How to Write a College/University Scholarship Essay

How to Write a College/University Scholarship Essay

Finance can come in between your dream college and your ambitions. You might be prepared enough, but if you have no financial might, you could be looking at missing college altogether.

Luckily, over 1.7 million scholarships are awarded annually, as per the recent scholarship statistics by Education Data Initiatives. These accounts for public and private scholarships, each with its prerequisites. As per the data by ThinkImpact, around 58% of the students use scholarship funding to pay for their college tuition. However, only a few people apply for these scholarships, and a few people also get them. Therefore, one of the key determinants of whether or not you will get a scholarship is how outstanding your scholarship is.

A winning scholarship essay must demonstrate the values of the scholarship organization while at the same time directly addressing the prompt. It should also show why you, as the applicant, stand out as the best contender or candidate through your personal narratives. To write a winning scholarship essay, you need to showcase your skills, accomplishments, and abilities in a professional yet flexible tone.

If you write a scholarship essay that wows the selection committee, your chances of receiving financial aid increases. All you need to do is stay ahead of the other potential candidates, who also bring their A-game into the scholarship writing process. Please do not beat yourself up though, it is normal to panic or not know how to write one. Suppose you feel confused and have many questions concerning scholarship essays running on your head. In that case, we are here to unburden you.

In this guide, you will learn how to write a winning scholarship essay from beginning to the end, tips to spice up your scholarship essay, and everything else you need to have confidence that your application process is not in vain.

What is a Scholarship Essay?

Everyone out there is struggling to bring their excellent skills forth, and there is a rush to know how to write an essay for a scholarship. However, you cannot perfectly write about something you do not know its definition of, can you? This is why we need to understand the definition of a scholarship essay as the first thing before we eventually delve into the deep facts about a scholarship essay.

A scholarship essay is a formal essay written by students, which gives them a perfect opportunity to make a case for themselves as the best among the contenders for a scholarship opportunity for a specific course. It is written prose that gives students the chance to show their personalities, skills, knowledge, and ambitions. It also includes the things they take pride in that resonate with the prompt provided by the organizations offering the scholarship. Scholarship essays should show and not tell; they must be persuasive compared to the entire scholarship application process that informs the scholarship committee.

Every year, scholarship committees receive hundreds and even thousands of scholarship essays which they review, ascertain, and qualify. This means that your essay must stand out from the rest for you to make it to the cut.

With that in mind, let us explore a few things about scholarship essays that matter the most before an exposition of the steps, tips, and tricks to write one.

The Purpose of Writing a Scholarship Essay

College is becoming pretty expensive. And when it is your turn to go to college, chances are you could use some financial aid. However, to access the extra financial assistance, you will be required to write a perfect scholarship essay. While it might seem an easy task, writing an outstanding scholarship can be the most complicated step in college application. However, it is the most vital one.

There are various reasons why you are asked to write a scholarship essay; here are some of these reasons:

  • To expose your goals and character so that the scholarship committee can recognize you
  • To demonstrate your knowledge, skills, and abilities so that the scholarship committee can know your potential contribution to the organization and why you need to be granted the financial aid
  • Highlight some of your unique experiences and relate them to the scholarship. That way, you get the chance to reveal how you will use these peculiar skills to attain your goals and objectives
  • To show your ability to organize words and communicate so that the college committee can test your instruction-decoding abilities.

Therefore, when writing that scholarship essay, you ought to know that it is a great piece that proves to your scholarship committee why you are the best bet with the available financial aid. When you write concisely, clearly, coherently, cogently, and correctly, you will end up with a well-written scholarship essay that grants you the chance that many are probably looking for. Then, you can go on and be an asset to the organization, college, or family that supports you.

In general, a scholarship essay signals the scholarship committee that you are better off among the many contenders. You do this professionally from a personal perspective. When writing scholarship essays for college, high school, graduate studies, or professional studies, you need to be meticulous, keen, and focused. Mainly, it would help to highlight your strengths, accomplishments, and abilities and how you can use those to overcome your limitations. You should not sound as though you are boasting but be subtle enough to convince, request, and challenge the committee.

Traditional Essays vs. Scholarship Essays

There are glaring differences between scholarship essays and normal essays. While scholarship essays personal narratives about yourself, you, and your college, which means that they are descriptive and persuasive, the traditional essays focus on a topic and take various forms.

