How to Write a Scholarship Essay - The Complete Guide

Student writing scholarship essay
June 19, 2024
7 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 12/8/23

If you’re a student hoping to secure a scholarship, it’s vital to understand how to write a scholarship essay. Keep reading to learn how. 

Scholarship essays provide an opportunity for students to showcase their aspirations to scholarship committees and serve as a platform to demonstrate academic achievements, leadership abilities, community involvement, and future goals. 

They play a crucial role in determining the recipients of financial assistance, as they allow committees to assess candidates' suitability for the scholarship. By carefully crafting a compelling scholarship essay, you can significantly increase your chances of getting funding for your education and opening doors to your future.

There are a ton of diverse scholarships to choose from, including many full-ride scholarships, providing students with ample opportunities to pursue their education without the burden of financial constraints. Some excellent scholarships include the Fulbright Scholarship and the National Merit Scholarship, among many others. 

If you’re seeking guidance on how to write a good scholarship essay, you’ve come to the right place! We’ll go over everything you need to know and show you examples of successful scholarship essays. 

10 Tips to Write a Successful Scholarship Essay

female student writing on paper

Crafting quality scholarship essays requires careful planning, thoughtful execution, and a deep understanding of what scholarship committees are looking for. Here are some key strategies and scholarship essay tips to help you create a standout essay:

Understand the Prompt

Start by thoroughly understanding the essay prompt and any specific guidelines provided. Pay attention to the key themes, requirements, and expectations outlined.

Research and Personalize

Researching the scholarship organization is crucial. Understand their values and goals, and ensure your essay reflects them. Show genuine interest and connection.

Thorough research helps tailor your essay, aligning with the scholarship's objectives. It demonstrates dedication and sets you apart.

Research also provides compelling information, supporting your arguments and boosting credibility. A well-researched essay effectively communicates your qualifications and motivations.

Tell Your Unique Story

Your essay should reflect your authentic voice and experiences. Share personal anecdotes and impactful moments that highlight your character, resilience, and achievements. Make it compelling and memorable.

Be Clear and Concise

Write with clarity and precision. Use simple and concise language to effectively convey your ideas. Avoid unnecessary jargon or complex sentences that may confuse the reader. Taking care of both writing simplicity and conciseness at once may not be easy for some of you. If you are one of them, then get some help from a summarizer. It will quickly make your given essay both simple and short by removing all the unnecessary words and phrases.

Structure and Organization

Develop a well-structured essay with a clear introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion. Ensure a logical flow of ideas and maintain coherence throughout the essay.

Planner and cup of coffee

Address the Selection Criteria

Explicitly address the selection criteria specified by the scholarship committee. Showcase how you meet and exceed their expectations, emphasizing your academic excellence, leadership skills, community involvement, or any other relevant qualities.

Proofread and Edit

Always proofread your essay for grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and clarity of expression. Edit it to improve sentence structure, coherence, and overall effectiveness. Consider seeking feedback from teachers, mentors, or peers.

Stand Out and Be Memorable

Capture the attention of the reader with a strong opening and a compelling conclusion. Be creative, passionate, and genuine. Make your essay memorable by showcasing your unique perspective and contributions.

Follow Instructions and Deadlines

Ensure that your essay adheres to all the guidelines and requirements set by the scholarship program. Submit your essay well in advance to avoid any last-minute complications.

Be sure to look into specific guidelines and instructions to avoid scholarship displacement. Always read the fine print!

Revise and Refine

Continuously revise and refine your essay. Seek feedback, incorporate suggestions, and make necessary improvements. Aim for a polished and refined final draft.

Remember, writing a winning scholarship essay takes time and effort. Stay true to yourself, express your aspirations, and demonstrate your potential. With careful attention to detail, you can write an engaging essay that sets you apart and increases your chances of securing the scholarship you desire.

person writing on paper with pen

Mistakes to Avoid in a Scholarship Essay

It can easily fall into certain common traps when writing your scholarship essays. Here are some errors that you need to stay far, far away from! 

