Three Scrabble tiles spelling win on top of more tiles flipped to blank sides

10 Tips to Help You Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

It's worth it to put in the extra effort and apply to scholarships that require essays. Learn how to write those essays with ease using these 10 tips.

How do you feel about having to write an essay for a scholarship you’re applying for? When students are asked that question, most say they skip those applications. It’s a natural reaction given all your other time constraints with homework assignments, extracurricular activities, volunteering, jobs, and family responsibilities. 

But scholarships that require essay submissions are worth your time. The odds of winning scholarships with extensive applications or essays are greater statistically because fewer students will make the effort to do the work. If you’re the kind of student who takes the time to expedite scholarship applications with essay requirements, you’ll likely have less competition from other students. Here are 10 tips to help you write scholarship essays that’ll help you stand out from other applicants.

1. Customize each essay to each scholarship

Although you may be using an essay for more than one application, it’s essential that you customize your introduction to speak to the question being asked for that specific scholarship. It’s frustrating for any scholarship committee to review an essay and realize that the student didn’t make the effort to answer the application question. First impressions count, so make a good one.

2. Write in your voice

Scholarship committees want to hear from the student and learn about them through their writing sample in an authentic way. It’s not necessary to use flowery language to try to impress the decision makers, so just be yourself. It’s also important that you’re the one who actually writes the essay; never ask someone else to write the essay for you. 

3. Talk about your desired impact

Addressing the impact you plan to have on others in your future is key to a winning scholarship essay. Scholarship committees want to know that their award monies will have a deep impact wherever they go. The key to standing out and impressing committee members is to include a “Why you?” statement. This is a sentence focusing on what type of impact you plan to have on the lives of others once you finish college. Scholarship committees generally prefer for their scholarship monies to impact more than just one individual. 

Related: Secrets to Writing an Amazing Scholarship Essay

4. Be honest

Resist the urge to embellish a story or create a false story to make yourself seem more impressive. Scholarship committees regularly use research tools to verify applicant information, so it’s not likely you’d get away with it even if you tried. The best policy is to just tell the truth! 

5. Spelling and grammar matter

Spelling and grammar check software don’t always catch all errors. After you’ve edited your essay yourself, have someone else read your essay with attention to grammar and spelling. Also, double-check that you’ve spelled any names of committee members or the scholarship you’re applying to correctly; making careless mistakes could automatically put your essay in the “no” pile.  

6. Success is in the details

You’ll most likely be writing about yourself, so include specifics to give decision makers a window into your world. Recognize that they want to know who they’re awarding the money to, and the more they know about you and your goals, the more likely they’ll want to award you the scholarship. 

Related: Scholarship Search Best Practices You Need to Follow

7. Don’t be shy about your accomplishments

Include achievement highlights from inside and outside the classroom in your scholarship essays when possible. Don’t assume that the committee will have thoroughly read any supplemental materials like a résumé where you mentioned your accomplishments. Plus, it will give the committee a better idea of why you feel these accomplishments are important to highlight.

8. Organize your thoughts before writing

Take some time to create an outline before beginning your scholarship essay. Organizing your thoughts will make your writing flow better as you go and help you figure out key points you may want to add or remove from your essay to make it stronger. And as with all writing, make sure that you’re supporting your thesis statement. 

9. Know what wins

Sometimes scholarship committees will post the essay of the previous year’s winner. Review that essay to learn more about what the decision makers seek in a candidate. You could also reach out to the previous year’s award recipient through social media to learn more. They may be able to direct you to additional scholarships they’ve previously applied to.

10. Leave a lasting impression

Conclude your scholarship essay with a passionate and positive tone so that you’re memorable among the other candidates. Nothing turns off a committee more than a lackluster ending that doesn’t wrap up your goals and intentions for succeeding in college with the help of their award.

Related: Admission vs. Scholarship Essays: What's the Difference?

Applying for scholarships can get discouraging when you know there are hundreds (or thousands) of other students applying for the same ones. But with these writing tips, your scholarship essays will boost your chances of winning any award you apply for.

Looking for scholarships that highlight your newfound essay-writing skills? Our Scholarship Search tool is just what you need!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

applying for scholarships essay writing financial aid scholarship essays scholarships

About Jean O'Toole

Jean O’Toole is an educational consultant and author of the bestselling book, Scholarship Strategies Finding and Winning the Money You Need. Over the past 15 years, she has helped tens of thousands of students in the United States. Individuals collectively have been awarded millions of dollars by applying Jean’s scholarship strategies. In 2008, Jean co-founded Connections101, a company specializing in providing motivational tools for scholarship searching. It is her goal to empower students to design their paths to their future without college debt. Visit for more information, and follow Jean on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
CollegeXpress Logo


Are you our next winner?

Register now for our scholarship giveaway

Melanie Kajy

Melanie Kajy

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress has helped me tremendously during my senior year of high school. I started off using the college search to find more information about the universities I was interested in. Just this tool alone gave me so much information about a particular school. It was my one-stop shop to learn about college. I was able to find information about college tuition, school rank, majors, and so much more that I can't list it all. The college search tool has helped me narrow down which college I want to attend, and it made a stressful process surprisingly not so stressful. I then moved to the scholarship search tool to find scholarships to apply for because I can't afford to pay for tuition myself. The search tool helped me find scholarships that I was eligible for. The tool gave me all the information I could ever need about a particular scholarship that was being offered. The CollegeXpress scholarship search tool is so much better than other tools offered, like the Chegg scholarship search. Thanks to CollegeXpress, I was able to apply to tons of scholarships in a relatively easy way!

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Bell College Consulting

The college lists on CollegeXpress are indispensable for sussing out creative additions to a student’s list, and the college-specific pages provide terrific commentary and suggestions for related schools. CollegeXpress is among the most trusted sources I use for information for my students.

Nikole Dixon

Nikole Dixon

$500 Refer-A-Friend Scholarship Winner

Towards the beginning of last year, I was searching for scholarships to apply to through my school, town, websites online, and anything else I could find. I asked tons of questions [online] about scholarships and the best places to find them because I was desperate and I needed as many as I could find. I came across a ton of bogus websites but as soon as I found CollegeXpress, I knew I had to tell other people about it. It was definitely the most helpful site I came across, so I told my friends about it. . . . CollegeXpress is definitely a website worth giving as a source.

Maurice Whan

Maurice Whan

$2,000 Spring Scholarship Contest Winner, 2021

This year has been tough for my family and myself, so receiving this scholarship has been a blessing in disguise! CollegeXpress has been an excellent resource in helping me prepare financially for college. Thank you again for this amazing opportunity!



High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me organize the schools I wanted to choose from in one place, which then I could easily compare and find the school that was right for me!

College Matches