In order to get a scholarship, you will almost certainly have to write at least one essay. That’s why it’s incredibly important that you know how to write a strong scholarship essay as it can bring you life-changing financial support to help you get your college education.

We know that writing these essays can be difficult and daunting which is why we put together this holistic guide to walk you through the process of writing a winning scholarship essay. We’ll also share some of our favorite scholarship essay tips that could give you the edge to help you win those scholarships. Let’s dive in!

What Is a Scholarship Essay?

A scholarship essay is a letter that applicants submit as part of the scholarship application. It is worth noting that some scholarship providers don’t mandate an essay as part of the application process and some colleges look at other aspects like your background, ethnicity, career goals, and community service while deciding on scholarships.

Some providers make essays optional whereas others require it. However, even if it says that the essay is optional, it is likely extremely important to actually win that scholarship. It shows that you have the dedication and work ethic to go the extra mile and write a great essay. It also just tells the scholarship provider much more about you and gives you a great opportunity to prove your worth.

You can show off your writing skills, past achievements, and passions to try to make yourself stand out from the long list of applicants.

How to Write a Strong Scholarship Essay

There is no single best way to write the best scholarship essay but there are quite a few important things to keep in mind. Let’s now look at all of the most important things you need to know when writing scholarship essays.

Plan in Advance

The importance of outlining or planning for a scholarship essay cannot be overstated. Don’t just run through the essays as fast as you can to get it over with. Remember, you need to stand out from potentially thousands of other students.

It often takes time to think of the best ideas for these essays let alone to write them all down in a cohesive, well-structured scholarship essay. Make sure you allow yourself the time you need to write the essay and try to not put it off until the due date is looming ahead of you.

scholarship essay preparation steps

Many scholarship programs will ask the same or similar essay questions and most are looking for the same kinds of answers so let’s dive into some of the most popular prompts to help prepare you for the real thing.

1. Tell us about yourself:

This open-ended question invariably forms a part of most if not all scholarship essay prompts. While it might seem like an easy prompt, it takes a bit of thought and effort to make yourself stand out. It’s important to get across your best characteristics without seeming too self-absorbed.

Consider including your passions, hobbies, past achievements, as well as career goals in this section unless the scholarship essay prompt has a separate section for these.

2. What are your career goals?

This one is usually quite simple. If you know what career you want to have, just explain what it is, why you want it, how the scholarship would help you get there, and include any details that spark your interest. If you don’t yet know what career you want, that’s fine too. Just talk about what you are interested in and what you will look for in a job.

3. How would this scholarship help you?

Scholarship committees typically add this question to the essays to gauge the impact that the scholarship would have. The prompt is your chance to tell the scholarship committee whether you need financial aid and how the scholarship would help you achieve your professional goals.

4. How have you contributed to your community?

This essay prompt also features in many scholarship essays and it can be a difficult one to answer, especially if you haven’t done much community service already. List all of the community-oriented services that you have done throughout your life from helping with a Habitat for Humanity build or donating cans to a food pantry to picking up litter.

Make sure to discuss what you learned from your service and how it made you feel. You can also include future plans for community service.

5. Why do you want to go to this college/why do you want this scholarship?

Through this question, committees probe whether you are passionate about the college or whatever the scholarship is for. While answering the prompt, you should talk about what inspired you to choose the college. Make sure to explain what you like about it and discuss how it will help you reach professional and personal goals.

6. Who is your biggest inspiration?

Through this question, scholarship committees try to probe more into your traits and passion. Take the time to write down the traits of the heroes that inspire you the most and also list the reasons you like them. While you might have several heroes who inspire you, you should choose the one whose skills you appreciate and want to imbibe.

7. What was your greatest success or failure and what did you learn?

This is quite an important part of a scholarship essay and you should talk about the successes or failures that had a lasting impact on you. This section helps the scholarship committees understand you better as the choice of success and failures and the related learnings would provide more insights into your personality type.

Do Your Research on the Target Audience

Before you can write the perfect essay you need to know what the scholarship committee is looking for, just like marketers need to know their target audience to create the most effective ads. You can get a much better idea of what they want if you know the goals and mission of the scholarship.

Some of the best resources to use are previous winning scholarship essays if the provider releases them. Of course, don’t copy them you can use them to get a good idea of what a winning scholarship essay looks like.

Follow the Scholarship Essay Instructions

While this step may seem incredibly obvious, it’s still tremendously important. Read each prompt carefully at least a couple of times to make sure you know exactly what it is asking you to do. Make sure that you

  1. Follow the scholarship essay format: If the instructions include a specific format, ensure that you get it right.
  2. Stick to the word count: Your scholarship essay should stick to the word count and should not exceed the limit but you should also be careful of it being too short.
  3. Answering all scholarship essay prompts: Answer all the prompts mentioned in the scholarship essay and reread both the prompts and your essay to make sure that you hit on every point.

Choosing the Scholarship Essay Topic

Many scholarship essays are open-ended, allowing you to choose your own topic. This can be quite difficult for students as there are almost too many choices to pick from. Here you need to do two things.

Firstly, unless the essay prompt specifically asks you to write about a controversial topic (which it likely won’t), you should probably steer clear of them.

Also, it is incredibly important to choose a topic that you are passionate about your relate well to. Graders can often tell through the writing whether you are really passionate about something and it can be a massive boon in your favor.

Quite a few scholarships use the same prompts or extremely similar prompts. It’s usually okay to reuse your own essays or parts of essays (NOT anyone else’s) for multiple scholarships (and you probably should save a lot of time) but you still need to ensure that your essay fits with the prompt well.

Now that you have all of the preparation done and you know what topic you are writing about, it’s time to dive into the meat of the essay.