  • Not Answering the Question or Prompt: Don’t let your essay wander off-topic; it makes you look thoughtless and absent-minded. To show that you’ve read the instructions and care about writing a good essay, stay focused on what the prompt asked you to write about. 
  • Using Quotes: Not only are quotes often cliche, but they also take up valuable space in your essay. You only have a certain number of words to play with, and your readers want to know about you, not Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. 
  • Repeating Your Application: Your scholarship essay is a place for you to provide new information that can’t be found anywhere else on your application. Use it to talk about your passions, motivations, and future goals - things that the committee couldn’t otherwise know about. 
  • Telling, Not Showing: Use examples and anecdotes to show the committee who you are. Don’t just say, “I’m a very determined person.” Instead, share a story about a time you demonstrated determination to prove it.  
  • Not Proofreading: Avoid grammar and spelling errors at all costs! Almost nothing makes you look less professional than a typo. Proofread your work several times. You can even ask friends or family members to read it over for you, too. 
Male student reading paper

Scholarship Essay Format

The scholarship essay format plays an important role in effectively conveying your story to the scholarship committee. While specific requirements may vary, there are some common elements to include in your essay.


Begin with an opening that grabs the reader's attention and introduces the main theme or topic of your essay. The introduction is an important part of a scholarship essay as it sets the tone and serves as your first opportunity to make a strong impression and engage the scholarship committee. 

A well-crafted introduction should provide a clear overview of your essay's main theme and establish a sense of your unique voice and perspective. Your introduction should compel the reader to keep reading.

Personal Statement

Your personal statement is a chance to share everything that shapes your academic journey. To write a strong one, it’s always helpful to draw inspiration from personal statement samples. They can help demonstrate how to stand out by highlighting achievements and lessons learned.

Scholarship committees seek academic excellence, leadership, and community involvement. Align your values with the scholarship's mission and show how you'll contribute positively to your field or community.

person writing on paper

Goals and Aspirations

Clearly articulate your educational and career goals, explaining how the scholarship will contribute to your future plans and how you intend to make a positive impact in your chosen field.

Clearly expressing your goals in a scholarship essay allows the scholarship committee to understand your commitment and aspirations. It shows you have a clear plan for your future and that the scholarship funds will be used effectively to support your educational and career endeavors. 

Articulating your goals also helps the committee assess how well the scholarship aligns with your ambitions, increasing your chances of being selected as a deserving candidate.

Relevance to Scholarship

A key part of grasping how to write a scholarship essay is understanding how to make it contextually relevant. Connect your experiences, goals, and values to the specific scholarship you’re applying for. Explain why you’re an ideal candidate and how the scholarship aligns with your academic, professional, or personal aspirations.

blank notebook with pen

Let's say you’re applying for a scholarship that supports students pursuing environmental science. In your essay, you would want to demonstrate your passion for environmental conservation and your dedication to making a positive impact in this field. 

You can start by sharing a personal anecdote about a formative experience that sparked your interest in environmental science, such as participating in a community cleanup or witnessing the effects of pollution in your hometown.

Next, you can highlight your academic achievements and extracurricular activities related to the environment, such as taking relevant coursework, conducting research on sustainable practices, or volunteering for environmental organizations. 

You can emphasize specific projects you’ve worked on, such as creating a recycling initiative at your school or organizing a tree-planting campaign.

You should also directly address how the scholarship aligns with your goals and aspirations. For example, you can mention how receiving the scholarship would enable you to pursue advanced studies in environmental science, conduct research on climate change, or develop innovative solutions to environmental challenges. 

It’s helpful to emphasize how the scholarship will not only support your academic journey but also empower you to contribute to the scholarship organization's mission and make a meaningful difference in the field of environmental science.

By weaving together your personal experiences, academic achievements, and future goals in a way that directly relates to the scholarship's focus on environmental science, you can create a scholarship essay that resonates with the scholarship committee.

Supporting Evidence

If you're wondering how to write a good scholarship essay that still feels like you, remember to tie in your own experiences. A key part of doing this effectively is providing evidence to support your narrative. 

