Financial Aid, Tuition

How to Write an Effective Scholarship Essay

If you do a quick online search, you’ll find there are literally thousands of scholarships available for college students. Some simply require students to fill out a form with a bit of personal information and the names of a few references, while others require essays from 500 to several thousand words. Essays are an excellent way for scholarship judges to pick the most qualified, deserving candidates.


For some students, the essay evokes terror. First step: Relax. You don’t have to be Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling to write an effective scholarship essay. However, you do have to understand what you’re writing and who you’re writing it for. Here are a few simple steps to help you write effective essays that will catch the judges’ eyes and increase your odds of winning the scholarship.

Where to start?

It seems obvious, but many of us are guilty of skimming over instructions and missing something important. Be sure to read the scholarship guidelines carefully so you first know if you meet the eligibility requirements. From there, you want to make sure you know what the goals of the essay should be so you can hit each point when you’re writing. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Do you meet the eligibility requirements for the scholarship?
    • Can applicants be studying any subject or is does the scholarship target all students? Is it meant for a specific group?
  • Make note of formatting instructions and pay attention to any guidelines
    • Use proper font and margin sizes, if specified.
    • Do not go over the word limit!
  • Keep it simple.
    • Effective writing doesn’t mean complicated sentences and large words. Use descriptive, action words and short sentences. Keep in mind, however, that simple doesn’t mean boring.
  • Stay on topic
    • Most scholarships require students to answer a question or focus their essays on a particular topic. While this is your chance to show the scholarship committee why they should choose you, don’t lose sight of the topic.
  • Write about YOU
    • The scholarship committee wants to know who you are, not your parents, not your family, not your friends. Even though you will probably refer to others in your essay, make sure the whole focus is on you and who are, your feelings, interests, ideas and so on.
  • Be positive
    • Even if you’re required to discuss an obstacle in your life, do so positively, showing the scholarship committee what you learned and how you prevailed or will prevail with the help of the scholarship.
  • Cohesiveness is critical
    • Ensure your essay flows smoothly. Read it aloud. Are you missing any words? Do the paragraphs transition smoothly? Do the sentences sound choppy? Rewrite where necessary.
  • Proofread
    • Proofread your essay then proofread it again. You want to ensure your grammar and punctuation are correct, and there are no spelling errors or typos. You may want to have someone else take a look at your essay – a fresh pair of eyes is sometimes your best bet.
  • Get a second opinion 
    • Ask a professor or a career counselor – someone who is objective – to read and comment on how you can strengthen your essay.
  • Just do it
    • It’s easy to procrastinate. If you want to increase your chances of writing a winning scholarship essay, give yourself plenty of time to write and rewrite, when necessary. It takes time and effort to write a powerful scholarship essay, but keep in mind the reward if you’re successful.

So, get started! Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way to writing effective, memorable scholarship essays that will make you stand out from the competition and increase your odds of winning that coveted scholarship money.

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The Author

Mary Brown

Mary Brown

Mary Brown has enjoyed writing about education and finance related topics, such as scholarships, student loans, college, vocational degree choices, and adult education since the early 2000's. She also writes about school budgets, accreditation and fundraising.