Writing a Strong Scholarship Essay
When submitting a scholarship, the essay component is where you are able to showcase who you are as an individual, highlight your accomplishments, and set yourself apart from other applicants.
Scholarship Application: Essays
The following resources from Kansas State University and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill provide thorough overviews to help you think through your response to a scholarship essay prompt. The UNC resource focuses on statements of purpose, which are useful both for scholarship applications and applications to specialized undergraduate or graduate programs, while the K-State resource focuses specifically on the mindset needed to write a successful scholarship essay.
Before writing your essays, reflect on your unique experiences, identities, interests, goals, and values. Write a list that you can refer to as you draft various essays.
Read through ALL of the instructions the application gives so that you don’t miss anything. Create a checklist of everything to include in the essay. Is there a specific word limit? Stick to it. Do they ask you to answer four different questions? Underline where you answer each question in your draft to make sure you have clearly responded to their specific asks.
Do you know what I mean when I say that I am hard working and organized? Sure, vaguely. How about if I say that I set up daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules on a calendar synced to all my devices to stay on track with specific projects? The more specific you can be about yourself, the better. Instead of saying “I learned so much from _______ experience,” tell your reader what specifically you learned.
Unlike other essays you may write in college, scholarship essays are the place to get personal. Use “I” and talk about yourself. The resume lists all of the things you have accomplished; the essay shows who you are and why the reader would want to have coffee with you (or give you a lot of money).
Giving specifics will help bring the story to life. While you do this, try to avoid clichés—what did you specifically feel? What did you learn: the good, the bad, and the ugly? Authenticity in storytelling goes a long way, and the folks reading your essay will appreciate the time you took to convey your experiences with nuance. This leads to the next to-do…
Show your reader your experiences by telling them a story. Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and so should your essay. Start your essay with “the good stuff”—grab your reader’s attention right away so they keep reading. Remember, they have a pile of these on their desks or in their inboxes. Like any essay, your scholarship essay should have a thesis statement to which you connect all of your ideas. Think of this as your one-sentence answer to the essay question. The rest of your essay supports and elaborates on that point with transitions between each body paragraph. In the end, rather than restating your original thesis, give your reader a “So What?”: why this essay matters. Why did they read about your love for your local taco truck and its place in the community for three pages? A take-home message will leave your reader with something to chew on long after they have finished reading.
Read the scholarship program’s mission and what they are looking for in an applicant. Circle key words and phrases. Connect your essay or personal statement back to these specific goals and values so the reader knows exactly how you fit in with their program. Your essay should demonstrate how you would specifically benefit from and contribute to the program and its mission. Using their key words and phrases in your thesis statement is a great way to show how you are the best choice for their funding.
Writing scholarship essays is a tough business. You will want time in between writing a draft and submitting it to read through, not only for spelling and grammar issues (which matter a lot!), but to ensure that you are addressing that program’s goals and answering the questions they pose. Your essay may make perfect sense to you, but a reader might need clarification or more information to understand your ideas. Make an appointment to take your first draft to the University Writing Center or ask someone you trust to ask clarifying questions to read through it for you. Then, revise with their questions in mind.
Tips on writing a “Why do you deserve this scholarship?”