Provide examples, anecdotes, and specific achievements to support your claims and demonstrate your qualifications. Use vivid language and storytelling techniques to make your essay engaging and memorable. Consider including the following to strengthen your essay.

  • Academic achievements
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Volunteer and community service
  • Work experience
  • Personal challenges and growth
  • Research or projects
  • Excerpts from letters of recommendations


Summarize your key points, reiterate your passion for your chosen field, and express gratitude for the opportunity to be considered for the scholarship.

Remember to adhere to any specific formatting guidelines provided by the scholarship committee, such as word count limits, font styles, or document structure. Proofread your essay carefully for grammar, spelling, and coherence.

It’s also a good idea to consider seeking feedback from teachers, mentors, or writing centers to enhance the overall quality of your essay.

Two men sitting at desk talking

Common Scholarship Essay Prompts

The following scholarship essay prompts are courtesy of the University of Alaska. Use them to brainstorm how you’ll approach your own scholarship essays. If you land a scholarship interview, you’ll likely face similar questions to these as well. 

Looking closely at these prompts will help you understand how to write a scholarship application essay. 

Tell Us About a Mistake You Made or a Time You Failed and What You Learned. 

Mistakes happen to everyone—it's a fact of life. But here's the thing: acknowledging your mistakes shows maturity and readiness for college. It's not just about admitting you messed up; it's about explaining what you learned and how you've grown as an individual. Interviewers value self-awareness and a willingness to learn from slip-ups.

Scholarship providers understand that perfection doesn't exist. They're interested in how you've learned from failures, whether they were academic, professional, or personal. Break down the failure, its reasons, and how it ultimately made you a better person.

Additionally, share a valuable lesson you've gained, like how you would approach similar situations in the future or how that experience transformed your life. This is your chance to showcase your ability to learn and persevere, leaving a lasting impression.

Female student working on computer

Tell Us About a Time When You Had a Belief or Idea Challenged. 

Have you ever been abroad or taken a family trip to a foreign country? You may have had an eye-opening conversation with a teacher, religious leader, or friend. Here's something to think about: recall a moment that pushed your beliefs or ideas to the edge–or maybe even changed them completely.

Start by explaining your initial understanding of the idea, then dive into that moment when it got challenged. Where were you? Who were you with? What were you feeling? Share all the juicy details!

Afterward, talk about how it impacted you. Did it make you question everything? Or did it open your mind to new possibilities? Scholarship providers love to see reflection and growth, so make sure to paint the whole picture in your essay.

What Is Your Greatest Strength? 

If you're a skilled performer, talk about how much you loved your high school drama class or share your approach to tackling a monologue. If math is your thing, share a story about how you helped someone get a handle on the quadratic formula. This is also a good question for an athletic scholarship essay. 

For the writers out there, let them know about your talent and how it has brought positivity to your life or how you use it to assist others. No matter what your strength is, be specific and provide examples to back it up. Show them why you're exceptional in your field, and let your skills shine through.

Man flexing muscles

What Is Your Biggest Weakness? 

When discussing your weaknesses, it's important to present them in a positive light. Let's say you struggle with time management. Instead of simply admitting this, you can explain how you recognized the issue and took proactive steps to improve. 

For example, you could share how you implemented a daily planner or started using time management apps to stay organized and meet deadlines effectively. Be honest about the initial difficulties you faced, but emphasize the strategies you adopted to overcome this weakness.

By demonstrating your proactive approach and growth mindset, you show that you're committed to personal development and constantly striving for improvement.

Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years? 

You don't need to have your entire future figured out, but the scholarship committee wants to know you have some sort of plan. What are your goals in college? And what do you see yourself doing after graduation? 

Show how this scholarship can help you achieve those goals and give you a head start. Maybe you’re hoping to pursue a specific career or make a difference in your community. 

Talk about how this opportunity will give you the resources, support, or experiences you need to succeed. Let them see your vision and how this scholarship fits into your game plan. 

