How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

scholarship essayScholarship Essays: Your Opportunity to Stand Out from the Crowd!

Perhaps the most important and the most daunting aspect of writing a scholarship essay is deciding what your focus will be. Scholarship committees want to know who you are and why you’re applying for their scholarship. So if you’re asked for a personal statement or an essay about your career goals, you’ll be talking about your background, your experiences, your influences, your goals and ambitions. If you aren’t given a specific topic, brainstorm ideas. Pick an original topic, one that you’re passionate about, not one that you think the scholarship committee wants to hear about. Be creative and tell your story. What motivates and inspires you? Even if you are given a topic to write about, you can still write an essay that conveys your strengths and talents, particularly ones that aren’t directly obvious from the information on your transcript.

Creating an outline is a great way to get your thoughts and ideas down on paper, organize those thoughts into a coherent and interesting story, and plan a dynamic and succinct conclusion. Be as detailed as possible and include all notes and ideas – you can weed out superfluous information later. Your essay will need a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Begin your essay with a sentence that grabs the attention of your audience (in this case, the scholarship committee). Then tell your story. Use specific examples to show how your experiences lead you to your passion for your goals and to applying for this scholarship.

After you tell your story, write about your goals. In addition to goals you have for the future, talk about goals you’ve accomplished in the past, using any measurable outcomes you can. Conclude your essay with a reminder of your story, how it influenced your goals, and how winning the scholarship will help you accomplish those goals.

When your essay is finished, make sure you have given credit to any sources you have used. Proofread the text yourself and have someone you trust proofread and give you constructive criticism on what might be improved.

Avoid these things while writing your essay:

  • Waiting until the last minute to write your essay
  • Not following the essay instructions for topic and length
  • Turning your essay into a sob story

Be confident, honest, and determined in telling the story of how you will accomplish your goals, and let your personality and strengths shine through for the scholarship committee to see.

Need More Help?

If you’d like help with your scholarship essay, we offer a Scholarship Boot Camp for students who are interested in assembling their Scholarship Portfolio. We have a professional writer and editor who will review your essay, provide feedback, and ensure that your essay is powerful and error-free. Check it out here and send us an email. If you’d rather not be part of a class, we also offer individual coaching to create a Scholarship Portfolio that helps you stand out from the crowd.

Scholarship Applications: Use the Cookie-Cutter Approach

Cookie Cutter ApproachUse the Cookie-Cutter Approach to Save Time & Apply for Tons of Scholarships!

I’ve been talking with college students all over Vermont as part of a qualitative assessment of their experience as a NASA-funded scholar. For most students, this is the only scholarship they applied for. However, one smart young woman pointed out to me that “Once you’ve applied for one scholarship, it’s pretty easy to just modify the application materials and apply for dozens of scholarships. The hardest part is finding the scholarships that you’re eligible for.” I call this the “Cookie-Cutter Approach.”

As you begin to research and locate scholarships, you’ll notice that they all have required documents. In addition to the application, you might also need:

  • Official Transcripts: Contact your school to request your Official Transcripts be sent to the mailing address of the funding organization. We suggest you allow 2-4 weeks and then follow up with the funding organization a week or two before the deadline to make sure they’ve received your transcripts. Another way to handle this is to request your college send you transcripts in individually sealed envelopes so you can mail them yourself.
  • Resume: Type your resume in Word or another word processing program, and export it as a Word file or PDF. That way you can send it electronically or print out and mail a hard copy. This also makes it easy to update your resume. Make sure your resume is typo-free, contains all your contact information, jobs you’ve held, and any community service or volunteer work.
  • Letters of Recommendation: We suggest getting 3 recommendation letters because some scholarship committees require this many. Once you’ve received the letters, scan them to create a PDF file that you can send electronically.
  • Test Scores: Scan your test-score results to create a PDF file or make copies of your official notifications.
  • Essay or Personal Statement: Use Word or another program to type your essay. Make sure you run it through spellcheck as well as ask someone to proofread it for you. Keep every essay you write so that you can tweak or customize it for future scholarship applications.
  • Tax Returns: Make copies of your Federal tax returns (or your parents’) and scan them to export PDF files. You’ll need to do this every year.
  • Proof of Enrollment: If you are a high school student, this will be a copy of your Acceptance Letter. If you’re already in college, ask the Registrar for a letter or other proof of enrollment. Be sure to scan and export as a PDF file every year.
  • Proof of Residency: This can be as simple as a copy of your Driver’s License. You can scan and export as a PDF file to send it electronically.
  • FAFSA/SAR: All students who wish to be considered for financial aid must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Financial aid offices at colleges and universities use the FAFSA to determine if you are eligible for grants, loans, and work-study programs. You must file a new FAFSA every year in order to be considered for financial aid. These forms are available in January. Once you’ve completed your FAFSA, you will receive an SAR report. If you file your FAFSA electronically, you will be notified by email. This permits you to send the FAFSA/SAR on to the scholarship committee. If you file with a paper form, you can scan and export these as PDF files.
  • Age Verification: Again, you can use your Driver’s License to verify your age. Scan and save as a PDF file so you can send this electronically.
  • Photo: Ask a friend or family member to take a photo of you (preferably a “headshot” of your face and shoulders). For best results, stand in front of a neutral background, like a wall. Make sure you look your best and smile! If you need to crop the photo down to a headshot, use an image editor and export the file as a .JPG. Some scholarship committees request a photo that they can use on their website to announce winners or use in promotional materials. They may also send you a special photo-release form or may simply ask you to write an email granting them permission to use your photo. Be sure to follow their directions.

I call this collection of documents a Scholarship Portfolio. Did you notice that only one of these required documents needs to be customized for each scholarship you apply for? If you retain copies of your application materials (which is strongly recommended), you can use them to complete other Applications and Essays quickly and easily. I recommend typing them into Word documents that you can simply cut-and-paste to create your customized Essay or Personal Statement as well as to drop text into an online application.

More and more funding organizations are moving to online-only applications. In this case, you will need to scan your documents and create PDF files that can be uploaded. Once this is done, you will save considerable time because you can print the documents as needed or simply upload them. We suggest creating an “Application” Word doc. Take the longest scholarship application you find, and type out answers to every question. This will allow you to cut-and-paste your answers for future applications and will save you a considerable amount of time and avoid typos.

Putting together a scholarship application package may seem difficult or time-consuming (and the first one usually is). However, if you’ve already done this once, there’s no reason not to apply for as many scholarships as possible using the “Cookie Cutter Approach.” Isn’t that what cut-and-paste is for?

Do you need help creating your Scholarship Portfolio? I offer scholarship coaching and my co-author, Myrriah Lavin, provides document editing services. We work with individual students and small groups. For more information, check out our Coaching page or send us an email. We’d love to work with you to create a Scholarship Portfolio that will make you stand out from the crowd.