13 Tips to Bring Your Scholarship Essay to the Next Level
Applying for scholarships would be a piece of cake if it wasn’t for the essay, which often forces us to reflect on ourselves, who we are as people, and what we’ve accomplished so far in life. While it can be the most difficult part of the application, it’s also the most important part.
- But how?
- The Planning Phase
- 1. Plan Far in Advance
- 2. Know Your Audience
- 3. Follow the Instructions & Answer the Prompt
- 4. Choose a Topic That You’re Interested In and Passionate About
- 5. Consider reusing an existing essay.
- The Writing Phase
- 6. Create a Strong Introduction
- 7. Keep a Good Structure
- 8. Show Emotions
- 9. Use Real Life Examples (“Show, don’t tell”)
- 10. Keep the Tone Inspirational & Positive
- 11. Stay Away from Dreary & Boring Conclusions
- The Editing Phase
- 12. Proofread and Ask for Help!
- 13. Take Advantages of Resources
- But where you do apply?
The scholarship essay is your chance to make a case for yourself and to show the committee why you deserve to win. It gives you the chance to show your personality and what you’re most proud of in life. Your scholarship application should inform, but your scholarship essay should persuade. Scholarship committees read hundreds, or even thousands, of essays, so making your application stand out from the rest is crucial.
Luckily, you don’t need perfect writing skills to make it happen. With a few scholarship essay tips and tricks in mind, you can easily bring your scholarship application to the next level.
Here are our 13 scholarship essay tips to help you succeed:
The Planning Phase
1. Plan Far in Advance
If you wait until the last minute to write your scholarship essay, the quality will likely suffer. To make sure that you have enough time for the planning phase, create a calendar (like this one) with the deadlines and requirements for all the scholarships you want to apply for. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time for brainstorming and proofreading!
Hot tip: If you use Going Merry to find and apply for scholarships, you can save your favorite scholarships, and then our dashboard will keep track of all your upcoming deadlines for you. We’ll even email you reminders so you don’t miss out! Learn more about how Going Merry works here.
2. Know Your Audience
The best way to give the scholarship committee what they’re looking for is to actually know what they’re looking for. Figure out who their ideal candidate is and how you fit into that picture. But be careful not to cater to their expectations too much.
Don’t sacrifice your voice and personality to fit the bill. Rather, take a look at your strengths and then determine how you can spin them to become the ideal candidate.
Hot tip: Not sure how to do this? Check out the “Financial Literacy for Hispanic Women” and “Life Happens” scholarship essays here, for examples of past winners who’ve clearly taken the scholarship provider’s missions into account.
3. Follow the Instructions & Answer the Prompt
It might seem like one of the more obvious scholarship essay tips, but many applicants make their first mistake before they even begin – they don’t read the directions. Exceeding (or not meeting) the word count can hurt your chances since it shows that you didn’t prepare your essay as well as other applicants. Also, double check to make sure you’re responding thoroughly to all parts of the prompt and that you’re following the correct scholarship essay format.
4. Choose a Topic That You’re Interested In and Passionate About
Your topic can have a heavy impact on how well your essay turns out. If you choose a topic that bores you, you’ll likely bore your reader too! Try to choose a topic that you’re passionate about or that interests you in some way, rather than a topic that you feel you should write about – that way, your personality and excitement can shine through in your writing!
5. Consider reusing an existing essay.
Many scholarship essays use the same essay prompt. Some scholarship providers even use the ones from the Common App or allow you to choose your own topic. This means you can literally copy and paste your essay to submit to multiple applications (yay!).
Other times, scholarships use similar essay prompts, or ask questions that can be answered in the same way. You might be able to slightly change an existing essay, rather than writing a new one altogether. For example, these two prompts can often be answered the same way:
- Discuss a moment or experience that caused significant personal growth.
- Discuss a time when you had to overcome an obstacle.
Since overcoming an obstacle often results in personal growth, if you have an essay for one of these prompts, you can usually tweak it to make it work for the other prompt.
Hot tip: Going Merry makes it easy for you by combining scholarships with similar essay prompts into application bundles. This way, you can apply for multiple scholarships with just one essay. Sign up today.
The Writing Phase
6. Create a Strong Introduction
Since the introduction is what draws the reader into your essay and convinces them to keep going, it should be one of the strongest parts of your essay. Instead of starting off with a general overview, why not hook your reader with a surprising first line?
For example, which of these two opening lines pulls you into the story more? Which one makes you want to keep going?
My first time traveling abroad was during a family vacation to Mexico in 2010.
It was 2010; I had just crossed the border into Mexico and my life was about to change.
The second sentence gives the reader something to look for; it makes them curious about not only how your life changed during your trip but also why it changed. It gives the readers unanswered questions and they have to keep reading to find the answers.
