How to Write a Scholarship Essay

Use these tips to write a scholarship essay that can help you win free money for college.

This can help you win scholarships

There’s no better time to start searching for and winning scholarships to pay for college than right now!

A lot of scholarships require essays for you to be considered, so you’ll want to write one that shows how you are the best fit for that money. This isn’t your typical essay done for school—this is your chance to showcase who you are beyond your grades and test scores.

If you’re ready to improve your odds of winning the most free money, here are some tips to help you write a winning essay.

Watch this episode of .edYOU for scholarship essay writing tips.

Scholarship winner Carlynn Greene talks about which scholarships to focus on, the importance of scholarship essays, and scholarship essay writing strategies for students.

Tips for writing scholarship essays

#1 Stick to the prompt & tell the truth

  • Read and re-read the prompt as many times as you need to understand it.
  • If you can choose the prompt, choose one that you enjoy, not what you think a reader wants to hear—you may come across more genuine if you care about the topic.
  • Be honest—don’t embellish to try to win the scholarship. Being yourself is enough.
  • If the prompt is a statement (e.g. “Reflect on how you protect the planet.”) re-frame it as a question (e.g. “How do I protect the planet?”).
  • Stay on topic.  Answer the question that’s being asked of you.

#2 Do your research on the scholarship provider

  • Find the provider’s website and read about their mission for inspiration.
  • Search for details on the scholarship and its previous winners to see what traits the scholarship provider looks for that you can highlight in your essay.

#3 Brainstorm before you write

  • Create a bulleted list, road map, or any other outline that will help you organize your thoughts before you write. It’s always easier to write when you have an idea of what you want to say.

#4 Use a tried-and-true writing format

  • Stick to what works—an introduction, body, and conclusion is a clear way to tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
  • Writing a new idea? Start a new paragraph. Short paragraphs are much easier to read through than long ones.
  • Always end your essay with a good closing. Don’t simply finish your last thought and call it a day or write “The end.” Leave the reader with something to hold onto, like what you would do if you won the scholarship or why education is important to you.

#5 Be specific, detailed, and concise

  • Get to the point—use simple, direct language that effectively delivers your message.
  • Avoid generalizations—use specific examples with details to help your reader paint the picture.
  • Short sentences are key—opt for those instead of long, mega-descriptive ones.

#6 Follow the word/character limits

  • If the rules say the limit is 500 words, don’t write more than 500 words. Write as close to it as possible. If you write over the limit, you may be disqualified.
  • Here’s where technology can be your friend. Keep an eye on the word count tool that’s most likely included in whatever software you’re using. 

#7 Give yourself enough time to write and proofread

  • Give yourself at least two weeks before the deadline of a scholarship application to brainstorm, draft, and revise your essay. This will give you plenty of time to make it better and fix any mistakes.
  • Share your work with a friend, parent, teacher, or someone else you trust for feedback. Their perspective can help improve your essay.

#8 Write a short thank you

  • If you have space, a brief thank you is thoughtful and appropriate. It shows that you’re grateful for the scholarship opportunity and for the scholarship provider taking the time to read your scholarship essay.
  • If you don’t have space, consider writing a thank you letter after applying for or winning the scholarship.
  • For example, at the very end of your essay, you can simply say something like, “Thank you for this opportunity and for taking the time to read my essay.” Bam. Polite and to the point. 

#9 Scholarship essay “Do’s and Don’ts”

#10 Reuse your scholarship essays

  • If another scholarship essay prompt is similar, reuse the essay you’ve written and edit to fit any new word count or direction changes.

  • If you mention the scholarship provider’s name in your essay, make sure you fix that before sending the essay to another scholarship provider.

Enter to win $2,000 for college

  • A new winner is drawn each month.
  • NO essay!
  • Takes less than 2 minutes to enter.

*No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Odds of winning depend on number of entries received. Ends 12/31/2024. See Official Rules.

Want more scholarship opportunities?

There are tons of scholarships out there, so don’t just focus on the scholarship program you’re currently writing an essay for. Apply for as many scholarships as you can! 

Check out Scholarship Search by Sallie

Scholarship Search by Sallie is a great place to start looking for scholarships. Best part? You don’t have to register—and you can use filters to narrow down your search based on your background, major, the state you live in, and more.

Check out our other resources 

From accessing financial aid to applying for a private student loan, we’ve got the A’s to all your Q’s.

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footnote 1. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Odds of winning depend on number of entries received. Ends 12/31/2024. See Official Rules.