6 Insanely Good Scholarship Essay Tips That Will Earn You Money For College

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Did you know your scholarship essay is usually the #1 thing that will give you an advantage over other applicants?

For many students, sitting down to write scholarship essays can seem like a daunting task. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be and it can actually be enjoyable even if you don’t like writing. Your essay is a time to get your thoughts, dreams, and ambitions on paper. Your transcript, extracurricular activities, and test scores only show one side of you as a student. However, your scholarship essay gives judges a more complete picture of who you are as a student. 

Let this blog post be your guide. Don’t let any essay prompt intimidate you. This essay is something YOU are in control of!

This post is all about scholarship essay tips.

An African-American woman at a coffee shop writing a scholarship essay.
Photography: Crystal Aegean

1. Write about something you dislike

I know this tip is unexpected but hear me out. Most students are going to talk about their love for a particular subject, whether that’s volunteering, sports, or their family. You however want to stand out. I find that people talk a lot about what they dislike, so why not write about it and let it help you win money? 

Here’s what you should do: Write about a job, class, or activity that you weren’t good at or just didn’t like, and be very descriptive about it. Then flip the script and talk about how it helped you grow as a student personally, professionally, or academically. Then conclude your essay detailing how receiving the scholarship will give you an opportunity to grow even more.

I did this exact thing for my scholarship essay (that I continued to use over and over again). In high school, I worked after school and on the weekends as a clown. Yes, a clown. I hated it. Hands down one of the hardest (and sweatiest jobs I’ve ever had). In my essay, I began by writing about how people would try to pull colorful synthetic curly wig, how I had a hard time walking around in those floppy shoes, how I could barely breathe out of the red nose, and how parents would run away from me out of fear.

In the middle of my essay, I talked about why I continued working a job I disliked so much. I wrote that the wages and tips I earned helped pay for my college applications and that I learned really valuable and unique communication skills by working and being around so many kids. Then I concluded by stating the name of the scholarship and that receiving it would help me pursue a career that’s in a field I actually want to be in. 

Turn a negative into a positive. Not only would you stand out amongst the other essays, but you also demonstrated growth which is extremely important for scholarship judges to see.

2. Tell a story out of order

In school, you’ve learned to write an essay that has an intro, exposition, climax, and conclusion. There’s nothing wrong with this structure, but a scholarship essay isn’t getting a grade. So you have the ability to think outside the box and get creative! For example, try starting your essay with what’s happening in the middle. Drop the reader right into the action from the beginning. Then mention the backstory and the events leading up to that moment.

How a breakdown of how I did this: I wanted to show the scholarship judges that diversity and being around people of different cultures was important to me and also nothing new. 

  • Beginning: I started my essay by talking about how at first I hated living in dreary England. It was never sunny, my skin was always dry and my mom and I had to walk everywhere for months while her car was being shipped from the U.S. I paid extreme detail to the words I was using. I also threw in some time period moments I remembered like the Spice Girls and Princess Diana. 
  • Middle: I transitioned the essay to talk about my mom being in the military and how moving was a part of my childhood. I emphasized that although I didn’t enjoy my experience in the beginning, that I adjusted and learned to thrive. I said that adjusting to different environments, people, and cultures has been ingrained in me from a young age.
  • End: This is what I wrote: “Traveling has not only allowed me to accumulate many stamps on my passport but has also given me the privilege to interact with people from many different backgrounds. I truly believe that [insert scholarship name] will be a benefit for me as a student because I am passionate about learning and embracing obstacles and challenges. I want to become a writer and travel to remote places and report on things from famine and disease to the fashion trends. My life is full of puzzle pieces that I am slowly putting together and I know the puzzle will not be complete unless I can complete my education with the help of [insert scholarship name].”

3. Be as authentic and original as possible

There is no need to change yourself or write about yourself in a way that you think will impress the judges. If you want to write 500 words on what Jamaican spices or your grandma’s Indian curry powder means to you, then do that! Your lived experiences and the way you express yourself are unique to you. Expand on the areas in your journey that are most important to you and feel free to explain the significance of certain details. 

4. You don’t need to focus on trauma

I’ve noticed there’s this assumption from students that essays centering around really dramatic and oftentimes traumatic stories win students scholarships. This is not the case.

Of course, if something happened to you like losing a parent or loved one impacted you and you feel compelled to write about it for your essay then by all means, do that. However, light-hearted and more simplistic stories also can help you when scholarships. My clown story was in many ways shallow. There are so many worse jobs out there. However, I told a clear, descriptive, captivating, and amusing story. This is what made me win. 

Think about it. A sloppy, emotional and fully thought out essay about trauma won’t win over a clean, error-free, reflective essay. So when you are sitting down to brainstorm essay topics, keep this in mind. The important part of our essay isn’t actually the story, but how YOU tell the story.

A young woman at her computer in a coffee shop holding a cup looking at the camera.
Photography: Crystal Aegean

5. Have someone you aren’t close to read your essay

In my 2018 video about how to write a winning scholarship essay, I said you shouldn’t have a parent or family member read your essay before you submit it. I still stand by this. Their suggestions, judgment, and how they remember things can really influence your essay.

You want this essay to be 100% your thoughts. If you are applying for a large institutional or national scholarship, you may have to do an interview. In the interview, I guarantee you the panel will ask you a question about your essay. You will need to remember exactly what you wrote. 

An outsider or someone you aren’t extremely close to will usually be able to give a fair and honest assessment. Ask them to tell you if your essay is clear, if they think you should add any details, and what their general overall impressions are to make it stronger. I suggest asking a teacher, guidance counselor, or acquaintance (can be a classmate too).

Related post: 11 Genius Scholarship Interview Tips You Need To Know

6. Step away then proofread several times

Grammar and spelling mistakes can really harm your chances of getting scholarships. This is why it’s important to give yourself enough time to write a well-crafted essay. 

  • Do this: Give yourself a two-week deadline to write your essay. Spend two or three days listing potential topics and stories you want to write about and narrow it down. Then write a solid, detailed outline on days 5 and 6. Spend the next three days writing your essay. Then step away from it, don’t touch it. You can send it off for someone to review but you shouldn’t work on it until day 10 or 11. Take the feedback you’ve gotten and proofread your essay three times. The time you spent not working on it, hopefully, has made you have a fresh mind. By doing this, you may see areas in your essay you can make stronger. 

As a journalist, I can tell you the first draft is NEVER the best draft. To help you out, sign up for Grammarly, which will catch the grammar errors for you.

This post was all about scholarship essay tips.

Stay driven. 

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