When it comes to paying for college, scholarships are the best form of financial aid since they offer students free money that never needs to be repaid. But let’s face it: completing scholarship applications, especially the essays, can feel overwhelming. Not to mention, the essay is arguably the most important part of the application and should take up the majority of your time.
Not only is it your chance to let your personality and life experiences shine through, but it’s the one part of the application that gives you the opportunity to stand out from other applicants. For more information on writing a killer scholarship essay, check out our list of helpful tips.
The best way to get an idea of what scholarship committees are looking for is to look over the scholarship essay examples of past winners. Take some time to analyze the writing style, think about the strong points, and consider how you can improve. It might seem like a tedious task, but luckily we’ve already done some of the work for you.
Here are 5 winning scholarship essay examples that have actually worked:
“Twice a week I head down to volunteer at the Los Sures Social Services office, situated next to the local senior citizen home, to help at the food pantry. We distribute food to people in my neighborhood. Many are familiar faces. Many are middle-aged Hispanic women with children dangling from their hips like grass skirts. These women are there as a result of their culture and lack of financial knowledge. In our Spanish culture, patriarchy prevents women from preparing for themselves as much as they should. This leads to Hispanic women having little or no money management skills. Financial illiteracy is a major issue in my neighborhood, and that is why I hope to give Hispanic women a chance for a better future through financial education.
While I was volunteering I met a woman who happened to live in the same building as my aunt. Unemployed with two young children, and a husband earning minimum wage at a fast food restaurant, she struggled to get by every day. I thought to myself – many in my community are just like her. Then I realized I could do something to help. How? I can start a financial literacy program, which teaches Hispanic women to earn and manage money. Once a woman becomes financially literate, she is capable of making good personal and profession decisions, empowering her to improve her family’s financial well-being. Moreover, such a program will help Hispanic women become competitive employees, even in a slow recovering economy such as the one we are experiencing now.
Participating in the 2013 Women’s World Banking Global Meeting in Amman, Jordan gives me access to invaluable resources that will help me achieve this goal. I hope to find mentors from a roomful of inspiring, experiences leaders who will offer me their guidance. Also, meeting accomplished women from other countries means access to new ideas and unique perspectives. And if I am lucky, I may even come across individuals who can provide financial support to jumpstart my financial literacy program for Hispanic women. Lastly, I will tell my idea to everyone I meet in Jordan, a baby step to help Hispanic women rise from poverty.
The world continues to change rapidly, especially with globalization. It is about time that Hispanic women strive for gender equality. Thus, it is essential that Hispanic women increase their roles and knowledge in finance. The women in my neighborhood shall no longer be left out. I will task myself to help these women become better, stronger and most importantly, take control of their lives. I want to be involved so that they can save themselves from any unforeseen financial crisis. This is a tremendous goal, but for me, it is an opportunity to make a difference – in my neighborhood and for my Spanish community.”
Why It Worked:
First of all, the introduction paragraph of this essay thoroughly summarizes what the reader can expect to find in the body of the essay. This helps create structure and avoid confusion. In fact, the entire structure of the essay is very clear and logical. Having a clear structure ensures that the reader can follow your ideas without a problem.
Besides the structure, Rosaisha is clearly passionate about the topic at hand and isn’t afraid to express it through her writing. Additionally, she connects it to her own life by using personal examples. Using personal examples and showing your emotions can give you an edge over other applicants.
Lastly, even though Rosaisha discusses a sad and difficult topic, she keeps the tone light and inspirational. Rather than dwelling on how terrible this situation is, she expresses hope and her desire to make a change in the world. It’s important to keep in mind that an essay can be happy even if it’s about a sad or difficult topic.
