Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be an amazing writer or super creative to write a winning scholarship essay. You simply need to understand what information scholarship providers look for and how to organize it so that it's compelling.
The most commonly requested essay prompt is the career goals/personal statement, a 500- to 700-word essay that generally asks you to detail your career goals and explain why you think you deserve to win that scholarship. This topic applies to anyone, from would-be college students to those pursuing a degree after years working or raising a family. Master it, and you can dramatically increase your chances of winning college scholarships. Here are five steps to do it.
Step 1: Brainstorm And Research
First, set aside at least 30 distraction-free minutes. You're going to use this time to familiarize yourself with what it takes to write a winning scholarship essay and to brainstorm ideas on aspects of your life to write about.
Then, find a few scholarships that you are eligible for (even if the deadlines have passed) and see if the scholarship provider posted the winning essays of previous recipients. These essays are great examples of what you are trying to accomplish.
Step 2: Free Write
Now that you have a solid understanding of the characteristics of a winning scholarship essay, it's time to start the writing process. Step two is all about free writing, i.e., writing down your thoughts and ideas, without worrying about grammar, sentence structure, or storyline.
The list below contains questions that you'll need answers to before you start your scholarship essay rough draft. To complete step two, open up a document on your computer (or use a pen and paper) and write down all of your thoughts for each question. There is no right or wrong way to do this!
- What is your major?
- What is your intended career?
- What do you love most about your major/future career? Why?
- Why is a college education important to you?
- Were you inspired by someone/something to attend college and/or pursue your chosen career? If so, who/what inspired you and how?
- What do you hope to accomplish in your career and/or life?
- What accomplishments are you the most proud of? This doesn't have to be an award. Think about the aspects of your life (things that you've done, values that you have, etc.) of which you are the most proud.
- Why do you believe that you will be successful?
- Have you faced any obstacles while trying to earn your college degree? If so, what were they and how did they affect you? Are you still overcoming those obstacles?
- Why do you need a scholarship? How would winning a scholarship help you? What would happen if you never won a scholarship?
Step 3: Create A Rough Draft
The result of the free writing step should be a document with all of your thoughts on the questions above. Select the most compelling thoughts from your document and organize those into the four main sections of a winning scholarship essay: opening, story, goal, and wrap-up.
For example, your answer to the question "why do you believe that you will be successful?" might fit best into your wrap-up, in which you'll tie everything together. Once you have your best answers organized in this manner, you've built the foundation of your scholarship essay.
Step 4: Review, Rewrite, Repeat
With your rough draft in hand, all you have left to do is flesh out a cohesive essay around these ideas.
The rough draft will act as a guide, helping you identify what to write about in each section of your essay. Once you've completed your first draft, have someone you know (a friend, family member, or professor) review it and give you their feedback. Ask your reviewers questions like:
- Does the essay make sense to you?
- Did anything in the essay sound unnecessary or redundant?
- What did you like about the essay? What did you not like?
Keep making edits and asking for feedback until you're happy with the reviewers' answers to the above questions.
Step 5: Submit Your Essay (Again And Again)
Put that winning essay you worked so hard on to good use!
Since the career goals/personal statement prompt is so common, you can reuse what you wrote for just about any scholarship contest that requests these topics. All you'll likely have to do is tweak your goal and wrap-up sections to ensure they're still applicable.
Also, double-check to make sure that you reference the correct scholarship! No matter how brilliant an essay you write, if you mention the wrong scholarship provider, you will not win the scholarship.