Last Update: March 10, 2021

5 Tips for Writing a Scholarship Essay

While most people have already written their college admissions essay or personal statement by spring, we are now in the middle of another essay season: scholarship essays.  While there are many similarities between a good college essay and a good scholarship essay, there are also many differences.  I have helped review scholarship applications for 5 different organizations.  In addition to giving out scholarships through admissionhook.com and collegetresure.com, I am the chair of the Devon Rotary Scholarship committee (we give out over $20,000 in scholarships annually) and helped develop a “scholarship general application” that is used by several of the non-profit organizations in my hometown of Milford, CT.  In this post I am going to share with you some advice on what makes a good scholarship essay.

Know Your Audience.

What is the mission of the organization?  Typically, most local scholarships are given by community service organizations, so you will want to highlight your volunteer work in your essay.  It is always good to show in the essay that you took the time to research what the group does and that you know a little bit about their good works. Most groups spend the year raising the money to give away, so they would appreciate you acknowledging their efforts.  While you don’t want to appear to be a sycophant (I couldn’t help throwing a good SAT word in, in other words a kiss up), perhaps you could draw some parallels between some of your activities and activities that the group partakes in.

Follow directions

For our Rotary club, we evaluate students in 5 areas and one of them is thoroughness of application.  Read the directions.  Red them again, and give them only what they are looking for.  Most of these groups consist of volunteers.  This is not their full time job.  They do this to help out and give back to their community.  That being said, they most likely do a lot of other things as well, so they are short on time.  Do not fill your application with an abundance of extra letters of recommendation.  Make sure your essay is on topic.  Most importantly, make sure you submit your application on time.  Following directions is critical.

Give them a reason to give you a scholarship

Most organizations are looking to help out a student.  If you have overcome some obstacle, let them know.  However, don’t feel you need to make something up or try to make a small problem seem bigger than it really was.  If you do not have some extenuating circumstance that you have overcome, then write about what you hope to accomplish and what you expect to give back to your community.  Most groups see their scholarships as an investment in the future of their community.  Make them see that if they give you the scholarship it will be a wise investment.

Be humble, but don’t be self effacing

You do not want to brag or come across as arrogant, but don’t be afraid to tell them all the things that you have done.  If you don’t tell them, who will.  In high school I found out afterwards that I didn’t win a few scholarships because after I told my interviewers everything I did, I made it seem like it was no big deal.  Be proud of what you have done.  Tell them and then let them decide if they feel it is significant, don’t make decisions for them.

Be yourself

While it is great to look through the many sample essays on our site, the best essay is an essay that only you could have written.  It has to get across your passion and your accomplishments.  Look at sample scholarship essays for ideas, but don’t copy.

Best of luck and feel free to share your tips in the comments section.  I am about to begin reviewing applications for this year’s scholarships, so my next post will be a list of scholarship don’ts.

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