While a traditional standard essay is impersonal or targets a broader audience, the scholarship essay strategically targets the scholarship committee as the audience and is thus personal. Besides, ordinary essays adopt a neutral tone, mainly meant to inform rather than convince. On the other hand, a scholarship essay has to be persuasive. It has to appeal to the scholarship committee’s emotions, senses, logic, and reason. You are targeting the funds, and you have to make a case for yourself as the perfect contender.

In most instances, scholarship essays can be between 300 words and 1000 words, sometimes slightly more. You need to be clear and concise with just 1-3 pages to convince and persuade a committee. On the other hand, traditional research essays can be anything from one page to tens of pages.

Finally, the research essays focus on empirical facts and borrow much from research. In contrast, scholarship essays are personal narratives of who you are, your personal experiences, and how your experiences make you the best.

Now, with that in mind, we can probably explore the things that matter when it comes to crafting the best scholarship essay that wins you the money.

Outline of a Scholarship Essay

Assuming you have already selected your topic, you need to make an outline before beginning to write your essay. An outline acts as a road map or a blueprint that keeps you in check when writing: it helps you focus on the right direction and the topic. In addition, an outline majorly outlines the topics, subtopics, and ideas you will be covering in your scholarship essay. So, if you are wondering how to outline your scholarship essay, let’s begin by explaining what goes where.

Generally, a scholarship essay can have anywhere from 3 paragraphs onwards, depending on the word count. The first paragraph is the introduction. The subsequent three can be the body paragraphs. Finally, it must end with a one-paragraph conclusion.


The introduction should be catchy enough to grab the attention of your reader. It should address but not repeat the essay prompt while explaining what your essay is about. You must have a compelling statement at the beginning of your scholarship essay, especially if it is not about your life or achievements. You can demonstrate your knowledge, abilities, and skills through examples. Ensure that you weave in some of your life experiences.

In simple terms, your introduction has:

  • A hook sentence that grabs the attention of the readers
  • A small background statement bringing in the main story you are focusing on
  • A thesis statement that connects the story to your scholarship prompt – explaining why you deserve the scholarship.


The body essay can either be one or many depending on the length of the essay. Essentially, most scholarship essays will require the three-body paragraph approach. This means you need to balance the number of words in the body paragraphs.

The body paragraphs should focus on:

  • Your challenges, experiences, character, aspirations, and encounters
  • How you have overcome challenges or how you developed your ambitions
  • Your career goals
  • Your academic goals
  • The specific college or university you are applying to and why
  • The field of study you selected and why
  • Why the scholarship will help you achieve your goals
  • What you intend to do with the degree
  • Prove why you are a good candidate for the scholarship in question
  • How the scholarship will bolster your long- and short-term career goals
  • Examples to support the main arguments


The conclusion presents:

  • A summary of the major points
  • Your thesis restated in a new format
  • Something already covered in the body of the essay, to leave the officers yearning to read more

How to start off a scholarship essay and win the trust of the Judges

Without a doubt, starting a scholarship essay only sound fun when imagined but torturous when writing one. The beginning of everything is always filled with challenges, making most people nervous, and so are introductions to scholarship essays. Nevertheless, you only need to think it through and put it together. Here are some wonderful tips to help you start your scholarship essay and impress your scholarship committee instantly.

First, you need to take a break after choosing the theme or topic to recollect your ideas, compose yourself, and settle on a befitting way to begin your essay. Then, start by understanding why you need the scholarship and how it will transform your life.

With that in mind, you need to formulate a good, engaging, and attractive essay hook. Your very first sentence in the scholarship essay must involve the judges. Tell them something uncommon, unexpected, or unique. Doing so increases the chances of your story being read and eliciting the reading appetite of your readers.

Avoid disclosing too much in the introduction; leave that for the body paragraphs. Instead, make your introduction intriguing. It should catch your readers’ attention and force them to read through your essay. For example, you can list some fascinating facts about your life, choose one that stands out the most, and use it in your introduction.

Think closely about the facts you want to appear in the introduction. And with the theme in mind, have a clear thesis statement in your introduction. An excellent way to approach the introduction is to read through the winning scholarships published as examples online.

Look at how they presented the hook, facts, and thesis, and borrow the format for your essay. Sampling essays from others helps you widen your perspective and increase your innovation and creativity.

You can get new ideas to begin your essay, spice up the intro, and place words that will give you a better start for the essay. But, it is an essay about yourself, and the introduction needs to count!

