Central Is Scholarship Essay Templates

Eight Steps Towards a Better Scholarship Essay


Writing a scholarship essay can be very difficult – especially if you want to do it well. Your essay will need to wow the reader, and speak directly to the goals of that organization, as well as the objectives of that award. If done properly, you will very rarely be able to submit the same application to multiple awards – it is not a one-size-fits-all; most essays will need to be tweaked or completely altered to show the reader that you are deserving of the award above and beyond any of the other participant who also applied.

Read on to find eight steps to help you write a better scholarship essay so that you can get the money you need to fund your international education.

Step 1: Read the Essay Prompt Thoroughly

Many schools and other organizations that give out scholarships will give you a "prompt" or a question which the essay is supposed to address. Read the question or prompt carefully and try to "read between the lines." For example, the prompt you are to answer might be, "Describe a book that made a lasting impression on you and your life and why?" Ask yourself, "Are they really interested in my literary preferences or is there something more to this question?" More than likely, they want to get a better idea of who you are—not only what types of books you like but also what motivates you and what sorts of stories or topics interest you. They may also be interested in getting a sense for how promising a student you are based on the type of book you choose and what you have to say about it.

Tip: Always keep in mind that any scholarship essay question, no matter the topic, should demonstrate your interests, your background, and most importantly, highlight the experiences you've had that fit with the goals and mission of the funding organization.

Instead of being given a prompt, you might be asked to write an essay on the topic of your choosing. Although challenging, this is also an opportunity to demonstrate your creativity. Finally, if anything about the directions aren't clear, don't be afraid to contact someone at the funding organization and ask for clarification.

Step 2: Make a List of Important Points and Keywords to Include

Looking for sample essays?
Check out our Sample Essay section where you can see scholarship essays, admissions essays, and more!

Regardless of the essay prompt, you will want to make sure to include the important and relevant information about your experiences and background that makes you an ideal candidate for the scholarship award. To complete this step, it can be helpful to first research the organization to which you're applying and try to find their mission statement on their website. Circle a few key words from the mission statement and make sure to include those buzzwords in your essay.

Scholarship committees are not only looking for good students, they are often looking for a person that fits their organizational goals. You should gather your other application materials such as transcripts and resumes so you can review your qualifications as well as make note of what is missing in these materials that needs to be included in the essay.

For example, if you're applying for a general academic scholarship, you might want to talk about a specific class you took that really piqued your interest or inspired your current academic and career goals. The committee will see the list of the classes that you took on your transcript but they won't know how a particular class inspired you unless you tell them. The essay is the best place to do this. Your list of important points to make might also include:

  • Any academic awards or other honors you've won.
  • Any AP or college-level courses you took in high school.
  • Any outside courses, internships, or other academic experiences that won't necessarily appear on your transcript.
  • Why your experience and the mission of the funding organization match.
  • What you plan to major in during college and how you think that major will be useful to your future career goals.
  • Any special training or knowledge you have, or a project you completed in school or as an extracurricular activity.
  • An example of how you overcame a challenge.
  • Your financial circumstances that makes it necessary for you to finance your studies through scholarship money.

The challenge now is to integrate those points that you want the committee to know with an essay that answers the prompt. You can see our example scholarship essays to get a better idea of how to do this.

Step 3: Write an Outline or a Rough Draft

Not everyone likes to make an outline before they begin writing, but in this case it can be very helpful. You can start with your list of important points to begin writing the outline. For many, telling a story is the easiest and most effective way to write a scholarship essay. You can tell the story of how you found your favorite book, and how it has changed and inspired you. Start with large headings in your outline that describes the basic storyline. For example:

  1. High school composition teacher recommended book
  2. Read it over one weekend
  3. Made me see the world around me differently
  4. Inspired me to pursue a career in social justice

Now you can start filling in the subheadings with points from your previous list:

  1. High school composition teacher recommended book
    1. Favorite class in high school
    2. Class opened my eyes to new ways of thinking
    3. Teacher noticed my enthusiasm—recommended outside reading
  2. Read it over one weekend
    1. Was the first time I was so drawn in by a book, I read it very quickly
    2. I realized my academic potential beyond getting good grades
  3. Made me see the world around me differently
    1. Started to look for jobs in social justice
    2. Interned for a summer at a law firm doing pro bono work for the poor
    3. This was a big challenge because I realized you can't help everyone and resources are limited
    4. Overcame this challenge by knowing that small change can be big, and working hard in a field you are passionate about will inspire you everyday
  4. Inspired me to pursue a career in social justice
    1. The book is a constant source of inspiration and will keep me motivated as I pursue my career
    2. The book will always remind me how people with limited financial resources can still make a huge difference in others' lives

Step 4: Write a Strong Statement that Summarizes Your Points

You will want to include one strong thesis statement that summarizes all the major points you will make in your essay. It is often easy to start writing with this simple statement. Your essay doesn't have to begin or end with the thesis statement, but it should appear somewhere in order to tie all the individual sections together.

