How To: Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

Introduction to Scholarship Essays

Want to know how to write a winning scholarship essay? If you're reading this post, chances are, you do!

Perhaps one of the most daunting things about applying for scholarships is writing the essays that tend to go with them.

Listen, I get it.

I was in school and applying for scholarships not too long ago, and I totally agree with the fact that essays in general are just not very enjoyable to write.

Despite that, they tend to be one of the most important contributors to scholarship applications, and can definitely determine whether you win the scholarship or you don’t.

So, in this post, I am going to fill you in on all of my top tips for how to write a winning scholarship essay. 

Summary: 10 tips to help you write a fab scholarship essay

  • Tip #1: Start early!
  • Tip #2: Do your research before writing.
  • Tip #3: Think about your audience.
  • Tip #4: Grab your reader’s attention from the first sentence/paragraph.
  • Tip #5: Make sure that you understand the prompt, and answer the question(s).
  • Tip #6: Be honest about yourself and your experiences.
  • Tip #7: Skip the fluff and cliches.
  • Tip #8: Show, not tell.
  • Tip #9: Stray away from plot-heavy writing
  • Tip #10: Edit, proofread, and repeat!

How to write a winning scholarship essay: tips expanded!

Tip #1: Start early.

Just like you are hopefully doing, planning on doing, or already did, with your college application essays and personal statement, make sure you get started with your scholarship essays as early as possible. Doing so will leave you in a prime position in terms of having time to properly edit and proofread your essay before hitting submit. 

Tip #2: Do your research before writing.

This one is important for when you’re applying for scholarships whose essay questions may ask you to discuss one of the company or organization’s values or something else along those lines.

In this case, it would definitely be beneficial to have done your research on the company or organization and make sure you have a strong understanding of what they do, along with what their values and mission are so that you can appropriately tailor your essay to mention those key points. 

Tip #3: Think about your audience.

This tip ties in nicely with #2, because they are both essentially reminding you how important it is to ~read the room~ when you write!

Just as for any essay you would write, it’s crucial to keep your audience in mind and tailor your tone and language appropriately.

Some scholarships are more light-hearted and may encourage you to get creative with your essays, while others may be more “rigid” in their expectations for your essay. 

Also, be sure to read all of the directions on the scholarship application; some organizations might specify their expectations for what they want to see in your essay, which makes your life easier because you then have your work cut out for you!

Tip #4: Grab your reader’s attention from the first sentence/paragraph.

The best essays are generally the ones that grab your attention from the very beginning and make you want to keep reading.

This is often called a “hook” because you are attempting (and hopefully succeeding) in hooking your reader into your essay. Common examples of hooks for your scholarship essay include starting with a question, an anecdote, a statistic, or even a quote. However, don’t just limit yourself to these - get creative! 

Tip #5: Make sure that you understand the prompt, and answer the question.

This one should be a no-brainer. Before you can actually sit down to write, or even brainstorm, your essay, make sure that you fully understand what the prompt is asking. Then, once you have a strong grasp of the questions that are being posted, you can get brainstorming, formatting your outline in a way that ensures you will answer ALL of the questions or parts of the prompt in their entirety.

Tip #6: Be honest about yourself.

Writing a winning scholarship essay is all about being honest about yourself, your experiences and achievements, and your ambitions, while also making sure you are not plagiarizing in any way.

This means that your essay should be original and not “borrowed” from anyone or anywhere on the internet. While it’s good to do your research to get inspiration for writing your essays, be sure to steer clear from copying other people’s essays in any capacity. Not only is it a million times easier to write about things and experiences that are true, but honesty is also always the best policy, so stick with it!

Tip #7: Skip the fluff and cliches.

The people reading your scholarship essays are probably reading dozens, if not hundreds of other essays.

So, it’s likely that they aren’t going to be impressed if they come across writing that is all over the place, irrelevant to the topic at hand, or simply unoriginal. This includes “fluffy language” where you aren’t directly answering the question being asked and cliches of any kind. Therefore, be sure to steer clear of these.

Tip #8: Show, not tell.

The “show, not tell” writing technique is one that every student should be aware of. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this technique, it is basically saying that you should tell your story through using descriptive words, strong verbs, and any other type of language that basically puts your reader “in the room with you” so that they can see the story from your perspective. If you need more of an explanation on how to "show, not tell", check out this article.

While this is definitely a key tip, keep in mind that some essays, depending on the prompt, might prefer that you answer the question in less of a “telling a story” way and more of a “straightforward and to the point” way. So, back to tip #5, make sure you understand the question or prompt adequately so that you can then determine how you will approach the writing.

Tip #9: Stray away from plot-heavy writing.

Naturally, in order to get to the main point, lesson, or realization that you're trying to get across with your essay, you will likely have to give your reader some backstory on the situation, what happened, and who was involved. However, when doing so, it's crucial to avoid turning your essay into a full-on plot-fest that distracts the reader from the most important parts of the essay, where you answer the questions they have posed. 

Additionally, in my own experience with reading scholarship essays, I have come across many in which students spend paragraphs and paragraphs telling the story of their life, only to take a few sentences at the end of the essay to actually answer the question. Your life story (or part of it) might be an interesting one, but if you fail to tie in the plot with the lesson to answer the question, this is almost guaranteed to make any scholarship committee hit the "thank you, next" button.

Tip #10: Edit, proofread, and repeat!

The last tip I have for writing a winning scholarship essay is to make sure you edit and proofread your essay. You should aim to edit your essay at least once, if not multiple times, depending on how much time you have to complete it. After all, if you're going through putting in the time and effort to apply for scholarships, be sure to give your essay the attention it deserves by adequately editing and proofreading it after you’ve written it. 

After creating a rough outline and writing your initial first draft, you should plan to read through and edit your essay for content, flow, grammar, and spelling.

Pro-tip: when looking for grammar/spelling errors, read your essay backwards, sentence by sentence. 

Then, once you have produced a second draft, I recommend having someone else (think: family member, teacher, or friend) also read over your essay. Often times we tend to overlook errors with grammar and even content/structure because we are so used to our style of writing, so having someone else's eyes on it is helpful to gain some external perspective.

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