And that there is how to begin a scholarship essay effectively, so much so that you leave the judges yearning for more.

How to end a scholarship essay

Your essay’s conclusion is critical as it forms the central area of focus for the scholarship officer assessing your essay. It also determines if your essay will leave a memorable mark on your assessors or if it will be a statistic among the dozens of scholarship essays piled for shredding.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you must write a powerful conclusion. As this is the final bit of your essay, ensure that your readers distinguish yourself from other candidates. You are setting up your last paragraph to leave those reading it in awe.

You can connect to the emotional hook and summarize every major point in the body of your essay. just tell the person “, This is what I was explaining entirely based on the main topic of my essay, and here is why it really matters.”

A memorable conclusion needs to factor in everything you wrote and why the assessor needs to find it interesting. Explain why your topic is significant, how the scholarship will be a game-changer, and, if possible, how, after receiving the scholarship, you will advance the values, principles, and beliefs of the scholarship organization or the college you are applying to.

The conclusion of your essay needs to give your assessors/judges the last impression of who you are; it needs to be memorable. You can achieve this through:

  • Wrapping up your story by summarizing the main points
  • Clarifying your thesis, but in a structured new way
  • Answering the question of why the scholarship matters and how it connects with your story.

The three aspects are a must to remember, not just to conclude a scholarship essay, but any essay or paper. Once they feature in your essay, they signal that the essay has come to a close.

Example of an excellent conclusion for scholarship essay

Although I am confident that I will become the best nurse ever born, the scholarship will breathe more life into my ambitions and make my dreams come true. While I cannot promise that I will bring in new systems, I can predict that I will always work with others to find meaningful ways of making systems work. I know that my passion for nursing informatics will help me become valuable to the global healthcare system. I can only imagine myself caring for others in a world where everything is technologically driven. Just like I was able to reorganize the old system at the restaurant, so shall I restructure healthcare information technology systems to keep them working and sync them with emerging technologies for continuity, healthcare quality, and better patient outcomes.

Formatting a Scholarship Essay

Scholarship essays have almost similar formatting requirements. When the format is not specified, you can use the format below and perfectly write your essay.

  • 12-point Times New Roman, Arial, or Verdana fonts
  • 1-1.5-inch margins top, right, and sides
  • Double-spacing for all text
  • Each paragraph is indented
  • Last name and page number on the top left of the pages
  • Titles are optional. Having a catchy title makes a difference and engages your readers. It screams your story and topic.

If the essay is 300 words, there is a limit of + or – 10, but you have to be keen to hit it on the spot. Focus more on quality and not quantity. In terms of sentences, mix long and short sentences. Besides, balance the word count in your body paragraphs. The introduction and conclusion each account for 10% of the entire word count while the rest of the word count is spread through the body paragraphs.

How to write next level scholarship essay in 8 simple steps

If you have gone through some of the examples of winning scholarship essays, you will notice that it is difficult to conclude what made them succeed. You will again notice that each scholarship essay has unique insight into the author’s past, present, and future ambitions. Even when not talking about their lives directly, some authors would bring a story where they are the main characters and share their dreams, aspirations, and insights into the future after their scholarships.

Being unique is all that matters when writing a scholarship essay. Your scholarship essay should be tailored to you – it is your story that will earn you funds. You need to explore your passion and drive to study the chosen subject or course. Besides, you must create a response that will, till eternity, resonate and relate to you. The individuality makes any scholarship essay stand out; it catches the judges’ eyes, making you the undisputed winner.

Given our experience with writing many winning scholarship essays, we have gathered things that work and those that do not. You can apply these to your scholarship essay writing process and emerge successfully.

1.      Plan in advance

Once you have your prompt ready, it is not advisable to wait or postpone writing your scholarship essay at the last minute. Instead, plan early enough so that your quality remains intact.

Notably, when you write the essay, when you have the heat and urge to win the scholarship, the chances are that you will ace it for the better. Therefore, it is best to plan, including how to introduce the essay, when to read the scholarship examples online, and how to conclude your essay.

You can create a schedule with deadlines and milestones for all the scholarships you are applying for. Ensure that you give yourself ample time to brainstorm, research, write, consult, and polish your written essays.

2.      Know your audience

Although this sounds like a cliché scholarship essay tip, knowing who will read your essay will determine whether or not you get it. To understand this, you have to spend quality time reading the instructions.

