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!

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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 Connections101.com for more information, and follow Jean on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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