“Had you asked me the same question one year ago, my answer would have been vastly different to the one I will give today. In the summer of 2012, with my first year of medical school completed, I embarked upon my last official summer vacation with two things in mind: a basketball tournament in Dallas and one in Atlanta. My closest friends and I had been playing in tournaments for the past 10 summers, and it was a sacred bond forged together in the name of competition. However, two weeks before our first tournament, I became instantly and overwhelmingly short of breath. Having been born to Korean immigrant parents, I was raised to utilize the hospital in emergency cases only, and I knew this was such a case. A few scans later, doctors discovered numerous pulmonary emboli (PE), caused by a subclavian deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and just like that, I was lying in a bed of a major hospital for a life threatening condition.
Fast forward a few months, and I am lying in a similar bed to treat the underlying cause of the sublclavian DVT: a first rib removal. There is little that can adequately prepare someone physically, emotionally or spiritually to undergo surgery; and my thoughts continued to race in the days following. In addition to the expected physical pain, isolation, fear and frustration were a few of the emotions I experienced in the four day ordeal. The procedure went according to plan thanks to a skilled surgeon and his team, but the attributes that made the doctor “good” went far beyond his ability to operate.
“Wow. I’m glad you are feeling better” and “I can’t believe you went through that” are common reactions people have when they see the scars on my upper chest. Quite frankly, the past nine months have been difficult, literally full of blood, sweat and tears. But through it all, I have been able to maintain my positivity and gratitude knowing that I have gained the invaluable experience of being a patient and discovering the vulnerability and trust that patients give their doctors. Patients indulge information to doctors that they may have never told anyone in their life and in doing so, place a great deal of trust and responsibility in the hands of a doctor. Many patients will not understand the mechanism of disease behind their condition and anticipate that the doctor will explain to them and their family why it is that they are feeling the way they are and ultimately heal them. And that is precisely what my surgeon understood: the privilege of being able to care for patients and the intimacy of the doctor-patient relationship. And as I awoke to the care of my worried parents, the first thing they wanted to discuss was the details of the procedure that was methodically and patiently explained to them by my “good” doctor.
In study after study, patients have reported dissatisfaction with their medical care, not because of lack of knowledge or health outcome, but because their doctors did not show enough warmth in the encounter or listen to the patient’s questions and concerns. There are few times where a patient and their loved ones are more vulnerable and in need of compassion than when dealing with a hospitalization. And for some doctors, a patient may be another item on a checklist, but that patient is someone’s mother or father, son or daughter, sister or brother. My “good” doctor understood this and would often say “If you were my son…” when discussing treatment options, reflecting on the type of care he would want for his family and treating me similarly. Such ideals are rooted in love and compassion for patients, not as clients in the health care system, but as fellow human beings striving to make something of themselves and the world around them (I).
Unfortunately, the ordeal of living with a chronic illness or undergoing a major operation extends beyond the confines of the hospital. Whether it is creditors harassing patients for medical bills, prescriptions that need to be refilled, or lifestyle modifications that need to be made, the health care experience doesn’t end when a patient walks out of the hospital doors. It often takes merely a minute, as in the case of the “good” doctor who told me that as a student I could apply to get the procedure financially covered by the hospital. Such foresight in anticipating financial concerns and directing me on the next steps to be taken provided relief in the surmounting stress.
Lastly, the “good” doctor understands that as our patients are human, so are we. This means we will make mistakes, some of which can result in life-threatening consequences. With that said, the “good” doctor practices humility and honesty, apologizing and sharing as much information with patients as possible. Although no one strives to make mistakes, they will happen, and how one reacts to them is a distinguishing feature of the “good” doctor (II).
Of all the qualities I tried to explain in what makes a “good” doctor, there was no emphasis on skill and knowledge. And while being able to fulfill the duties of making the correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment plans is expected, the intangibles of love, compassion, foresight and honesty is what makes a doctor, “good”. I learned such lessons in the purest manner possible, by being a patient myself, and will use them to guide me in all future patient encounters, as I strive to be a “good” doctor.”
Why It Worked:
This essay immediately pulls the reader in and makes him/her want to know more. We want to know how Joseph’s definition of a good doctor has changed and also why it has changed. Hooking your reader from the beginning is the best way to make sure they keep reading and a solid structure, like many of these scholarship essay examples have, is the best way to ensure there’s no confusion along the way.