Knowing your audience helps you highlight specific experiences, objectives, and goals that relate to what your audience wants to hear. For instance, if you are applying for a nursing school scholarship, develop your essay based on a theme that reflects your readiness to be a nurse after your studies.

You also need to understand the scholarship organization, the scholarship itself, and why it is offered. Then, if you choose to focus on your GPA, break the monotony by talking about your experience with the curricular achievements, your ability to think critically, and how you will apply your skills to your college and professional life and goals.

If you are applying for a business leadership scholarship, let the committee know some of the outstanding skills that make you the best future leader. Ask yourself, “who could the donors be, what do they stand for, and why could they be offering the financial aid?”

Once you answer this, you have your theme to focus your scholarship essay.

3.      Choose a theme

Much like the second step, you need to identify a theme that resonates with the ideals, values, and philosophies of the scholarship organization or the college you are applying for the scholarship for. The theme should unify your goals, objectives, and experiences with what your audience might find useful and important. Identifying the theme of your scholarship essay helps you to front a story that resonates well with the judges. You will be able to cut out the non-essentials and bring in some novel understanding that eventually wins you the scholarship.

If, for instance, you are applying for a nursing school scholarship, talk about your experiences caring for others when you have had an encounter with nurses. You can relate your general life experiences and twist them to accommodate the chances of you being a great nurse.

You can write an essay about an encounter when you were a server or waitress and how that built your resilience to take the pressure, work with people, and manage the flow of things.  Remember, the theme is the anchor of your entire scholarship essay and does not necessarily have to be your title. The theme should only guide you, more like a compass, to deliver your best shots. This means that everything else in the essay has to resonate with the theme, where you explain why you’re the perfect contender among the many worthy candidates.

If you choose to write a polished, appealing, and bright image about yourself, you need to focus on that and that alone. Alternatively, suppose you choose to present your essay unusually. In that case, you can choose a topic, present arguments, and give real-life examples. For instance, you could choose to write about a childhood encounter with a business person, disease, death, trauma, and anything else, then support it with facts.

As long as your essay follows the instructions and rules for the specific scholarship essay, you will be accepted. The chances are that everyone else is writing a CV-like scholarship essay. Choosing this approach might make it unique for you to get the funding.

4.      Choose and define a topic early

With the theme defined or centered around your essay prompt, you need to select an essay topic that you can talk about in-depth and at length. Pick something you are passionate about to explain about yourself to a stranger. Ensure that the topic you select for your college scholarship essay fits the statement. It should have keywords of the scholarship statement.

The topic you choose defines your title. A good topic demonstrates your ingenuity, creativity, and personality to the scholarship committee. You need to narrow down the topic and write a brief title based on it. For example, if it is a leadership scholarship, ensure that you select a leadership topic. For instance, “Why I will always be a charismatic leader for the world.” You can also choose titles such as “The Leadership Steam that Keeps my world together” or “The Life Lessons of Leadership that I forever hold true.”

Ensure that your tone and choice of words deliberately reflect the content of your essay. Before the introduction, the judges go through the titles to determine if your essay is worth the little time they have.

5.      Have an outline

Much like the same way we write an essay, you need to create an outline where you envision the entire essay. Then, map out the points you need to feature in the introduction, body paragraphs, and conclusion.

An outline for a scholarship essay is not as complicated as a typical essay. As long as you have a good introduction, well-supported body paragraphs, and a catchy conclusion, you are good to go.

The introduction should attract and keep your audience. The body paragraphs should have examples, elaborations, and experiences illustrating how and why you are the best.

Make sure to use transition words to knit together your essay. And as a final resort, conclude your essay in a sound way that the committee feels lazy reading others.

6.      Figure out the criteria the committee uses for evaluation

Even though it is hard to predict what the selection committee is after, you need to apply your reasoning, creativity, and critical thinking skills to get it right. First, re-read the scholarship statement and other information provided alongside it. You will identify precisely what the committee is looking for when evaluating the scholarship application essays. Then, with your outline, you can develop a checklist of the areas you feel you need to address in-depth in your essay. You can then include them in your scholarship essay. For example, you can focus on the experience, how you got involved in something, the challenges you faced, some of the solutions you used, the lessons it taught you, and the meaning of these past encounters in the future.

If, for instance, you are writing about community experience, focus on what made you choose it, its significance to you and your future, what you gained, and some aspects from it that link to the scholarship.