Man writing on paper

Scholarship Essay Examples

You can find real-life samples of successful scholarship essays below, provided by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Penn State. Use them as a source of inspiration and to guide you in your own writing journey. 

These scholarship letter examples will offer insights into the content and writing style that can help you craft a compelling essay that stands out among the competition.

Scholarship Personal Statement Example A

Feet like lightning. Arms pressed to the sides. Instruments sounding like nothing I had previously heard. The airing of Riverdance on PBS was my first introduction to anything that could be considered “traditional Irish.” At that time, I had been dancing since I was five years old, so this newfound form of dance was naturally intriguing. My interest in dance and the arts continued to grow and at the age of nine, I began to play the flute. Almost immediately, music was my passion, and I knew someday I wanted to perform. For years, I focused solely on concert flute repertoire, assuming I would become a concert performer. During high school, though, I had the opportunity to collaborate with a hammered dulcimer player who gave me notated Irish music to read, and my interest skyrocketed. I began to listen to traditional Irish groups such as the Chieftains and “Celtic rock” groups such as Seven Nations. During my sophomore year as a flute performance major at Mythic University, I realized study in Ireland was the only way for me to properly learn traditional Irish music and culture.

Fall 20xx was my semester in the Junior Year Abroad (JYA) program at University College Dublin (UCD). Because the JYA program required two areas of emphasis, chose Music and Celtic Civilization. Before arriving in Ireland, I knew the music department at UCD did not offer lessons with private instructors, so I contacted Mr. Bill Dowdall, professor at the Royal Irish Academy of Music and principal flautist of the National Concert Orchestra. Mr. Dowdall was willing to give me “classical flute” lessons, but he did not play traditional Irish music (often called “trad”). As my main reason for going to Ireland was to learn trad music, I had to find a teacher. With the help of Mr. Adrian Scahill, my “Irish Traditional Music” lecturer at UCD, and Mr. Dowdall, I found an Irish flute teacher, Mr. Seán Ò Broin.

At least once every week during my time in Ireland, I went to McNeill’s Traditional Music Shop on Capel Street in Dublin to take a trad lesson with Mr. Ò Broin. Irish music is an aural tradition—meaning that in order to perform it authentically, one must learn tunes by ear. Being trained classically, I was used to reading notes on a page, but one cannot analyze Irish music from a classical viewpoint. Trad is a separate and unique art form with its own set of special rules. I learned that lesson firsthand and through an ethnomusicology course at UCD.

Since returning to the United States, I have observed that most people who play Irish music read from “fake books,” which tend to approximate and simplify the complicated, time-honored tradition. Irish music must be learned aurally and personalized by each player with her own ornamentation, nuances, and interpretation of her teacher’s style. I realize that when it comes to seriously studying traditional Irish music, I have only scratched the surface with one semester of lessons. I must return to Ireland if I am to continue the pursuit of knowledge that was begun.

During my graduate study in Ireland, I plan to attend the Irish World Music Centre (IWMC) at the University of Limerick to attain the MA in Irish Traditional Music Performance. The Centre is the only one of its kind in the world, and the degree is unique to this university. Although University College Cork offers a one-year MA in Music, and NUI Maynooth offers a one-year MA in Music (Performance and Musicology), the IWMC is the only school to offer Irish Traditional Music Performance. At my target University of Limerick program, advanced instrumental tuition is provided by world-renowned traditional performers and tutors, and the examinations of repertoire sources and styles of performance are supplemented by important modern non-performance skills such as music business and music technology. The IWMC offers other specialized courses besides my proposed MA, and elective modules in the program will allow me to pursue some of my other interests.

