What’s the right scholarship essay format and structure?
Many scholarships require you to submit at least one essay–and maybe you’ve already got that covered. But now you’re wondering: how should your essay be formatted? Should it be double-spaced or single-spaced? Should you include a title? Should you include the prompt? What does a typical scholarship essay format look like?
Although you don’t have to worry about essay formatting at Going Merry (we’ll structure and submit your application for you, with our pre-filled forms!), maybe you’re also applying to some other scholarships too. So we’re here to help you understand how to format your scholarship essay.
Where do I start?
You’ll need to dive into a personal experience or tell your story of an accomplishment, a hobby, an interest to the scholarship provider, showing them your experience with a structured and descriptive essay. Create an outline of your essay (this can be old school, with pen and paper!), write it out, and then ensure you’re formatting it professionally and properly. (Need more scholarship essay tips? Try these.)
Does a scholarship essay need a title?
This depends on the essay submission format.
If there is a text box entry, you can just copy and paste the body of your essay, without a title. This is the case, for example, when applying for scholarships through Going Merry.
If you’re attaching an essay as a Word or PDF document, you can optionally include a title, but this is usually unnecessary unless there are special scholarship essay format instructions to do so. (One popular reason you might need to do this is if the prompt is to write about any topic of your choice, or to choose your own prompt. In this case, to give the reader more context before you begin your essay, a title may be helpful.)
If you are required to create a title, we recommend doing one of two things:
- Think of a title early on. Write down that title, write your essay, and then circle back to the title to tweak it as needed.
- Write your essay and then come up with a title. Your creativity might be fresher once you’ve answered the prompt and included the meat and potatoes of the scholarship essay, which might help you come up with a suitable title at the end.
Also, don’t stress! While a clever title can improve your essay, it’s hardly a make-or-break. A very descriptive title that summarizes the prompt would work fine, as long as your essay is strong.
Relatedly, you don’t need to include the essay question or prompt at the top of your essay. The scholarship committee will know what the topic or prompt is!
(Want inspiration from winners? Check out these winning scholarship essays.)
How should a scholarship essay be formatted? What font should I use?
If you’re writing your essay in a document to upload to your Going Merry profile, or to submit to a scholarship application on a provider’s website , and the scholarship provider doesn’t have explicit guidelines, it’s best to just follow a standard professional style and format. That means using 1-inch page margins, 12-point font size double-spaced (or 1.5 spaced), and a “standard” font like Times New Roman in classic (default) black. Don’t get creative with fonts or colors here. You want the content of your essay to be what stands out, rather than your unorthodox formatting.
How should a scholarship essay be structured? Can I get a template or outline?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to how to best structure a good scholarship essay. In fact, you can see how wide-ranging these winning essays are. In fact, how to best answer and structure your essay depends partially on the essay and partially on your personal writing style.
However, one pretty common way of structuring your scholarship essay is how Going Merry winner John Flowers Jr did it. Here’s the template/outline:
- Introduction (1-2 paragraphs) : Draw the audience in with an attention-grabbing opening sentence related to the prompt. Introduce your main points that you’ll be sharing later in your essay.
- Example of an opening sentence from a Going Merry scholarship winner: “My parents were never given a shot at having an education beyond high school.” This tells us about the student’s parents and how it might have influenced the student’s decision to apply to college, setting the tone for the essay.
- Introductory paragraph: “My parents were never given a shot at having an education beyond high school. They were never given a shot to show their full potential and make a difference in the world. They had to start life at an early age. I want to succeed in college for them and for me. I want them to be proud of me for doing a task that they weren’t able to do.” – This expresses John’s understanding of what his parents had to do, and that they did not get a chance to attend college. John also expresses his determination, and his drive to attend college to do something for his parents.
- Body (1-3 paragraphs) – Expand on your main points. Back up your information with evidence, examples, and facts. This is where you’re encouraged to share details of how you got to where you are today, what inspired your hobbies, interests, or drive to attend college, and how the scholarship will help you achieve your academic and/or personal goals. Remember to use specifics rather than make general statements!
- Conclusion (1 paragraph): Explain how winning this scholarship would help support your goals (and maybe also have wider community impact)
- An excerpt from John’s conclusion: “Winning this scholarship will make a difference to me because it will allow me to cover college financial issues that may hold me back from reaching my career. Being less stressed about worrying about college fees will allow me to focus more of my attention in class to earn the credits, and not worry about how I’m going to pay for the class.” – John explains how valuable this scholarship is for him, not just monetarily, but also how it will help him achieve his goals.
Scholarship essay format at a glance
- Read the scholarship essay format guidelines carefully, to check if the scholarship includes instructions
- If you’re submitting your scholarship essay outside of the Going Merry platform, set up your document with a 1-inch margin
- Aim for a 12-point font
- The best font to use is Times New Roman. Other good options include Arial, Calibri, Tahoma, and Verdana
- Always get a second opinion on the scholarship essay format for grammar, punctuation, spelling, structure, etc.
- Follow the instructions to submit your scholarship essay
- Online form
- By mail
- Going Merry scholarship platform (apply to thousands of scholarships and upload your scholarship essay)
Should scholarship essays be double-spaced?
You’re probably used to double-spacing your high school papers and essays. Since adding line spacing can make essays more readable, using 1.5-spacing or double-spacing is a good idea if you’re attaching an essay as a Word doc or PDF. But again, unless the scholarship provider has specified this information, it’s not mandatory.
More important is to not leave your essay as one block of text. Instead, we recommend separating paragraphs when you’re starting a new thought or idea.
For scholarship essays on Going Merry, you won’t have to worry about formatting because we will do this for you whenever you submit applications through our platform.
We know you’re going to rock your essay with these scholarship essay format guidelines, so get to it! It’s best to start writing your essay as early as possible to give yourself time to review the essay, ask someone (like a parent, guidance counselor, or friend) to proofread your essay, and then make sure to submit it on time. (On Going Merry, we’ll send you deadline reminders on your favorited scholarships and draft applications, so you won’t miss them!)
When you’re ready to apply for scholarships, sign up for Going Merry! You’ll create a free student profile, enter your information once, and then we’ll match you with thousands of scholarships that you can apply to with just the click of a button. Don’t worry about entering your information twice – we’ll pre-fill this for you!
If you need additional resources to accompany this scholarship essay format guide, check out these related blog posts for more writing tips:
- How to answer “Why do you deserve this scholarship?”
- How to Write the Best Personal Statement
- 10 Tips for Writing An Essay About Yourself
- How to Write a Career Goals Essay
- 6 Tips for Writing Scholarship Essays About Academic Goals
- College Essay Guy: How to write a scholarship essay
- Scholarships for Students in Pennsylvania for 2021 - November 11, 2020
- Counselor Starter Guide: How to Use Going Merry’s Scholarship Platform - September 9, 2020
- How to write a financial need statement for your scholarship application (with examples!) - August 13, 2020