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How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

Writing a scholarship essay doesn’t have to be a nail-biting experience. Here, simple tips to help you write a scholarship essay stands out from the crowd.

The mere thought of paying for college is enough to make most people hyperventilate into a brown paper bag. Obviously, scholarships are a great way to handle the financial burden of school—but to even be considered, most organizations require you to submit an essay explaining why you’re worthy of their money.

So what are you supposed to say in a scholarship essay? How do you ask for money without sounding desperate? Course Hero is here to help save you from the stress and provide a few simple do’s and don’ts for an effective scholarship essay.

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1. First and foremost, read the instructions!

No matter how eloquent your essay is, if it’s a thousand words longer than it’s supposed to be, it’ll probably get rejected. Also, remember to keep your audience in mind and make sure you cover the topics included in the instructions. For instance, a scholarship for a study abroad program may require you to write about your past experience in speaking or studying languages.

Always adhere to the guidelines to ensure that you stay on topic and within the word count.

2. Write an outline

Before you dive into writing, create an outline to help you plot and transition your essay from beginning to middle to end. This will help your paragraphs flow more naturally as you introduce new ideas and topics throughout the essay.

3. Write the main takeaway of your essay in one sentence

If someone were to ask you what your essay is about, how would you sell it to them in one sentence? If your essay topic is strong and intriguing enough, you should be able to explain it powerfully and succinctly in one sentence. Keep in mind, this sentence doesn’t have to go in your essay; think of it as your personal mission statement.

4. Don’t be modest

Most of us are taught to be humble when speaking of our personal accomplishments. A scholarship essay, however, is not the time or place for modesty. You have full bragging rights here, as organizations want to hear about your personal successes both in and outside the classroom. Just be sure to never exaggerate, and remember to talk about your achievements in a way that applies to the theme of the essay. For instance, if the topic is leadership, how has your community work or job enhanced your leadership skills—and how have those experiences prepared you for future leadership roles?

5. Don’t open your essay with a quote from a famous person

It’s a worn-out cliche that will likely be met with an exasperated sigh from someone who has read thousands of papers that use the same approach. A solid way to open an essay is to “set the scene,” so to speak. Use imagery to describe a time or place in your life that establishes the tone of the essay.

6. Get personal

Keep your writing human and personal. People like reading about other people. Talk about your personal history and how it’s made you who you are today. Nobody wants to read a generic, cookie-cutter essay that could apply to anyone. Scholarship essays are about your journey.

7. Tell a story

As mentioned in the first step, your essay should have a beginning, middle, and an end—three things all stories have. Avoid getting too explanatory or technical (unless your audience will understand the jargon). For inspiration, read interviews and magazine features on people who have inspired you. Look at how the writer pieced the story together to create rising action, a climax, and the resolution or main takeaway of the story.

8. Have someone else read it

This step is crucial! Having someone else read your essay will let you know whether or not everything flows well and makes sense. Plus, a fresh set of eyes will help you spot grammatical or spelling errors that you may have passed over several times. After all, what makes sense in our head doesn’t always transition well in writing the first time. Getting someone else’s perspective on your writing is just as critical as the writing itself!

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