7.      Write the scholarship essay

Now that every piece of the puzzle is gathered, you need to spend time doing the heavy work – fixing it together to make sense.

When writing your essay, use words that appeal to ethos, pathos, and logos. You do this to maintain credibility, reliability, and authority. As well, you get to make sense and convey your ideas better.

You also need to be honest when explaining your life experiences. Avoid embellishing or making up details to suit the situation or appear more deserving of the scholarship funding. If you maintain authenticity, you can use your creativity and write about almost any experience to win that scholarship.

Things to consider when writing your body paragraphs

Instead of telling your audience, show them. This cardinal rule of writing also applies in scholarship essays. Try to paint a clear picture in the reader’s mind through your words. It calls for using examples, illustrations, and evidence as necessary. Make the readers feel you and sync with your words outrightly.

As you develop your essay, you need to be specific, clear, and concise. Avoid run-on sentences. Instead, use evocative language. Focus on simplicity, for it drives the point home better. Be very specific and avoid generalizations. And as you write the paragraphs, do not use flowery language. Instead, choose to use concise sentences that bring out the meaning of your essay.

When writing the first draft, do not focus on editing as you go. Write first, then edit and proofread later. Again, as you write your essay, go slow on using exclamation marks. If anything, only use exclamation marks if you direly must use them. Overusing exclamation marks spoils the sweetness in most creative scholarship essays; we have seen this when editing scholarships for students. Exclamation marks do not make essays powerful. Instead, they water down the essay. You can equally write a powerful scholarship essay without one.

When writing your body paragraphs, ensure that you sell yourself but have a limit to it as well. Share your accomplishments, proud moments, character, and any other achievements, then tie them to the scholarship award.

Finally, you need to emphasize your resilience and maintain professionalism throughout your scholarship essay. If you are talking about hardships you faced, explain how you overcame them, lessons you learned, and how such encounters have made you resilient. On matters of professionalism, avoid using colloquial expressions or conversational language. You need to mind your word choice, tone, and voice in the essay. Avoid slang words and make your essay clear and clean.

8.      Proofread, edit, and polish

After writing the first draft of your scholarship essay, take some rest. Then, you can spend your time on other issues: watching movies, doing other assignments, or doing things you love to shake off the seriousness you were writing.

Once relaxed, read, re-write, and edit your scholarship essay. Read it out loud to yourself and feel if it sounds persuasive enough. Check for grammatical, spelling, punctuation, and organizational errors when proofreading.

Also, focus on the format of your essay. Check whether you have used adequate connectors or transition words to knit together your essay and for a good flow. If you need help with editing, you can hire proofreaders and editors from our website. Then, once everything is polished, you are clear to submit the scholarship and bravely wait for the scholarship award.

7 Things that should never appear in your scholarship essay

Some of our staff at Gradecrest have had the privilege of being scholarship committee judges. They have shared a few things they feel should not appear in your scholarship essay if you are serious about getting the award.


    1. Never use cliché stories or themes. Although the scholarship might be about why you deserve it, about yourself, friendship, or leadership, avoid using cliché themes, phrases, or stories that the judges are used to seeing. Instead, use realistic and specific examples when expressing yourself, your experiences, career goals, leadership styles or qualities, and ambitions.
    2. Avoid using profane words even when stressing a point. Instead, use words that show how hard you’ve worked or the idea that you need to stress. Relate it to things that are hard, instead, to create a vivid picture in the minds of the officers.
    3. Addressing controversial topics but instead, use thoughtful stories to create a vivid explanation about why you deserve the scholarship.
    4. Avoid using photos, emojis, and fonts. This is not your typical informal text. Instead, treat your scholarship essay as a formal piece of essay about yourself.
    5. Do not make fatalistic declarations about your future or make any binding stances. Instead, show optimism and open-mindedness to the future.
    6. Avoid writing the scholarship essay as though it is your autobiography because it is not. Instead, a scholarship essay focuses on the one moment, challenge, experience, character, hobby, or encounter that connects to the prompt.
    7. Avoid stepping on other applicants. Instead, focus on yourself and speak for yourself. Articulate why you deserve the funding and how it will help you accomplish your dreams.


If you face hurdles with writing your scholarship essay, always feel free to ask for help. Luckily, GradeCrest is an online essay writing service that will always write your scholarship essay from scratch. You will explain your story to our writers, and they will craft something that resonates with you.