For example, your thesis statement might be, "You will find that various experiences from both my academic career and my personal life align very well with your organization's mission: shaping community leaders who are working towards a more just and sustainable world." Starting with this sentence can help you organize your thoughts and main points, and provide you with a direction for your essay. When you've finished your essay, be sure to reflect back on your thesis statement and ask yourself, "Does this essay further explain and support my thesis statement?"

Step 5: Fill in the Missing Parts

Now that you have a thesis statement, an outline, and a list of important points to include, you can begin to fill in the missing parts of your story. The first sentence is particularly important: it should capture the attention of the reader, and motivate him or her to continue reading. We recommend starting your story by painting a vivid picture of an experience about which you will be talking in the essay.

For example: "It is 6 am on a hot day in July, I've already showered and I'm eating breakfast. My classmates are all sleeping in and the sun has yet to awaken, but I'm ready to seize the day, as I couldn't imagine spending my summer any other way but interning at a local law firm that specializes in representing the poor. I work a typical 8-5 day during my summer vacation and nothing has made me happier. But I wouldn't be here if it weren't for one particularly savvy teacher and a little book she gave me to read outside of class."

Step 6: Rewrite, Revise, Rewrite

A good writer rewrites and revises his or her work many, many times. After getting a first draft on paper, take a day or two away from the essay and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Make appropriate edits for content, and pay attention to proper spelling and grammar. If need be, you might want to write an entirely new draft and then integrate the best of both into a final draft. Writing a new draft can inspire you to think of new ideas or a better way to tell your story. Some other tips to think about as you rewrite and revise:

  • Make sure it sounds like your voice. You want the scholarship committee to feel like they are getting to know you. If you don't sound authentic, the committee will know. It is better to be yourself than to say what you think the committee wants to hear.
  • Strike a balance between modesty and arrogance. You should be proud of your accomplishments, but you don't want to sound arrogant. Don't exaggerate a story; instead be clear about what you did and the impact it had and let that speak for itself.
  • Check to make sure you are answering the prompt and fulfilling all other requirements of the essay as directed by the committee, such as font preference and word count limits.
  • Don't just list your accomplishments; describe them in detail and also tell the reader how you felt during these experiences.
  • A scholarship essay is not a dissertation. You don't need to impress the committee with big words, especially if you're not completely clear if you're using them correctly. Simplicity and clarity should be the goals.
  • Make sure your essay will be read from the beginning to the end. Committee members won't dedicate much time to reading the essay, so you need to make sure they are given motivation to read the entire thing. If you are telling a story, don't reveal the end of the story until the end.
  • Check to make sure the buzzwords from the mission statement appear. It is easy to forget the scholarship committee's goals as you write. Return to their mission statement and look for spots to place keywords from the statement. Be sure, however, that you're not copying the mission statement word-for-word.

Step 7: Have someone else read your essay

Ideally, you could give your essay to a teacher or college admissions counselor who is familiar with scholarship essays and the college admission process. If such a person is not available, virtually anyone with good reading and writing skills can help make your essay better. When your editor is done reading and you've looked over his or her notes, be sure to ask the following questions:

  • Was the story interesting and did it hold your attention?
  • Were there any parts that were confusing?
  • Did you find any spelling or grammar errors?
  • Does the essay sound like my voice?
  • Does the essay respond appropriately to the prompt?
  • Is there anything you would have done differently or something you thought was missing?

After having an editor (or two or three) look over your draft, it is time again to revise and rewrite.

Step 8: Refine the Final Draft

Once you feel satisfied with the draft, review it one more time and pay particular attention to structure, spelling, grammar, and whether you fulfilled all the required points dictated by the committee. If you are over the required word count, you will need to make edits so that you are within the limit. If you are significantly under the word count, consider adding a supporting paragraph.

Essay Writing Center

Related Content:

Misconception: No one actually reads your scholarship essay! – Wrong!

Fact: Your essay is the key to your scholarship application. It is an opportunity to demonstrate to the selection committee that you are a well-rounded individual, that you are more than your GPA, that you are a strong writer, and it gives you a chance to talk about your experiences and qualifications in greater detail than what appears on your resume or transcripts.

Writing a Strong Scholarship Essay


The race to obtain scholarships can be fierce, and a well-written essay can place an applicant ahead of the competition. While each scholarship application will have its own unique requirements, understanding the basics can help with the process.

