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How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

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    Many scholarships for college require an essay as part of the application, which can be challenging if you’re not a naturally gifted writer. With a new school year approaching, you’re likely already looking for scholarship essay examples or at least some tips to help you put together the perfect essay yourself. To help, we’re sharing the best advice for writing a winning scholarship essay that will persuade any board member that you deserve the grant.

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    Before You Start Writing

    Before you start writing, there are a few things you can do to help yourself write your best essay. 

    1. Start Early 

    You shouldn’t wait until the last minute to write your scholarship essay. The earlier you can get organized and plan your essay, the less stress you’ll place on yourself. It can take longer than you think to carefully read the instructions, plan what and how you’re going to put it together, write the essay and then edit it. The more time you give yourself, the greater chance you’ll have of success, so that’s your cue to start now.

    2. Carefully Read the Prompt and Instructions

    This might seem like an obvious suggestion, but it’s really important to thoroughly read the essay prompt and instructions given. Make sure that you’re familiar with the eligibility of the scholarship, what you need to do to submit your application, the deadline and any other essay rules and guidelines specifically given. This might include things like word count and the prompt, which then play an important part in planning your essay.

    It’s vital that you understand the topic and what it’s asking of you before you begin. Read the prompt multiple times and spend some time thinking and brainstorming about it before leaping into the first thing that comes to mind. 

    3. Read Through Some Scholarship Essay Examples

    It can be helpful to read through some scholarship essay examples. While you should never copy anyone else’s essay, it can help to see what successful essays have looked like and how they were written.

    You can find scholarship essay examples online at some of the following sources:

    4. Create an Essay Outline 

    One of the most common essay writing tips you’ve likely heard before is to create an outline. While it seems simple, it can be a very helpful part of writing a good essay and should assist you in writing it more efficiently.


    Start by making some notes about how you’re going to open the essay and the introduction. Then, try to break up your points into logical sections or topics so you can address them coherently throughout. This will help you stay on track as you move through the writing process.

    Tips for Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay

    When it comes to the writing process, you might be unsure exactly how to nail your essay every time. There are some key things to keep in mind when writing a scholarship essay that will help you stand out and impress the reader.

    1. Be Personal and Show Your Personality

    Scholarship board members will read countless essays over the course of the application period, so you want to ensure that you stand out. The best way to do this is to get personal and show your personality as you write. This means using your own voice instead of trying to be someone or something else.

    But be sure you don’t write a story that isn't really true just because you think people are going to like reading it. You also shouldn’t focus too much on being formal and overly mechanical in the hope that you come across as being professional. 

    What scholarship essays are all about is getting to know you as a person, your values and your goals. While you might feel hesitant to be too personal, when the prompt allows it, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a personal story to illustrate your passion or values. If anything, this will help the board better understand your reasoning behind applying for the scholarship.

    2. Be Direct and Concise

    One of the best ways to help you stick to the required word count is to keep your sentences concise. While you want to be descriptive and creative, you should also try to be direct and straight to the point to avoid any unnecessary waffle. It can be a fine balance between descriptive and concise. 

    The word counts can generally be restrictive, and you need to be smart about getting everything across within a limited number of words. If you can keep your writing on track and direct, the reader is more likely going to enjoy the essay and read through to the end.

    3. Sell Your Strengths But Remain Humble

    Depending on the type of scholarship you’re going for, you’ll likely want to share your accomplishments and your best qualities. While this is a great way to demonstrate why you deserve a scholarship or what you can bring to the table, it’s important to remain humble. 

    Try to strike a balance between demonstrating your strengths and achievements without sounding like you’re bragging. Find ways to weave through your attributes and achievements instead of simply listing them. It’s about keeping the reader interested in the story you’re sharing about yourself, not everything you’ve done to date. 

    No-Essay Scholarships to Apply for If You Don’t Want to Write an Essay

    If you’re still not convinced that you’ll be able to write a winning scholarship for an application, then you’ll be happy to know that there are no-essay scholarships out there. Often these scholarships have other application requirements, such as sharing a short video or a written Q&A form, but they don’t require a long-form essay.

    Check out some of these no-essay scholarships you might want to apply for:

    Score a Scholarship with a Standout Essay

    Writing scholarship essays can sometimes be the most daunting part of applying for grants and financial aid for college. You might be unsure exactly what a winning scholarship essay needs to have to impress the board members. 

    It’s all about providing the perfect balance between being descriptive yet concise, showing your strengths yet remaining humble and being personal and yet polished. At the end of the day, if you give yourself enough time to understand and plan your essay out, you’re already on the right track to success. 

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    Jenna Scatena

    Jenna Scatena

    Jenna Scatena is a writer and content strategist with a love for stories that have never been told before. More than a decade of working with prominent magazines and brands informs her approach to impactful storytelling. Her stories have reached more than 30 million readers, won multiple awards and been anthologized in books. Jenna's work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, Marie Claire, The San Francisco, BBC and The Atlantic. She's the founder of the editorial consultancy, Lede Studio.


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