I believe other interests are an integral part of my education and plan to continue gaining more knowledge in each area while studying abroad again. Classes offered through the Irish Traditional Dance and Contemporary Dance Performance programs at the IWMC will allow me to further my dance knowledge outside my world of ballet. Mr. Niall Keegan, Course Director of my prospective MA program, tells me there will be

opportunities to continue my concert studies in ensembles. Not only do I plan to continue with concert flute studies, I also intend to teach private classical lessons. My first ethnomusicology experience at UCD whetted my appetite for exposure to diverse musical cultures and inspired me to apply for the newly approved International Arts Minor at Mythic University. Classes through the Ethnomusicology program at the IWMC will teach me more about other cultures and their special musical traditions. Irish language studies will broaden my understanding of Irish music traditions, and I look forward to beginning these classes while in the country.

Eventually, my goal is to perform in ensembles that incorporate varying musical styles, especially Irish traditional music. Since returning from Dublin, I have led workshops, given recitals, performed a jury for the Mythic University woodwind faculty, and spoken with many people about my Irish learning experiences. My joy comes from educating people about trad music through performance and conversation. I am determined to follow my ambition to share this passion. When my JYA semester ended with my first experience studying in Ireland, I realized how much more I needed to learn about traditional Irish music and culture. I do not merely want to study in Ireland; I must study in Ireland if I plan to pursue my passion. Now, with the Mitchell Scholarship and its many benefits, mastery of Ireland’s distinct musical art form and immersion in its culture are within my grasp. It is an honor to be considered for this perfect opportunity.

girl with flute

Why It Works 

This scholarship sample effectively communicates the applicant's passion for traditional Irish music and their dedication to pursuing a career in the field. The essay starts with an engaging opening anecdote that introduces the writer’s interest in Irish culture and the development of their passion for traditional music. 

The essay also highlights their specific goals, such as participating in the unique program at IWMC, and how this experience will contribute to their growth as musicians, artists, and performers. It also demonstrates the writer’s drive and ambition through the story of how they needed to search for a teacher.  

This essay does a good job of emphasizing the applicant's passion, determination, and resilience, as well as their reliance on the Mitchell Scholarship to make their educational goals a reality. Overall, the essay combines personal experiences, career aspirations, and financial need to make a compelling case for the scholarship.

Scholarship Personal Statement Example B

“I have enough faith in human nature to believe that when people are both economically secure and aware of the value of biological wealth they will take the necessary measures to protect their environment. Out of that commitment will grow new knowledge and enrichment of the human spirit beyond our present imagination" - Edward O. Wilson 

The Earth and every tiny microbe that dwells here is my inspiration, and the intricate functions of a single cell are the only proof I need to believe that the spirit lies in life itself. My one goal is to do anything I can to protect the purity of life.

I am astounded by the rate at which we destroy what can never be replaced, but I have not lost hope. Since I have been at Ohio University I have explored many different areas of study, always pursuing a way to defend the defenseless. 

Through our environmental group at school, Campus Greens, I began to realize the Earth needs scientists who are willing to speak for it. Our latest goal has been to stop long-wall coal mining in Dysart Woods, a virgin forest in Ohio. Many people believe the mine will destroy the woods. 

However, there is not enough evidence to back up that claim. I feel the only way to end the destruction of the forests is through evidence of its importance. During my junior year of high school, I studied in Israel for a quarter. This was the single most important experience of my life.

I saw how diverse life is and how beautiful all of those differences are. In three months my world expanded halfway around the globe. I began to realize that there were millions of species I knew nothing about. 

This idea is what draws me to Costa Rica. I would love to study the amazing diversity of life that the rainforests offer and the communities that they support. What intrigued me the most about Israel was the way Zionists had managed to grow food in a desert. They came and transformed a barren land into a garden.

 Digging into deep rocks to find aquifers and developing elaborate drip irrigation systems to conserve water permitted the beginning of a new culture with new crops. The entire society grew from a dream of living in peace with enough food to eat. 

When I learned about this I decided that after graduating I would like to go into the Peace Corps. My goal is to help improve agriculture in third-world countries, without imposing cultural assimilation. I feel this program would give me insight into rural communities that thrive without submitting to Westernization. 

Eventually, I would like to become a professor of Tropical Agriculture. Since I have been at Ohio University, I have realized what an impact one instructor can have on future generations. Last year I took a class entitled, "Plants and People". We learned about various plants, their origin, and how they have affected humans. 

