it’s also the most important part.
Like any other essay you write for school, you’ll want your scholarship essay to have excellent structure, allowing the reader to consume and digest the content easily. In other words, it should have good “flow.” Below are some really useful tips on writing a good scholarship essay for college:
- Have a strong opening sentence to the essay:
Sometimes called a “hook.” Remember, stay true to your own voice and tone (more on this later). In the case of a scholarship essay, you may want to come out of the gates strong with a snapshot of where you see yourself in 10 years, after getting the education of your dreams: “Diving deep into the mysterious reaches of the ocean daily may not be everyone’s central goal in life, but I can’t wait to search for and protect endangered aquatic life for a living.”
Stick to the tried-and-true introduction, body, and conclusion structure. Even if the essay prompt seems relatively loose, you’ll want your essay to have a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Start new paragraphs for new ideas. It’s MUCH better to have more short paragraphs than whopping paragraphs that are hard to read!
- Choose a topic that you genuinely enjoy:
You’ll want to stick to the prompt, but in some cases, you may have some freedom to choose the topic, or at least the central focus. Write about a subject, event, or value that means something to you. You’ll produce better work and come across more authentically if you care about what you’re writing. This goes a long way in improving your scholarship essay without creating more hard work for you.
Here’s what we mean. Let’s say a prompt asks you to describe a time that you were proud of yourself. Several instances may come to mind. Maybe it was when you dove off the high diving board the first time, and maybe it was when you returned a wallet you found with $100 in it. Don’t choose which instance you think the essay readers want to hear; choose the one that feels most resonant to you. It may sound cheesy, but when you write earnestly from the heart, your writing will be much stronger.
- Do a little research:
Who is the company or organization giving the scholarship? Read up a bit about them on their website’s home page. Get familiar with their mission and their motivation for giving this scholarship. When you’re better informed about the readers, you’re better able to tailor your essay to them.
Many scholarship providers also feature previous scholarship winners on their website, often with the essay (or an excerpt from it) that won. Read these essays to get a sense of what went over well!
- Know the word/character limit:
Most scholarship essay prompts will provide a word or character limit for your essay. If you’re not used to being mindful of these parameters, it can be hard to gauge what “250 words” actually looks like. As a rule of thumb, 250 words is equivalent to one typed page, double-spaced. (And therefore 500 words = 2 typed, double-spaced pages, and so on).
- Show, don’t tell:
This is the cardinal rule for writing. Try to paint a vivid picture for your reader instead of just explaining everything. For example, don’t just say that you’re stressed out by juggling work and college. Illustrate what that stress looks like in your life.
Here’s an example of something you might find in a scholarship essay that asks you to discuss a challenge you’ve faced:
Instead of saying “I tore my ACL playing ice hockey,” you can be more vivid. Try something like: “It was like an anvil had smashed down on my knee. In searing pain, I laid on the ice as the crowd fell silent. Something was very wrong.” Notice how we immediately FEEL the impact of the injury in the later example!
- Be specific and concise:
While we encourage you to be evocative in your language, we also want to stress that you should get to the point. Typically, the simplest, most direct word choices and images are the most effective. Avoid generalizations in favor of specific examples, and likewise, avoid ornate, flowery language in favor of more succinct sentences.
- Use exclamation points sparingly:
We all know that exclamation marks indicate excitement! Right?! Truthfully, we love exclamation points! And while winning scholarship money to pay for college IS very exciting, too many exclamation marks can be overkill.
- Emphasize Your Resilience:
Scholarship prompts will often ask you about a hardship you’ve overcome. We love this type of question because it gives the reader a chance to understand a student’s resilience and ability to problem solve, which is huge on a scholarship essay.
The mistake many students make on this question is to write 100% about the hardships they’ve faced without acknowledging or discussing how they overcame them. Essay readers are not simply looking for the hardest story when selecting a winner, but rather a complete narrative that includes how the student has worked to overcome the challenge.
- Inspirational quotes:
Who doesn’t love an inspirational quote?! We sure do. Whether you find them scrolling Instagram or keep them tacked up above your desk, a great quote can be super empowering. But when it comes to scholarship essays, it’s better to leave them out.
DON’T drop in famous quotes, many of which are overused. For example: “Mahatma Gandhi said to ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ which is why I’m applying for this scholarship. I want to go to college so I can become a nurse and change the world.”
- Be professional… but also be yourself:
While you’ll want to avoid swearing and overly colloquial or conversational language, you DO want to be yourself, which means writing in your own voice and tone. So long as you keep it professional, readers want you to sound like YOU. You don’t have to write a stuffy essay for it to be good! Keep it clean and clear, but also keep it real!
- Sell yourself… but also be humble:
Is this the definition of a humble brag? Maybe. Your scholarship essay is a great place to share your accomplishments, but don’t just list all of your best qualities and accomplishments as a rationale for why you deserve the scholarship money. It’s important to strike a fine balance.
- Be brief with your “thank you”:
Your character, dedication, and integrity should come through naturally in your writing. You don’t need to add a long-winded “Thank you for reading this essay” paragraph at the end of your essay. Most scholarship essays are fairly short, so avoid bloating your essay with gratitude and praise for the opportunity. Use your character and words allotments to answer the prompt thoroughly instead!
If you have space, a brief thank you is thoughtful and appropriate but you’ll want to be as succinct as possible. For example, at the very end of your essay, you can simply say something
The scholarship essay is your chance to make a case for yourself and to show the committee why you deserve to win. It gives you the chance to show your personality and what you’re most proud of in life. Your scholarship application should inform, but your scholarship essay should persuade. Scholarship committees read hundreds, or even thousands, of essays, so making your application stand out from the rest is crucial.