Writing a scholarship essay can feel overwhelming and daunting, but unlike other academic genres, it can be a chance to use your own voice and be rewarded for it. Scholarship essays are a great opportunity to show who you are and tell your story to make a lasting impression on your audience. This page outlines the process of planning and writing an effective scholarship essay.
How do I get started?
First, read the essay question(s). Familiarize yourself with the prompt and begin thinking about how you can answer the questions.
For a general scholarship essay, here are some questions you might think about before you start writing:
- Why am I applying for this scholarship? What difference will it make in my life?
- What are my goals and hopes? How have I worked towards them in my academic and professional career, and how do I plan to accomplish them?
- Why am I a good fit for this scholarship? What makes me stand out from other applicants?
If you find it helpful, you can create an outline, use a basic template for general scholarships, or just jot down some quick bullet points with what you’re planning to say in your essay.
How do I organize it?
Scholarship essays usually follow a typical essay structure, meaning there is an introduction, a middle with body paragraphs, and a conclusion.
Start with a hook, or a sentence or two to grab the reader’s attention. Avoid cliché beginnings, such as overused quotes and Merriam-Webster dictionary definitions. A good hook might be an anecdote from your childhood that connects to the prompt, a detailed description of the time you realized your ideal career path, or a rhetorical question you want the audience to consider while reading.
Your body paragraphs should provide specific evidence and examples that answer all the questions from the prompt. Start each paragraph with a topic sentence that expresses the main idea of the paragraph, and use transitions between paragraphs to connect your ideas.
Don’t end your essay without a conclusion. A good conclusion is the bow on top of your essay that ties everything together. In your conclusion, you can circle back to your introduction, sum up the important points of your body paragraphs, restate or clarify your thesis, and/or answer the “So What?” question—after reading your essay, your reader should be able to answer why your essay and what you wrote matters. For a scholarship essay, the answer to “So What?” might be why you deserve this scholarship or how it will help you achieve your future goals.
How can I make it better?
Be positive, be specific, and be yourself.
“My first year of college was really hard because I’m bad at talking to people.”
“I struggled with the transition to college and with making friends, but in the spring of my freshman year I started volunteering with the Full Circle Food Pantry on campus. I found people who cared about the same things I did, such as minimizing food insecurity and helping others.”
Show, don’t tell.
“I love supply chain management, and I learned a lot about it in my internship.”
“Last summer, I worked as a Supply Chain Product Intern at Walmart. I learned how to conduct market surveys and assessments, analyze customer data and insights, and design and implement coherent distribution center processes to reduce costs, increase profits, and satisfy customer demand. I experienced firsthand the important value an effective and strategic supply chain model has on its business and its customers.”
“Ever since I was 11 years old, I always dreamed of helping people.”
“When I was 11 years old, my grandpa was diagnosed with cancer. I helped my mom care for my grandpa during this time by going to his doctor's appointments, organizing his medications, and helping him be as comfortable as possible during his final days. This experience led me to realize I wanted to spend my time providing comfort and care to others during difficult situations, and so I decided to pursue nursing as a career.”
Other Important Tips
Know your audience. Research the organization or group offering the scholarship, and make sure your application fits their goals and mission. For example, you wouldn’t want to apply for a scholarship for future bankers if you’re planning on becoming a social worker.
Remember that you’re telling a story: yours. The reader should finish with a clear picture of who you are and why you are a perfect fit for this scholarship based on your experiences and accomplishments. This is a chance to sell yourself a little while staying humble.
Be concise, but always make sure you answer all the questions from the prompt!
Finally, before you submit your essay, proofread it carefully for typos and grammatical errors.
Note: Many scholarship essays ask you to discuss your financial need. This can feel uncomfortable, but just remember to be honest and be positive. You can include your personal or family background (such as if you’re the first person in your family to attend college), any financial difficulties you or your family have experienced, how you’re currently paying for college, and how the scholarship will help your financial situation.