One of the strongest points of this essay is that Joseph takes a negative personal experience and shows what he learned from it and how it caused him to grow as a person. This provides the reader with a different perspective and makes the essay much more interesting overall.
“When I was seventeen years old, my father lost his battle with kidney failure and cardiovascular disease. As long as I shall live, I do not believe that I will ever forget the first moment I saw my father’s once vibrant face in that cold and unforgiving casket. I won’t forget his lifeless and defeated hands, or how his pale lips would never utter another joke or speak to his grandchildren. Even though the day of his funeral was undoubtedly the worst day of my life, I wish I could relive it just to be with him one more time. Since that moment, I have felt as if all of my grief and longing resides underneath my skin with nothing to relieve the pressure. On September 8th, 2016, I lost my voice of reason, my confidant, my cheerleader, and my best friend.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, I had lost so much more. Upon my father’s passing, he left us with funeral and medical expenses that his insurance would not cover. Because he did not have any form of life insurance, the financial burden of his death was now the responsibility of my mother and me. Even though my mother works night shifts as a neonatal nurse and her commute is nearly two hours, she was forced to pick up extra shifts to support my family. Though I already had a job and I worked about ten hours a week, I now work anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five hours a week, and I am also a full-time high honor student. Even though the death of my father forced me to realize the importance of cherishing time with my family, I do not see them very often because of our busy schedules. I also sacrificed my social life and the joy that every senior in high school should experience. Instead of football games and homecoming, I had to deal with mourning and the possibility that I would not attend college because of my family’s financial troubles.
If my father had a life insurance policy, we would not have to work ourselves to the bone and sacrifice our physical and emotional well-being to keep up with expenses. I would not have to worry so intensely about the future of my education on top of the crippling grief that I have felt over the last five months. If this devastating experience has taught me anything, it is this: financial planning for these situations is absolutely invaluable. I will not soon forget the stress and despair that I have experienced, and I now realize that to have a life insurance policy is to throw your surviving family members a crucial lifeline. Though no one can ever prepare you for the trauma of losing a parent, life insurance allows you to grieve without the constant stress of financial burden, and for that reason, it is an absolutely essential precaution.
I love and miss you so much, Dad. Thank God I will see you again.”
Why It Worked:
Throughout her entire essay, Emily shows strong and very real emotions connected to the death of her father. Although the tone of this essay is sad, it helps the reader connect and empathize with the experience that Emily went through and gives a real glimpse into her thoughts and emotions.
On a structural level, the first paragraph immediately pulls the reader in because of the amount of interesting detail involved and the body of the essay follows a logical flow and structure. One major point you can take away from these scholarship essay examples is that maintaining a clear structure is half the battle.
“I could not believe my eyes. Before me were fifteen massive jugs of Martinelli’s cider, needing to be consumed by my family of nine in just three days. My mother, the science volunteer for my second grade class, needed the bottles for a science project. As my mother came in biweekly to do hands-on projects with the students, I became immersed in science. My class, and myself, marveled at the sights before us. Our lessons were filled with sucking eggs into bottles, dissecting owls’ poop, and even completing a circuit using wires attached to a student’s capped front teeth. The possibilities for amazement were endless.
Experiencing science at an early age, I became enthralled with each new experiment, captivated by the chemistry of it all. I watched longingly as my older siblings created their science fair projects. Too young to enter the school science fairs, I took to my family. Force-feeding different animal food to my siblings and parents, I graphed their favorite types. While I was only six, my family has never forgiven me; my “experiments” remain the family joke. Nevertheless, I have progressed from my dog food days, leaving taste tests for DNA gel electrophoresis experiments.
While many find themselves turned away from the complexity of science, I have found myself mesmerized by it. This difference in opinion has spurred from my upbringings in science, feeling connected to science at an early age. By entering into hands on experiences at an impressionable age, I realized that science was not only for experienced technicians in lab coats, but for anyone.