While the subject was interesting, it was the professor that inspired me. Her lectures came to life with slides of trips she had taken and stories of collecting cassava with local shamans. Her passion is what led me to pursue Tropical Agriculture. I feel that the best teachers are those who can share their own experiences.

I also feel that knowledge gained through experience is of greater value than hours of reading. When I am able to meet the people and smell the plants that I am learning about, the lesson becomes my reality. It is hard for me to comprehend the full beauty that lies in Costa Rica. 

Hopefully, this program will give me the opportunity to explore what textbooks have only begun to explain. 

palm trees

Why It Works 

This scholarship essay does a good job of emphasizing the applicant's deep commitment to environmental conservation and their determination to create a meaningful impact on the world. 

The essay begins with a powerful quote that sets the tone for the applicant's commitment to protecting the environment. It highlights their involvement in environmental activism, such as their efforts to stop long-wall coal mining and their belief in the importance of scientific evidence in environmental advocacy. 

This essay also demonstrates the applicant's global perspective gained through studying in Israel and their aspiration to join the Peace Corps to improve agriculture in developing countries. Additionally, it emphasizes the applicant's desire to become a professor of Tropical Agriculture and their belief in the value of experiential learning. 

Overall, this scholarship essay combines personal experiences, environmental advocacy, and career aspirations to make a compelling case for the scholarship.

FAQs: Writing a Scholarship Essay

Are you still wondering how to write a scholarship essay? Here are some frequently asked questions and expert guidance on writing good essays that will increase your chances of securing scholarships.

1. How Do You Start a Scholarship Essay?

To start a scholarship essay, begin with a captivating introduction that grabs the reader's attention and clearly states your purpose. Introduce yourself and provide background information relevant to the scholarship. 

Consider using a compelling anecdote, a thought-provoking question, or a powerful statement to engage the reader from the very beginning.

2. What Is the Format for a Scholarship Essay?

The format for a scholarship essay typically follows a standard structure, including an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Your introduction should both grab your reader’s attention as well as introduce the topic. 

The body paragraphs should present your main ideas, provide supporting evidence, and showcase your achievements and experiences. The conclusion should then summarize your main points and leave a lasting impression on the reader. It's important to adhere to any specific formatting guidelines provided by the scholarship organization.

3. What Not to Write in a Scholarship Essay?

When writing a scholarship essay, it's important to avoid certain pitfalls. First, avoid sharing irrelevant or unrelated information that does not contribute to your application. Second, steer clear of excessive self-promotion or bragging.

Instead, focus on highlighting your accomplishments and experiences with humility. Make sure to avoid controversial or sensitive topics that may offend or alienate the reader. Lastly, be cautious about using clichés or generic statements that don’t highlight your unique qualities or perspectives.

Now that you have a solid understanding of how to write your essay, you can get started. If you ever need a refresher, simply refer back to this guide. 

Mastering the art of writing a scholarship essay can open doors to numerous educational opportunities and financial support. By following the complete guide we've provided on how to write a scholarship essay, you now have the tools and knowledge to understand exactly how to ace your essay.

Remember to carefully plan your essay, focus on highlighting your strengths, and demonstrate your passion and commitment. With practice and dedication, you can craft a scholarship essay that sets you apart and increases your chances of getting the scholarship you deserve. Best of luck on your scholarship essay journey!

Final Thoughts

Writing a scholarship essay gives students a chance to potentially secure valuable educational opportunities, like getting into prestigious Ivy League schools. It also helps to reduce the high costs of education and is a great option for students who are on a tight budget or are applying from out of state

Be sure to follow our guide on how to write a scholarship essay, and make sure you have a clear understanding of the essay prompt before highlighting your personal experiences and achievements in your responses. 

Remember to proofread your essay and seek feedback for that extra polish. So, start writing, believe in yourself, and you’ll make a lasting impression with your scholarship essay. It's your time to shine and secure that scholarship!

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