Scholarship Essay TipsSeptember 29, 2023
With the rising cost of college, finding ways to reduce your out-of-pocket expenses is essential. Qualifying for gift aid like grants or scholarships, for which repaying is unnecessary, can be an excellent way to finance some of your education.
There are many award programs available. The College Board’s Scholarship Search tool has a database of over 6,000 programs totaling over $4 billion in scholarship dollars.
Competition for some scholarships can be stiff, but crafting a strong essay can improve your chances of getting a scholarship. There are multiple stages to creating an essay, including planning, writing, and editing. To get started, follow these scholarship essay tips:
The Planning Phase
When it comes to scholarships, the planning phase is a critical stage that one shouldn’t rush. These four tips will help you navigate the admissions and financial aid processes.
1. Plan Ahead
Scholarship deadlines can vary by program, and those deadlines are fixed; if you miss them, you won’t be able to apply until next year. If you find scholarships that seem a good fit for your profile, save them and note their deadlines.
Find a system that works for you. Some people prefer to add scholarship deadlines to their digital calendars on their phones, while others find it easier to write them on a paper calendar. Whichever system you choose, mark the deadline and set reminders so you can begin working on the essay several weeks in advance.
2. Follow Instructions, Answer the Prompt
Reusing an essay for multiple awards may be tempting, but that’s a recipe for failure. Each scholarship program will have its own instructions and prompts, and it’s a good idea to tailor your essay to the scholarship organization.
Closely follow the instructions. Some common mistakes students make include:
- Going over the listed word count: Although you may think you’re going above and beyond, the program sets the word limit for a reason. You must answer the prompt concisely and prepare to edit and cut some sections.
- Submitted a document in the wrong format: Some scholarship programs require you to submit the essay in a particular format, such as a PDF or Word document. If you submit it in another format, such as a Google doc, the organization may dismiss your entry, so carefully review the instructions before submitting your essay.
- Ignored submission instructions: Depending on the scholarship, you may have to submit your essay via an online form, by email or through the postal service. Your essay may not be considered if you don’t follow those instructions.
3. Tell Your Story, Be Authentic
Maintaining authenticity is one of the most important scholarship essay tips to remember. You are unique and want your essay to express what makes you different. Your essay should highlight your personality and experiences alongside your academic achievements.
Before writing an essay, spend some time reflecting on your life, obstacles, and achievements. If there are moments that particularly resonate with you or have shaped you in some way, those can be excellent starting points for your essay.
4. Write For Your Audience
Knowing your audience is critical to crafting a great essay. Spend some time reviewing the organization’s website or other materials to find out its mission, what kind of work they do and what the goal of its scholarship program is. That information can give you an idea of the organization’s ideal scholarship candidate and help you shape your essay while maintaining your voice.
The Writing Phase
Now that you have a plan and know what the scholarship program requires, it’s time to write the essay. Don’t put it off until the last minute; ideally, you’d write your first draft a few weeks in advance so you have time to edit and rework it as needed, so start early.
5. Ensure Your Introduction Is Compelling
Your introduction needs to grab attention. Some compelling ways to start an introduction that will stand out among other essays include using famous quotes, statistics, or vivid language to describe a particular anecdote.
6. Use Real-Life Examples
Whenever possible, use real-life examples in your essay. Not only will those examples make your essay more interesting, but they will also highlight your personality and achievements. For example, instead of simply stating that you enjoy volunteering at the local animal shelter, you could describe a dog you connected with and helped with.
7. Strike The Right Tone
Writing a scholarship essay can be an uncomfortable experience; finding the right balance between highlighting your achievements and bragging can be difficult. To find that balance, focus on your achievements and what those moments taught you.
For example, let’s say you studied hard and won the science fair. That’s a tremendous achievement! But for your essay, you might share your challenges, such as an experiment gone wrong, and describe what you did to fix the problem. It highlights what you accomplished and shows your character and perseverance.
8. Finish With A Strong Conclusion
It’s a common problem; students write beautiful essays, but the conclusion is weak. Instead of repeating what you already said or using the space for thank yous, focus on highlighting how the experiences you mentioned in your essay paved the way for your future.
The Editing Phase
Even the best writers need to edit; no matter how good you think your draft is, it likely could benefit from some editing. To make your essay as strong as possible, follow these tips:
9. Proofread Your Essay
After writing your essay, it may be helpful to take a break for a day or two; completely step away from it. That way, you can review it with fresh eyes.
Proofreading for spelling or grammatical errors is an important step. If you need help with proofreading, re-reading your essay may help you catch mistakes. Or, try reading the essay backward. These tricks can help you find typos or misspellings that your spell-check tool may miss.
10. Ask Someone Else To Read Your Essay
Sharing your essay can be an excellent way to get feedback and a fresh perspective. Consider asking several people, such as a friend, relative or teacher. They can read the essay and tell you their overall impressions and suggestions for improvement.
[Tip: If you need help with your essay, sign up for a free account with Get Schooled or the Fair Opportunity Project. These organizations provide free essay reviews and other admissions-related assistance to low-income students, first-generation students, and those who belong to minority groups.]
11. Ask Yourself – Does This Meet The Committee’s Expectations?
Once you’ve proofread your essay and asked friends and family members to provide feedback, do one last review on your own. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this essay meet the prompt?
- Did I stay within the word limit?
- Does it highlight who I am?
If you’re satisfied, go ahead and submit the essay (but double-check the submission instructions first!).
Explore These Scholarship Opportunities
There are many scholarship essay contests or awards that require an essay. Using the above scholarship essay tips, you can write a dynamic, engaging writing sample that improves your chances of qualifying for financial aid.
Thousands of scholarship opportunities are out there. To help you get started with your search, we identified some of the most unique and valuable awards:
- 9 Fun And Unique Scholarships For High School Students
- Scholarships for Black & African American Students
- Scholarships for Adults Returning to College
- Scholarships for Latino & Hispanic Students
- Best Scholarships and Grants for Women
- 6 Scholarships for Trade or Vocational Programs
- Scholarships for Homeschoolers