Create a Scholarship Essay Outline

It’s generally advisable to prepare an outline of your essay before you start writing, though it isn’t totally necessary. It can help you stick to a carefully designed structure and it will keep the essay more organized. The following are the three key components of an essay

  1. Introduction
  2. Main body
  3. Conclusion


Keep it Simple, Concise, and Easy to Read

Keep in mind that scholarship committees are often reading hundreds if not thousands of essays. So keep your essay concise, to the point, and simple to read. For each topic you cover, you can ask yourself: can you rewrite this in fewer words? Note that shorter doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better.

Keep the Scholarship Essay Formal

Unless the prompt says otherwise, you generally want to keep the language relatively formal. You should still try to make your personality stand out but don’t be too casual.

Also, while writing an essay, refrain from using emojis or photos unless you have been asked to do so. The exclamation mark should also be avoided as far as possible (this goes for most forms of writing). Remember, the excitement in your scholarship essay should come from the content and not the exclamation mark. Also, unless the prompt asks you to write in a particular font, you should play it safe and use Times New Roman font 12.

Remember, scholarship essays are not a piece of art but are meant to convince the committee about your eligibility. Try to make the essay interesting so that it stands out among the other scholarship applications.

Spell Check

Checking your spelling and grammar is one of the easiest ways to improve your essay dramatically. Misspellings and bad grammar can make it look like little effort was put into the essay. You can find these issues by just running the essay through an online grammar and spelling tool like Grammarly.

grammarly spell check on a word doc
Grammarly’s Google Docs Add-on

Write A Strong Introduction

The importance of writing a strong introduction cannot be overstated in the essay writing process. That goes for just about any kind of writing, not just scholarship essays. Your introduction is the first taste of you that the committee gets so make sure it’s as strong as you can. Make it interesting so that it stands out from the rest but don’t go over the top trying to shock or impress the reader.

Make Sure to Keep a Positive Tone and Add Relevant Information

When writing an essay, try to keep the tone of your essay positive. For instance, while you need to state why you need financial aid, refrain from making the essay a story of self-pity. Rather use the section to portray a positive image of how you can contribute to society and your community if you get the scholarship.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t discuss the hardships you have faced. You probably should. But try to focus on how you overcame them instead of focusing on the hardships themselves.

Even if the prompt asks you why you think you deserve the scholarship the most, your essay should focus on your best qualities and accomplishments and not why others don’t deserve it.

Use Powerful Examples

If you can, try to provide real-life examples to substantiate your claims. Using real-life examples helps prove your point and makes your essay more engaging.

For instance, if you are applying for a scholarship for a finance program, instead of merely mentioning that you were interested in finance from a young age, try providing real-life examples like if you started reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad when you were young. Almost everyone applying for this scholarship will say that they are interested in finance so use examples to stand out.

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Conclusions in Scholarship Essays

The final part of a scholarship essay is the conclusion. Unfortunately, it’s often underestimated and some students simply don’t write one at all. One of the keys to writing a successful scholarship essay is to write a compelling conclusion. Here are some of the things you should include in the conclusion of your scholarship essays:

  • Summarize the main points of your essay
  • Try to show your interest in the college/program and give it a personal touch. The conclusion is your final chance to tell the scholarship committee why you are an excellent candidate for receiving the scholarship.
  • If possible, leave the scholarship committee with an intriguing idea or question in conclusion

do's and don't for writing a conclusion

7 Quick Tips to Make Your Scholarship Essay Stand Out

To write a successful scholarship essay, you need to make sure that it stands out from the crowd. Here are some quick scholarship essay tips that you can follow for writing stellar essays.

  • Take your time: Great writing often takes multiple edits and lots of brainpower so don’t rush through it. Take the time you need to ensure that the writing is up to the mark.
  • Keep the scholarship essay unique and personalized: The scholarship committee comes across stacks and stacks of similar-sounding essays. Make sure to keep your essay unique and personalized.
  • Be honest and tell your story: Be honest while writing scholarship essays and tell your story. Being honest would not only make your scholarship essays personal and unique but in all probabilities, it would be a better read than making up things.
  • Proofreading: Proofreading is very important in any kind of writing – including scholarship essays. Proofreading serves two purposes. First, it would help you eliminate any typos or grammatical errors in the scholarship essay. Secondly, careful proofreading helps you find ways to improve your writing. Always think: how can I make this sound better?
  • Take feedback from others: No matter how skilled a writer you are, it can always be helpful to take feedback from others. Ask teachers, college admission counselors, skilled writers, or those who have won scholarships in the past to give you feedback on your essay.
  • Use online tools: There are a ton of great online tools that can help tremendously in the essay writing process. Tools like Grammarly can check your essay for grammatical mistakes and typos in seconds. Similarly, several other tools can help you improve the overall quality of your scholarship essays like You can also check your essay for any accidental plagiarism.
  • Never plagiarize: While one essay prompt might be different from the others, some students copy and paste from other people’s essays. This is a non-starter. Integrity is absolutely vital when applying for scholarships and if they discover plagiarism they will almost certainly deny your application (or worse).

The Bottom Line

The costs of college education have risen multi-fold over the years. One of the ways to lower the financial burden of higher education is to get a scholarship. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only about 7% of college students receive a scholarship and the average scholarship for two-year institutions is $6,010.

government grant and scholarship aid per student by family income level chart

Given the low odds of getting a scholarship, one way you can increase the probability of landing one is through a winning scholarship essay. Just remember, writing winning scholarship essays is not much different from any other essay writing assignment and you have to follow some simple strategies to impress the scholarship provider.

One great way of writing a winning scholarship essay is to keep it unique and personal. Make sure to add all the relevant points in the essay as unlike an interview, an essay is a one-way conversation between you and the scholarship providers and you only have the essay to impress upon them to grant you that scholarship.