Analyze the Organization

  • Begin by researching the organization offering the scholarship; learn about its values and purpose in offering the award.
  • Read the organization’s mission statement to learn about core values and to understand the background of those making the decision. Gathering these facts will help to identify points in your own character or experiences that should be emphasized in your essay.
  • Locate background information on websites or on printed material published by the scholarship sponsors.
  • Contact the organization via email or phone for any additional information that is needed to complete the process.

Understand Your Purpose for Writing

  • Read the essay prompt several times to ensure a clear understanding of key elements.
  • Follow the guidelines for the topic, deadlines, and format for the essay in order to provide the scholarship committee with the information they expect.

Create Goals for Writing

Clarify the goals of the scholarship essay.

  • For example, the goal in responding to an essay might be to:
  • Demonstrate personal traits that are similar to the personal traits of the person for whom the scholarship is named. For example:
    • The Bill Buck Memorial Scholarship asks for a one-page, double-spaced essay on the applicant's career and personal goals and how his or her disability has impacted his or her life. Knowing about Bill’s altruistic character will help to focus the essay on how a disability has not kept the applicant from giving back to the community.

Begin the Writing Process

  • Begin by writing down the essay question, highlighting key words and instructions.
  • Break the prompt down into sections, looking for the specific elements required in each section and the required information.
  • Determine if the essay should be based on research or self-analysis.
  • Identify the purpose of the topic and what the audience (judge) is looking for.

The evaluation of character is based on more than just grades; the approach to challenges and evidence of a strong work ethic are also important factors. GPA may be some indicator of potential, but the ability to reach that potential is the characteristic that will set applicants apart.

Writing Style

  • Create a concise outline highlighting major points that demonstrate the qualities asked for in the prompts.
  • Use present tense and optimistic phrases to demonstrate community and civic involvement and highlight your personality.
    Example:
    • Weak: I have worked with several health care agencies.
    • Stronger: I currently enjoy interacting with patients as a volunteer Nurse’s Aide at Flower Hospital and delivering food for Meals on Wheels.
  • Begin writing using vivid examples rather than just “telling.”
    Example: (Note vague adjectives creating nonspecific job activities)
    • Weak: I am really interested in medicine, so a lot of my time was spent on various activities of different natures at both the Red Cross and at the Toledo Hospital.
    • Stronger: My interest in medicine began when I was a Candy Striper and logged in over 500 hours of volunteer work at Toledo Hospital. It has grown in other capacities such as food delivery and transportation of patients, as well as volunteering as a first responder for my local Fire Department.
  • Use active verbs and precise nouns, and be concise.
    Example:
    • Weak: I really like medicine, so for a long time I have worked with the Red Cross and at the Toledo Hospital.
    • Stronger: Because I am passionate about medicine, for over three years I have volunteered thirty hours a month administering screening questionnaires at the Red Cross Blood Bank and conducting patient orientations at the Toledo Hospital.
  • Create a strong introduction that pulls the audience in by raising a question or creating surprise.
    Here is a possible opening for a discussion of a student’s work with a Habitat for Humanity Project:
    • I am a Habitat for Humanity volunteer. I did not decide to do this work because studies report that 444,000 may experience homelessness or because 39% of these people are children. My reason for becoming a Habitat for Humanity volunteer was much simpler; I was one of those children.
  • Create logical transitions
    • Show the reader where he or she is going next and why it’s a logical next step.
    • Don’t use standard transitional phrases like, “Secondly” or “As a consequence.”
    • Try repeating the prior thought and connecting to the next task.
      Example:
      Once I saw a smile in the eyes of the shut-in, I was hooked. I thought I could not spend enough time delivering meals to the ten lonely shut-ins.
    • Develop a compelling conclusion as in the introduction; don’t summarize.
      • Re-emphasize the main point or circle back to the beginning and tie the loop.
    • The body of the essay on delivering meals-on-wheels should have been about the student’s efforts as a volunteer, feelings about the difficulties faced by those who are homebound, and recognition of the importance of human contact. This story begs for a conclusion that answers the question, “Did the person continue to serve?”
      • One possibility:
        I continued my weekly visits to the ten shut-ins for over two years. Over that time period, I became very attached to the men and women on my route and looked forward to listening to their stories. Through my visits, I learned not only the importance of giving, but, more importantly, the value of human contact.

    Take Time between Revisions

    The most important component of the process is taking time to polish your writing.

    • Take a break between drafts and read each one out loud. This process will help you catch misused or missing words.
    • Use the Writing Center for trained reader feedback.


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