Writing a Scholarship Essay That Indeed Works!

11 min read

Don't tell your story, show them! Tips on writing scholarship essay

This article is Part 1 of "Writing a Scholarship Essay" series.

Every year, with the increasing cost of higher education, thousands of students all over the world look for scholarship opportunities that will help them pay for their school tuition, fees and accommodation.... Unfortunately, not all students who apply for scholarships win them.

Masterly writing a scholarship essay takes a lot of time, effort, skill and dedication. This article will talk about how to write a scholarship essay, to avoid pitfalls and it will give you points to keep in mind while writing your essay.  We will include some examples from a scholarship essay.

 Written correctly, a scholarship essay provides readers with a real sense of who you are, what you stand for, your goals and your vision. It says what you are determined to accomplish for yourself, your community and the world around you. Your curriculum, grades, personal and professional accomplishments, all tell a story, but they are not a more enticing narrator than a powerfully written essay.  

So, while writing a scholarship essay, make sure to 'illustrate' your unique narrative, your resonance and your potential. Give them a glimpse into the adventure that is yourself. Don’t tell your story, depict it!

Writing your Scholarship essay

Do’s while writing your essay:

  1. Read Essays: Writing your scholarship application essay is not possible in one go. Before you start writing your application, read your previous and other scholarship essays from the internet. Try to get the gist of them and get inspired by them. For example, if you had  written an article on “Overcoming an obstacle in your life,” it wouldn't be too difficult to customize it to become “A moment or experience that significantly caused personal growth.” 

  2. Catchy Storyline: One of the essential components of a scholarship essay is the story. Everyone has a story to tell, but that doesn’t mean anything to its reader if not done correctly. For example, don’t write:

“When I was a kid, traveling to country 'X' unlocked a window of new perspectives that helped me shape my ideas and thoughts in the coming days.”

Instead, write:

“It was a sunny morning in 2005 when I learned that my parents would take me to 'X' for a three-day tour. The happiness brought me and the excitement of visiting a new place sent a shiver through my veins, which is still fresh in my memory today. Exploring, meeting new people, and learning about their culture and way of life, taught me an invaluable lesson in peaceful coexistence and how to view problems from different perspectives." 

  1. Organize your essay: Organizing your essay is of utmost importance, as it will provide your reader a clear, concise, and easy-to-follow structure. You must have an introductory paragraph, the body, and a concluding paragraph. Use adjectives, adverbs, transitional words, phrases, conjunctions, varying sentence structures, varying sentence lengths, etc., in your essay. Portray feelings and emotions. Speak of your struggles, your successes, and your failures. Most importantly, keep your writing personal.

  2. The show, don’t tell: It is effortless to tell your story to others. However, one of the essential tips for writing a scholarship essay is to show readers your potential in a more resourceful way. Most students, unfortunately, miss this critical aspect of writing a winning scholarship essay. Don’t tell them that “I won the 'X' competition in grade 5 because I had an enthusiasm for chemistry”. Instead, show them the inspiration, frustrations, and successes that went with preparing for and attending the competition. Explain what you learned from it. 

VERSION 1: I have always been interested in science, even from a young age. Since my family supported my interests enthusiastically, I continued to pursue them throughout school. As I’ve gotten older, though, my scientific endeavours have become increasingly complex. 

VERSION 2: Too young to enter the school science fairs, I took to experimenting on my family. Force-feeding different animal food to my siblings and parents. I made graphs of their exaggerated responses to their favorite and least favorite types. Though I was only six at the time, my family has never forgiven me; my “experiments” remain a family joke. Nevertheless, I have progressed from my dog food days to leading taste tests for DNA gel electrophoresis experiments. [essay from Lauren Croda]

  1. Make best uses of literary devices: Imagine yourself as one of the best writers in the world. Now read through some of the critical literary devices:

    • Allegory

    • Allusion

    • Cliffhanger

    • Dramatic Irony

    • Extended Metaphor

    • Etc.

We will cover how you can use literary devices in your scholarship essay soon. 

  1. Understanding the key theme of the prompt: Suppose, you are writing an essay on a “Team player” theme. Ask yourself, “Does being able to work with a few people make me a team player? Ask yourself about the challenges you faced while working on a team; how you became an excellent team player and how you helped others to perform in your team better.

Don't do these while writing.

Don’ts while writing your essay:

Starting late: Imagine arriving very late to a concert. When all the fun is over, and everyone is leaving around you, what thoughts and feelings are going through your head?  This is very similar to how a student will feel and the thoughts they would have if they start their essay late. 😉. 

Start creating your scholarship essay early, as you have to submit it before the deadline and need enough time to craft it properly. Another advantage of presenting a scholarship essay early is that it will help you stand out (if done correctly) to the scholarship committee. At the beginning of their selection period, the committee is less stressed and has a little more time to read your essay.  

Not knowing your audience: Will, a law student, unlock a scholarship for a medical student? No. Before you apply for your scholarship, try to learn as much as possible about the scholarship requirements, terms, conditions, organization, department, or school. Put yourself in their shoes and ask these few questions:

  1. What is the scholarship committee looking for?
  2. Do I have the qualifications asked for?
  3. What else can I offer? Volunteer work, work experience, school clubs....
  4. If I had been on the review board, would I have chosen myself? If yes, then why?
  5. Should I not talk with organization representatives and previous winners to know as much as possible and share any tips with me?

Not following the instruction and answering the prompt: So, you invested a month writing and editing your scholarship essay. But, your essays don’t follow the guidelines and answer the prompt. What good will this essay be for you then? 

Not surprisingly, many students foul themselves out of the competition, unknowingly, for failing to meet the standard guidelines. As a rule of thumb, your scholarship essay format should have:

So, you invested a month writing and editing your scholarship essay. But, your essays don’t follow the guidelines and answer the prompt. What good will this essay be for you then? Not surprisingly, many students foul themselves out of the competition, unknowingly, for failing to meet the standard guidelines.  As a rule of thumb, your scholarship essay format should have:

  1. a 1” margin in the top, right, bottom, and left of the page.
  2. Doubled spacing throughout your essay.
  3. A header on the page
  4. A page number on the top right corner (preferably)
  5. Acceptable fonts Times New Roman or Courier New (Font size: 12px)
  6. References and citations if you have used any.

Writing a prosaic, bragging, or negative-toned essay: No one, for sure, is interested in the negatively-toned, dull, dry, and/or unimaginative piece! Even if you have gone through challenging moments in your life, you can still write an engaging story, but only if you can show an inspiring comeback. 

Big words, quotes, introducing yourself, and obvious statements: Make the introduction of your scholarship essay natural by avoiding big stories, quotes, and clear messages. Big words won’t necessarily sound intelligent. Extracts won’t do any good either because it is someone else’s statement. Moreover, avoid introducing yourself with perfunctory ideas such as “I am writing this essay…..” or “The reason I am applying to this scholarship is that……” or “In this essay, I will…..”. 

Telling the same thing repeatedly: Your scholarship essay should be personal and portray a bigger picture of yourself that can’t be done otherwise. Don’t write down your accomplishments on your scholarship essay. Your CV is where it should be written. If necessary, you can briefly mention it. 

Declaring your intention or thoughts blatantly: Remember to avoid extreme statements or ideas. For example, writing “If I don’t get the scholarship, I won’t be able to go to college or the political system of United States of America is broken and can’t be fixed.” 

Emojis, photos, and profanity: Remember that your scholarship essay is not a message you are sending to your friends. Always use formal words.

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