How to Write a Scholarship Essay
The stakes are high for scholarship essays: your writing could earn you money for college or even determine which school you can afford to attend. To add to the pressure, many scholarships are highly competitive, meaning that readers have to sift through a huge pile of applications. How do you impress your reader and stand out from the crowd? Here are the steps to writing a winning essay:
1) Know your audience. Read the question carefully and know who is awarding the scholarship. Is this a research organization that encourages female students to pursue majors in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math)? Or is this a group that awards scholarships to first-generation college students who have overcome significant hurdles in their academic careers? Each scholarship has its own purpose and seeks different qualities from its applicants. You want your essay to target the reader.
2) Brainstorm and research. While school essays generally ask you to analyze a literary work or research a topic, most scholarship essays ask you to write about your personal experience. Although you are the expert of your own life, it can be surprisingly difficult to come up with ideas for scholarship prompts. Allow yourself to brainstorm ideas on a piece of paper: think of events in your life or people you know that connect to the writing prompt. Ask yourself why the issue matters to you. If you’re having trouble coming up with ways to describe yourself, ask friends or family. They might help you unearth unique traits you had taken for granted.
3) Tell a Story. To avoid writing a generic essay that lists your traits and bores your reader, illustrate your main points with a story. Don’t just tell the reader you’re a great leader; show how you’re a great leader by describing a scene in which you proved yourself to be one. Include relevant details that bring the scene to life and distinguish your essay from all the other ones in the pile. This is your opportunity to make the reader laugh, cry, or just empathize with you.
4) Use clear language. Unless the scholarship is offered by an academic group, this is not the time to search the thesaurus for the longest and most obscure words. You want to write in a language that sounds smart but also authentic. Remember that this is not an impersonal research paper - it’s a chance for you to tell the reader about yourself in your own voice. You want that voice to be more casual than an academic paper, yet more formal than a facebook post. You are presenting a polished version of yourself that lets the reader understand who you are and makes a good impression.
5) Read your essay from the reader’s point of view. Pretend you are the organization giving the scholarship. Because you’ve done your research in Step 1, you know what the reader is looking for in your essay. Your pretend reader knows nothing about you except what you are presenting in your essay. After you read your essay through this pretend reader’s eyes, ask yourself what sort of impression you’ve made. Did you sound humble or egotistical? Did you inspire confidence that you are a smart, capable, driven student who will put the money to good use? Did the story you told make the reader uncomfortable?
6) Edit. Be sure to check your essay for spelling and grammar errors. Have a teacher or parent edit your draft. Punctuation, spelling, and grammar can be just as important as the content of your essay. No one wants to award a large sum of money to a student whose essay is filled with errors. Be sure your essay does not exceed the word limit.
7) Submit on time and make sure your application is complete. The essay may be one piece in a larger application. Be sure to follow all the instructions, provide all the necessary documents, and fill out the application thoroughly. It would be a shame to write a brilliant essay only to have your application disqualified because it is late or incomplete.