How to write a scholarship essay
A good scholarship essay demonstrates the scholarship organization’s values while directly addressing the prompt. If you plan ahead, you can save time by writing one essay for multiple prompts with similar questions.
You should apply for a variety of scholarships that match your background, values, and interests. Local scholarships with small dollar amounts may be less competitive and more relevant than larger national ones. It’s easier to write an authentic essay if the scholarship topic is meaningful to you.
Scholarships are a type of student financial aid that don’t require repayment. They are awarded based on various factors, including academic merit, financial need, intended major, personal background, or activities and interests.
Like college applications, scholarship applications often require students to submit their grades, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation, and an essay.
A scholarship essay shares your values and qualities in the context of a specific question, such as “How does technology affect your daily life?” or “Who has had the greatest impact on your life?”
Be wary of scholarship scams
While some applications may not require an essay, be wary of scholarship scams that do the following:
- Guarantee you scholarship money for a fee
- Claim scholarship information is exclusive to their company
- Ask for your bank or credit card information to hold the scholarship
Some legitimate companies do charge for releasing comprehensive scholarship lists or creating a tailored list of scholarship opportunities based on your profile.
However, you can always discover scholarship opportunities for free through your school counselor, community network, or an online search.
Apply for a wide variety of scholarships
Many students focus on well-known, large scholarship opportunities, which are usually very competitive. To maximize your chance of success, invest time in applying for a wide variety of scholarships: national and local, as well as big and small award amounts.
In addition to charitable foundation and corporate scholarships, you should consider applying for institutional scholarships at your prospective universities, which can award money based on your application’s strength, your financial situation, and your demonstrated interest in the school.
Check with your guidance counselor, local organizations, community network, or prospective schools’ financial aid offices for scholarship opportunities. It’s a good idea to start applying as early as your junior year and continue throughout your senior year.
Choose the right scholarships for you
Choose scholarships with missions and essay topics that match your background, experiences, and interests. If the scholarship topic is meaningful to you, it will be easier for you to write an authentic and compelling essay.
Don’t shy away from applying for local scholarships with small dollar amounts. Even a few hundred dollars can help you pay for books.
Local scholarships may be more tailored to your community, background, and activities, so they’re likely more relevant to you. Fewer students apply for these scholarships, so you have less competition and a higher chance of success.
Some places to look for local scholarships include
- Civic organizations, such as the Rotary Club, Lions Club, etc.
- Your church, mosque, synagogue, or place of worship
- Community groups, such as the YMCA
- Ethnicity-based organizations
- Your local library or local small businesses
- Organizations related to your intended major
- Your city or town
- Your school district
- Unions, such as SEIU, the Teamsters, CWA, etc.
- Your employer or your parents’ employers
- Banks, credit unions, and local financial institutions
Make a scholarship tracker spreadsheet
While researching scholarship opportunities, create a scholarship tracker spreadsheet to keep track of the following:
- Required application materials
- Overlapping essay prompts
You can use our free Google Sheets template to track your scholarship applications.
You can also include scholarship essay prompts in your college essay tracker sheet. By grouping or color-code overlapping essay prompts, you can plan to write a single essay for multiple scholarships. Sometimes, you can also reuse or adapt your main college essay.
Tailor your essay to the organization and the prompt
Even if you’re adapting another essay, it’s important to make sure your essay directly addresses the prompt and demonstrates the organization’s values. The scholarship committee will be able to tell if you reuse an essay that doesn’t quite respond to the prompt, so be sure to tailor it to the questions asked.
Research each organization
Before writing, research the scholarship organization’s mission and reason for awarding the scholarship. Learning more about the organization can help you select an appropriate topic and relevant story.
While you should tailor your essay to the organization’s values, maintain your authentic voice. Never use false or exaggerated stories. If the organization’s values don’t align with yours or you can’t brainstorm a relevant story for the scholarship, continue searching for other scholarship opportunities to find a more appropriate one for you.
Write a focused and relevant personal story
After researching the organization, identify a specific personal experience that embodies its values and exemplifies why you will be a successful student.
Choose a story with the following criteria:
- Responds to the prompt
- Demonstrates the organization’s values
- Includes an authentic story
- Focuses on you and your experience, not someone else’s
A good scholarship essay is not
- A resume of your achievements
- A lengthy opinion piece about the essay topic
- An essay featuring a negative tone that puts down others
If appropriate, you can briefly address how the scholarship money will help you achieve your educational goals. You should also end with a brief thank-you.
Scholarship essay example
Take a look at the full essay example below. Hover over the underlined parts to read explanations of why they work.
Frequently asked questions about college application essays
- What should I write in a scholarship essay?
A scholarship essay requires you to demonstrate your values and qualities while answering the prompt’s specific question.
After researching the scholarship organization, identify a personal experience that embodies its values and exemplifies how you will be a successful student.
- What scholarships should I apply for?
Invest time in applying for various scholarships, especially local ones with small dollar amounts, which are likely easier to win and more reflective of your background and interests. It will be easier for you to write an authentic and compelling essay if the scholarship topic is meaningful to you.
You can find scholarships through your school counselor, community network, or an internet search.
- When should I start applying for scholarships?
You can start applying for scholarships as early as your junior year. Continue applying throughout your senior year.
- Can I reuse another essay for my scholarship essay?
Yes, but make sure your essay directly addresses the prompt, respects the word count, and demonstrates the organization’s values.
If you plan ahead, you can save time by writing one scholarship essay for multiple prompts with similar questions. In a scholarship tracker spreadsheet, you can group or color-code overlapping essay prompts; then, write a single essay for multiple scholarships. Sometimes, you can even reuse or adapt your main college essay.