In order to encourage interest in science, students need to experience early interactions. By gradually assimilating into the world of science, children can find themselves capable of mastering science. Additionally, elementary years constitute the most impressionable years of a person’s life. By experiencing science at such a young age, one can find themselves, like me, passionate about science for a lifetime.
Many science teachers find themselves unable, or unwilling, to teach using hands- on experiments and demonstrations. When learning the chemical formula of NaHCO3 (aq) + HC2H3O2 (aq), one feels themselves distant from these complex, boring symbols. However, when taken off paper and into the classroom, this distant formula reveals the ordinary household products able to create an exhilarating volcanic eruption. Hands-on learning experiences are vital to gaining interest in science, showing students that what they learn on paper operates not only in the books, but in everyday life.
By focusing funds on the creation of science labs in elementary schools, students can relate to science not as a foreign concept, but as a fun and intuitive way to learn about the world around them. Without interest and participation in science, the world could not continue. From roller coasters to doctors, science affects every aspect of life.”
Why It Worked:
The essay opens with a strong opening line simply stating “I could not believe my eyes”, immediately pulling the reader in. As the paragraph continues, the lighthearted and engaging tone keeps the reader interesting and also allows the reader to see Lauren’s personality.
Plus, the easy-to-follow structure means there’s no room for confusion. Furthermore, the real-life examples used throughout the essay make her passion for science even more obvious and engaging. If you’re passionate about the topic at hand, don’t be afraid to let it shine through! It just might be the difference between an essay that worked and one that didn’t.
“As a child, my life had structure. Coloring books had lines, letters took on very specific shapes, and a system of rules governed everything from board games to the classroom. I found comfort in the fact that my future had an easy-to-follow template: elementary, middle, and high school, college, job, family retirement, “happily ever after” ending. When I graduated from elementary school I was told I completed 25% of my education. During my middle school graduation, I was told I was half way there and I know I’ll be told I’m 75% done when I throw my cap in the air this June. College was always factored into the percentage and the overall formula for life. And I never questioned its importance. I always figured it is important because it is necessary.
Going to college makes sense. From helping my parents land stable jobs after coming to America to giving my brother the chance to gain work experience at some of the top financial firms, college educations have shown their worth in my family. Yet I didn’t think about what actually goes on inside the magical universities until I entered high school. Applying to the Academy for Math, Science, and Engineering was the first time I had actively made a decision in my education. With the encouragement of my parents and favorite science teacher who recognized that I would excel in the challenging environment of like-minded students, I applied. Four years later, I can confidently say they were right.
My class of twenty-six has shown me the benefits of a collaborative rather than a competitive environment, especially the impact that camaraderie with my peers has on our collective learning experience. Each student has an inspiring level of passion and motivation that made me excited to learn, work on projects, and participate in discussions both in and out of the classroom. I used my education to gain skills and open doors for myself such as an internship at my local hospital. I gained confidence in my abilities to communicate with individuals from strangers my age to practicing professionals. I was thinking longer and harder than I ever had before to solve individual problems and large-scale challenges. In all honesty, I was having fun.
Looking back on my years at the Academy I realize how big of an impact the school made on how I view education. I wasn’t coming to school to mark another day off my calendar and inch closer to finishing the next 25%. I came to school to learn and question and push myself. Now, as a senior, I’m excited. I’m thankful for the sample that my high school gave me of what learning is supposed to be like and thankful that it left me wanting more. I’m entering college in August with a new understanding of its importance. It is important because it is what I want for my future.”
Why It Worked:
Firstly, this essay is chock full of personal examples, which scholarship committees love. Making your essay more personal can seriously put you ahead of the competition. Similarly, discussing your own goals can make your essay unique – show why you deserve to win over the other candidates.
Also, like many of the other scholarship essay examples here, the introduction paragraph is engaging and interesting. It gives us a new perspective on following a life path that seems determined and how Nicole learned new and unexpected lessons along the way.
Were these scholarship essay examples helpful? What are your best tips on writing a winning scholarship essay? Let us know below!