Writing Winning Scholarship Essays

scholarship essay

By Guest Blogger Audrey Jenkins

Audrey Jenkins is a skilled freelance blogger covering a range of topics from careers to travel and leisure, along with everything in-between.

Writing Winning Scholarship Essays

The scholarship application process can be a headache in and of itself, so the last thing you want to see in addition to an application form is an essay prompt. Instead of viewing scholarship essays as a hassle, think of them as an opportunity to set yourself apart. After all, most students look the same on a standard application—good grades here, extracurricular activities there. With an essay, you can tell your story and truly let your personality shine. A bad essay, however, could land your otherwise decent application at the bottom of the pile. Avoid scholarship disaster by following these simple guidelines:

1. Write to Your Audience

Prior to writing your essay, learn as much about the organization offering the scholarship as possible. Is the scholarship provided directly through the school, or does it involve a charity, business, or religious organization? Each governing authority will emphasize different qualities, so it is up to you to get informed and make the best possible guess as to what those awarding the scholarship want to see. From there, you can write your essay in a way that emphasizes the qualities prized by the scholarship provider.

Experts suggest avoiding the guessing game altogether and directly contacting the scholarship provider. Impressed by your proactive approach, providers may offer valuable feedback regarding the types of essays they typically prefer, as well as the scoring scale used for both the essay and the rest of the application.

It is important to write to your audience, but don’t sacrifice authenticity in order to accomplish this end. Ultimately, insiders at the Star Tribune declare that scholarship providers want to know you’ve dug deep and done your research prior to writing the essay.

2. Demonstrate Passion for the Topic

If allowed to select a topic for your essay, be sure to choose one that gets you excited. The more passionate you are about the topic, the easier you will find it to write an exciting essay. Time highlights stories of overcoming adversity or family history as the best for harnessing personal passion.

While some scholarship essays allow you to select a topic, it is also common for scholarship providers to choose the topic for you, or, if they’re generous, to offer a list of eligible subjects. If forced to write about a topic not of your choosing, you will need to find a way to connect that topic to your own experiences. Think long and hard about how the topic impacts your life or the lives of your loved ones. Once you find a connection, you’ll discover the passion needed to make your essay interesting.

3. Use Specific Details

Showing passion in you writing is not possible if you use general language throughout your essay. Whenever possible, provide specific details. For example, instead of simply stating that you enjoy volunteering, mention the specific volunteer projects you’ve completed and how they’ve made you a kinder, more compassionate person. Avoid words such as “nice” and “good,” and, instead, use vibrant adjectives—and, more importantly, specific nouns—to get your point across.

4. Complete Your Essay Early

Last-minute applications are never a good idea, but this is especially true for applications involving essays. Instead of rushing through a single draft and sending it in, take your time and complete a first draft. Let that initial draft sit aside for a few days before returning to it with a fresh perspective. U.S. News recommends beginning by writing a thorough outline at least a week before you intend to turn in the essay; this will prevent rushing as you pen the final product.

Seize the Competitive Advantage

Writing a scholarship essay is not easy, but it is a worthwhile pursuit that could set you well ahead of your competitors. Take some time to connect to your passion; if your essay shows zeal and feels authentic, you will be a shoo-in for that prized scholarship!