12 Tips for Writing a Killer Scholarship Essay

22 October, 2022
12 Tips for Writing a Killer Scholarship Essay

Filling out scholarship applications is difficult enough without the arduous task of crafting a lengthy, in-depth essay designed to elicit an emotional response from the reviewer. However, the quality of your scholarship essay can make or break your application. Here are 12 tips for writing a scholarship essay that slays.

1. Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Plan

Unless you’re a professional writer by trade, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to churn out a great scholarship essay in a few days or even a week. Give yourself plenty of time to go over the requirements and ensure you fully understand expectations. Plan what you’d like to cover in your essay and allow yourself time to add, subtract, and revise your main ideas prior to writing the meatier parts of your content.

2. Review the Instructions and Writing Prompt in Detail

Each scholarship application has its own unique requirements. While many scholarships have some overlapping requirements and in some cases, they may be nearly identical, this is not purposeful or reliable. Go over the application instructions for each scholarship you want to apply to in-depth before getting started. Make sure you understand what the scholarship foundation is asking for and that you have a solid plan to deliver.

3. Choose Your Topic Wisely

Often, scholarship essay requirements allow applicants to select from multiple topics and many of them are completely open as to what you’d like to discuss. Be sure to choose a topic you’re passionate about and can engage with on a personal level. This will shine through in your writing. If you choose a topic you’re not as interested in, your writing will inevitably come off duller and less interactive.

4. Recycle Essay Material If You Can

When reviewing the essay requirements for a particular scholarship, look through any past essays you’ve already written to see if there’s any material you can borrow. You may take an entire essay and only make small tweaks, or build a new essay from different paragraphs of multiple essays. If you use this approach, be sure to give your essay an extra look for any indicators of borrowed content, e.g. names of other schools, etc.

5. Know Who You’re Writing To

One of the most important aspects of writing a great scholarship essay is to understand who your audience is and what they care about. Do some research on the board members of the scholarship foundations you’re applying to and learn what motivates them. Know what the foundation stands for and its mission, and align the intent of your content to that of your specific audience for each essay you write.

6. Avoid Camp

If you’re tempted to add a lot of humor to your essay or to include campy references in an effort to distinguish yourself from the competition, you certainly will, although perhaps not in the way you’d like. Avoid camp like the plague and instead focus your essay on being professional, straightforward, and from the heart. If there’s material in your essay that serves no purpose other than to be funny or lighthearted and doesn’t add value to your essay, it’s usually better to remove it. However, there’s no need to remove lighthearted content that serves your story or is integral to the message you are striving to communicate.

7. Create a Strong Outline First

Your outline is the backbone of your scholarship essay and it’s critical that you start with the foundation before jumping into the bulk of the content. Decide on the topics you want to cover and put them in a logical order. Create a scan-and-skim-friendly essay by writing engaging headlines for each part of your content to help your reader understand what your most important points are.

8. Consider Writing in Sections

Writing an essay from top to bottom — introduction to the conclusion in one fell swoop — can be extremely challenging. After you build your outline, consider writing each section separately. Your outline should keep you from going off on unrelated tangents and help facilitate your transition from one section to the next. However, writing a section at a time can be less daunting and easier to manage than trying to write the entire essay in order.

9. Use Emotion in the Right Places

Your scholarship essay should be designed to evoke the emotion of the reader and persuade them that you’re the best investment of their scholarship funds. However, an overly sappy or emotional piece can be a turn-off. Your essay should use emotion in the right places without going too far overboard. Connect with your reader emotionally, but be sure to present enough facts and straightforward information to counterbalance it.

10. Use Your Introduction to Hook the Reader & Make Sure Your Conclusion Snaps

Your scholarship application essay introduction should be the very best part of your essay. It’s what initially hooks your reader and convinces them to continue. If your introduction is bland or fails to capture the attention of the reader, chances are your essay won’t be read all the way through or worse, not read at all. Create an introduction that promises value to the reader throughout the piece and entices them to keep turning the page.

Your conclusion is as important as your introduction since it’s the last thing the reader will remember. Your conclusion should recap the important points you discussed, but also leave the reader with a connection to your content that stays in their mind long after the paper has been set down.

11. Tell a Story

The most engaging scholarship essays tell stories. Build your essay in a way that takes the reader through conflict, a climax, and a resolution. This could be your personal story or a smaller story within your essay.

12. Proofread Your Essay & Ask Your Friends to Proofread Too

Proofread, proofread, and proofread again. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

Print your scholarship essay out on paper and ask friends to proofread too with an old-fashioned red marker and a keen eye for mistakes. Printing your essay is a critical step — there are many typos and simple errors that are missed on a computer screen that comes out glaring on paper.

Thinking About Applying for Scholarships? Get Organized!

While the idea of filling out as many applications as you can to increase your statistical chances of receiving an award might seem like a good one, a strategic approach is far superior. Create a list of the scholarships you’d like to apply for, application deadlines, requirements, and other pertinent information. Write the list down in order of priority, with the scholarship you’d most like to get at the top. This way, your best efforts get put toward the scholarships you want most.

Writing scholarship essays may seem like a daunting task and rightfully so, but the time and effort needed to create a great essay is well worth the payoff. Set goals, stay on course, and wait for your offers to arrive. If you don’t get your first choice, keep applying. Revise your essay as many times as needed to ensure it’s the best it can be for each individual scholarship you apply for. Good luck!