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How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

We’re going to be totally honest and tell you up front – there’s no secret recipe that will make your scholarship essay win. Writing is very subjective. Whether your essay is accepted or rejected is all up to the person reviewing it. And, in most cases, your essay has to go through several people before it’s chosen as the winner. So, how do you write a winning scholarship essay when you have to wow multiple readers? Easy – you follow these five basic rules that will set you up for success.

Start Early

If you want to increase your chances of winning a scholarship, you need to plan ahead. Give yourself a minimum of six to eight weeks before the due date to work on your scholarship application and essay.

It’s also a good idea to choose no more than four to five applications to work on per month. This way, you can give each application and essay your best effort. When you wait until the last minute, you are more likely to make mistakes, decreasing your odds of winning.

Don’t Spit Back the Scholarship Essay Prompt

A common mistake students make when crafting their scholarship essays is using the scholarship prompt for their opening sentence. Can you imagine how boring it is for the scholarship committee to read hundreds or even thousands of essays that all start exactly the same? It’s definitely not unique or interesting.

In general, you have two to three sentences to grab the committee’s attention, so don’t waste it by spitting back the scholarship prompt.

Get Creative

Many students assume that scholarship essays must be written in the standard five-paragraph format. Unless the directions state otherwise, don’t limit yourself to this type of response.

Instead, think creatively and expand your horizons. Consider putting your “essay” into song lyrics or poetry. You could also write a letter or turn it into a news article.

Just be sure to think outside the essay box, especially if you want to stand out from the crowd.

Stick to the Scholarship Topic

This may seem like a no-brainer, but many students are guilty of committing this sin when sitting down to write a scholarship essay. It’s all too easy to start listing your accomplishments or pleading for help, hoping that the scholarship committee will reward you for your hard work or have empathy for your situation. The reality, however, is that your application is likely to be disqualified if the essay doesn’t address the topic at hand.

For example, our recent Father’s Day Scholarship asked, “How does your dad make a difference in your life?” We receive hundreds of entries where students listed their grades, leadership positions, and what they wanted to study in college – all thanks to dad.

The problem? None of them explained how dad had a hand in making those things happen. The essays were simply laundry lists of the students’ achievements and never really explained how their fathers made a difference.

Before you submit your scholarship essay, make sure it fully answers the question at hand.

Write. Edit. Edit Again.

Another mistake students make is not editing their work before submitting it. After you write your essay, put it away for at least 24 hours. Then, take the time to read it again and start editing.

Make sure there is good sentence flow and no grammatical errors. Ensure your essay addresses the topic and meets the word count requirements.

Once you have edited the copy and feel it is perfect, give it to someone else to read, like one of your family members, and ask for honest feedback. It’s easy to get attached to your work, so having an unbiased reader review it, like a counselor or teacher, can be helpful. Incorporate the feedback into your revised essay and review it again.

If you feel it’s your best effort, save a copy of your files and submit your application.

A good way to get an idea of what a scholarship committee is looking for in a winning essay is to visit the scholarship provider’s winners page. Most legitimate scholarship programs publish their winners and their work online. You should also do a little research about the company or organization providing the award. The more you know about them, the easier it will be for you to write an essay that resonates with its audience.

Good luck!