5 Overlooked Scholarship Essay Tips

If you master writing essays, you can win scholarships.


Why?  You can differentiate yourself from others in what you say and how you connect with a scholarship sponsor.   When you write an essay that reflects you and relates to a scholarship sponsor’s values, you rise to the top of a pile of other candidates.  You are the person they feel speaks to them. But to write those essays, you must research sponsors, plan your essay, make your work memorable.   Also, master the scholarship essay tips others do not know. 

The goal of any scholarship essay is to persuade a committee that you deserve the award.   A successful essay can be the ultimate factor in whether or not you win.  And when it comes to scholarship essay contests it’s the only factor.  So it makes sense that you should put together an essay that goes beyond the requirements and shows your readers who you are and how you will uphold their values and goals. 

Today, I’ll show you the scholarship essay tips I use with my students to help them write unique and inspiring essays that set them apart from others.   Let’s dive in! 


5 Scholarship Essay Tips

Follow these 5 tips, and you’ll be able to do what most other students cannot–impress your readers with your passion, knowledge, and writing. 


#1 Research the Companies and Organizations Sponsoring the Scholarship

One often ignored step is researching the organization or company sponsoring the scholarship.  See if you can figure out what their mission and values are.  Also, try to discover their purpose for offering the scholarship. 

The first place you can start your search is their website.  Go beyond looking at the page that describes the scholarship and its rules.  Look at the other main pages for essential details about them. Next, look at what other people say about them/things they have done in the community.  A simple Google search will give you enough results to have a sense of who they are and whether they are a good fit for you (and if they are credible).    

If there is a section on past winners, look at it and figure out why those students won the scholarship. 

Try to find out what is essential to them.  How do they impact their industry, cause, or the world?  When you understand this, you can connect who you are to the mission and goals they have.  


#2 Don’t Immediately Recycle your Other Scholarship Essays

An assumption many people have is that you can recycle and make small changes to your scholarship essays.  And some scholarship essays ask similar things:  Tell us about yourself; how will this scholarship help you? Why do you deserve this scholarship? Describe how sports or music has impacted you?   You also might see scholarships that ask questions like a college admissions essay. 

However, many private scholarships have unique writing prompts (especially if it’s an essay contest).   

Here’s a sample of essay contest scholarships prompts:

  1. Write about an experience with the importance of driver’s safety (Department of Motor Vehicles)
  2. Write about a Superpower (Unigo)
  3. Write about your experience going to ___________middle school.
  4. Solve a problem with ____________ . This prompt, I’ve seen among different scholarships, like the Ocean Awareness Contest and scholarships about vegetarianism and other different groups.

There are essay contests about specific authors (see the Jane Austen Society of North America’s yearly JASNA Essay Contest, or the Ayn Rand Essay).  Many private scholarships have unique prompts. 

When you go to write a scholarship essay,  review your previous essays. Think about each scholarship essay prompt.  Make sure that your essay focuses on that prompt. If you are making significant changes to essays you already have, you may be better off brainstorming new ideas or a fresh take on that topic.

If the writing prompt is unique, brainstorm a lot of different ideas.  Some brainstorming methods you can use are:


5 Fabulous Scholarship Essay Tips

#3 Plan What You Will Write

Of all the scholarship essay tips in this post, this is the one that most students forget–planning what to write.

I’m all for freewriting.  I recommend it to writers because it improves their writing, voice, skills, and thinking.  Also, as I listed above, it’s an excellent way to prewrite your ideas.  However, a freewrite isn’t a draft for your essay. When you use freewriting, let it guide your ideas, but don’t consider it your essay.   It might help to think of it as the pre-draft for your first draft.

You want to have organization and a theme throughout your essay.  These are things you want to plan  My favorite things to use are mind maps, sticky notes, or note cards to put ideas down and move them around until their ideas take shape.  I love using Google’s Jamboard is an online tool that has virtual post-it-notes you can use to organize your ideas. 

Also, you can write down your ideas and outline your essay.  Some students I work with use brainstorming, freewriting, mind maps, Jamboard,  to come up with ideas and then organize those ideas into an outline. 

Whichever method you use for prewriting,  make sure you come away with a  plan for what you will write.


#4 Get Comments and Suggestions on Your Scholarship Essay

Ok. Now you have an original draft. It’s time to see what others think and the suggestions they have for you.  The best way to see if your essay is memorable or striking is to have other people critique your essay.  A critique is where a reader analyzes your work’s strengths and comments about what they like and makes suggestions on how to improve your essay.

I suggest having another person or small group of people read your essay.  Ask them for their ideas.  Here are some guiding questions:

  1. How does this essay address the writing prompt?
  2. What are at least two things you like about this essay?
  3. What are at least two suggestions you have for improvement?
  4. What is striking or makes this essay stand out?
  5. Do you feel something is missing or confusing? If so, please explain.
  6. What is the best characteristic or part of this essay?

If you have a tutor, teacher or coach, or someone else who knows grammar, ask them to check your sentences.   After you have feedback from someone else, look at what you want to change. 


#5 Revise and Edit Cold

My motto for revising is to be hard on yourself.  One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever read was, “Write Hot. Edit Cold.”   The idea is that you continue writing as your ideas flow, but then be critical and not afraid to cut ideas or make significant changes.  

Revising and editing are not the same.  If you are changing the content and organization of what you write, you are revising.  If you focus on writing style, changing sentences,  correcting grammar mistakes, or spelling, you are editing.

The first step in revising is to look at the feedback others gave you.  Decide what you will change and what you want to keep.  Then read your essay and analyze it.  Ask:

  1. Is it relevant to the prompt?
  2. Is it original or unique?
  3. Does anything seem cliché?
  4. Does the organization of the essay make sense, or would it be better if you change it?
  5. What is missing or what is redundant?

Don’t be afraid to make dramatic changes at this point. You are shaping your essay and molding it into a masterpiece (your best work). 

Editing is a critical part of writing an essay, but especially scholarship essays.  At this stage, you will focus on your writing style (and not just grammar). Don’t run your essay through Grammarly or another grammar checker and consider your work done.  Look at how your sentences and words flow.  Are they easy to read and understand?  Do you express yourself in your writing voice?  I like to use one tool to make my sentences clear and powerful is Hemingway Editor at https://www.hemingwayapp.com.

After I have worked on my sentences, I begin proofreading for punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes.  One technique I use is to read my essay aloud and record it. I listen for where I stumble or struggle to take a breath.  Reading aloud helps me identify where sentences are too long or complicated, where I am missing words, punctuation mistakes, and some spelling mistakes.  I can also hear my writing voice or see if it is missing. 

I also read and study my sentences one-by-one for those same mistakes before using Grammarly.  After, I proofread my sentences again. 

If someone else can proofread your writing, ask that person to review your scholarship essay.

At-A Glance-Scholarship Research and Analysis QuickSheet

Grab your Free Copy of the At-A-Glance Scholarship Research and Analysis Quick Sheet

Writing Your Scholarship Essay

The ultimate question for any scholarship essay you submit is:  Does this speak to the writing prompt, and will it strike a chord with the readers?   When you can answer those questions, you’ll be that much closer to winning that scholarship.

These scholarship essay tips above will guide you in your writing.  But, to make sure you write your best essay, don’t rush this process until it’s only a few days before the deadline.   Remember to research the sponsors and organizations of a scholarship, plan what you will write based on your research, and connect with the judges.


Want an easy way to keep track of your scholarship research?  Get my At-A-Glance Scholarship Research and Analysis Quick Sheet!