Overall, you’ll want to give your reader a quick preview of what they can expect from your essay – think of it like the written version of a movie trailer. Why should they keep reading?
7. Keep a Good Structure
After the introduction, it’s important to make sure that your reader can follow along with your essay without too much effort. Creating a basic outline is a great way to make sure this happens!
To create an outline, first organize your thoughts. Write down the main points that you definitely want to cover in your essay. Next, organize those thoughts into various sections: introduction, body, and conclusion. Your ideas can either be in sentence form, short phrases, or simple words – whatever you prefer! Lastly, make sure your ideas flow in a logical order and, if necessary, add more detail under each point. Check out this source for more information.
Also, try to avoid going off on a tangent by taking the time to determine which information is relevant and which isn’t. Similarly, consider just how much detail you should include. Providing some detail can make your point clearer or more compelling, but too much detail can bog down your essay.
Hot tip: Check out Joseph Lee’s “What makes a good doctor?” essay here, for an example of a well-structured scholarship essay.
8. Show Emotions
Connecting with an audience through writing can be challenging but, when done right, it can create a very powerful connection between the reader and the author. Showing your emotions is a great way to do that and to get the reader personally invested in your essay. Showing emotion can help the reader see you as a person, rather than a faceless author. Even though it’s crucial, it’s one of the scholarship essay tips that people tend to ignore the most.
We all have vulnerabilities, so don’t be afraid to show them. Scholarship committees don’t expect you to be perfect and want to see how you’ve grown as a person and handled the obstacles that life has thrown your way. In fact, opening up about times where you felt nervous or scared demonstrates maturity and self-awareness – two great qualities for a scholarship applicant to have.
Hot tip: Check out Jesus’ winning scholarship essay here, which discusses a really tough moment in his life. It’s a great example of showing vulnerability.
9. Use Real Life Examples (“Show, don’t tell”)
Instead of telling your reader about your experiences, show them. Don’t be afraid to provide real-world examples of your experiences and/or how you’ve changed as a person. Nearly every applicant will have a somewhat similar response to the essay prompt and your personal examples are your chance to transform your essay from generic to unique.
Consider the difference between these two passages explaining why the scholarship applicant wants to pursue a career in science:
VERSION 1: I have always been interested in science, even from a young age. Since my family supported my interest enthusiastically, I continued to pursue it throughout school. As I’ve gotten older, though, my scientific endeavors have become increasingly complex.
VERSION 2: 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. [essay from Lauren Croda]
Which is more engaging? While Version 1 explains things and may be well-written, it’s a bit boring, right? Version 2 makes the subject come alive and showcases the author’s quirky personality. While anyone (and probably many applicants) could write Version 1, only Lauren could write Version 2. It helps her stand out. That‘s the power of examples and “show, don’t tell.”
10. Keep the Tone Inspirational & Positive
One of the most important scholarship essay tips is based entirely on your perspective and tone. Nobody wants to read a depressing and self-pitying story. Even if you’re writing about difficult or sad events in your life, try and keep the tone positive and inspirational. Rather than just writing about how you were negatively affected by an event, focus on how you grew from the experience and overcame the obstacle.
11. Stay Away from Dreary & Boring Conclusions
Most people use the conclusion to simply paraphrase their entire essay…but don’t be afraid to think outside of the box! Do something surprising and innovative. Make your essay interesting and attention-grabbing from the first letter until the last period.
One great way to bring your conclusion to the next level is to leave your readers with an interesting question for them to think about. For more ideas, check out these helpful tips.
The Editing Phase
12. Proofread and Ask for Help!
As much as we like to believe that we’re perfect, we all make mistakes…which is why it’s so important to take the time to proofread your essay. One great way to find mistakes is to read your essay out loud. For more ideas, check out these helpful tips.
Once you’ve taken the time to proofread your own essay a few times, have someone else do it for you. Asking a family member or friend for help can provide you with a different perspective on your writing and a second set of eyes might catch a mistake that you didn’t.
13. Take Advantages of Resources
When it comes to writing, you don’t have to do it completely on your own. Check out some of our resources including scholarship essay examples from Going Merry winners,;a breakdown of why these 5 scholarship essays worked; and our guides to writing personal statements, academic goals essays, or career goals essays.
If you’re in college, most schools have a writing center that offers free feedback and guidance to students. They might even have some insightful scholarship essay tips that you (or we!) didn’t think about. Some high schools, communities, or libraries might also have similar services.
But where you do apply?
Now that you’re writing stellar essays, start applying for scholarships! Here’s a list of 10 scholarship search sites, but we’d just recommend you go straight for the best one: Sign up for free with Going Merry, and then upload your essays to your documents section. We’ll send your essays with your scholarship applications, so you don’t even have to enter information more than once!