Scholarship Application Essay: 14 Tips to Make Yours Shine

by Stephanie Thurrott

Scholarships are a great way to offset the cost of a college education, so it’s smart to apply for as many as you can. Many of them require a scholarship application essay or a personal statement. What you write and how you express yourself can be crucial in catching the interest of the scholarship judges. These 14 tips can help you write strong essays that will improve your odds of being awarded valuable financial support.

1. Start Early

You likely won’t do your best work if you’re rushing to finish your essay right before the deadline. An early start on your scholarship application essay gives you a chance to explore different topics, draft your essay carefully, and have someone review it for you.

2. Learn about the Organization Offering the Scholarship

If you want to win money from a scholarship, it makes sense to learn why the organization funding the scholarship gives money to students. What is its mission? Understanding the who and why of the scholarship can help you tailor your essay to give yourself a better shot at receiving it.

3. Read Essays from Previous Winners

Many organizations share winning essays online. Check to see if the scholarship you're applying for shares their past winners. If they do, take some time to review their topics, structure, and writing style. This can give you essential information about what the judges are looking for.

4. Keep the Word Count in Mind

It can be helpful to estimate word counts for the sections of your essay when you create your outline. For example, in a 250-word essay, you might want to evenly allocate 50 words each for the introduction, three main body paragraphs, and the conclusion. This will more easily allow you to hit each main point with equal vigor.

5. Build a Template

Lots of scholarship application essays have similar topics, like overcoming adversity or developing leadership skills. This means you might be able to write an essay for one application and revamp it for others. Even if you have to expand, tighten, or refocus it, it’s easier and faster than starting from scratch.

6. Get Feedback

Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out what to write about. Talk to your friends and family about possible topics—they know what you're passionate about and can suggest ideas. Perhaps even more important is to have a teacher, guidance counselor, or friend edit your essay once you’ve written a draft. Catching typos, grammatical mistakes, and structural problems before you submit may make all the difference.

7. Start with an Outline

One of the worst writing strategies is to start writing without any clear direction or plan. Instead, take time beforehand and craft an outline that shows what you want to say in the introduction, the main points of the body, and the conclusion. This will make it much easier to write. A clear, well-thought-out organization and structure never fails to impress writing judges.

8. Open Strong

Just as any piece of writing needs to hook the reader from the get-go, so too should the beginning of your essay. Paint a compelling picture rather than dump a load of information and aspirations. Short, punchy sentences can also add energy and clarity.

9. Add Emotion

If you want your essay to be truly personal, share your feelings so the judges can feel your personality and strengths. Sharing a certain amount of emotion can also allow you to distinguish your voice from the many others applying for the same scholarship, and helps judges answer the question: “Why you?”

10. Stay Positive

It’s a tough world out there, but those that rise above it tend to impress more than those that just complain about it. With that in mind, try to keep your essay positive and proactive. Sure, it’s totally okay to talk about hardships you’ve faced and struggles you’d endured, but it’s how you overcame them—your resilience and perseverance—that impresses the judges.

11. Lean on Your Writing Lessons

All the training and practice you’ve received in your school years will come to fruition here. Dust off your old essays and notes to review them and find instructional gems like “Use precise language and strong verbs and keep flowery language to a minimum.”

12. Sleep on It

When you think your essay is finished, put it aside for a while—ideally, overnight or longer. When you read it with fresh eyes and some distance, you might find gaps in the narrative, awkward phrasing, and other issues to polish up before submitting.

13. Follow Instructions

It’s easy to get carried away when writing an essay. Make sure to keep a close eye on the instructions, as you want to give the judges what they asked for. If the writing prompt asks you to address multiple points, did you hit them all?

14. Don’t Overlook the Rest of the Application

Scholarship application essays can take up a lot of your time and energy, but make sure you gather the other material you need for the scholarship application as well. You may need transcripts, letters of recommendation, or other items that may take time to gather.

Azusa Pacific University offers a range of academic scholarships and other scholarships that can help make an APU education affordable. Are you ready to build your career and your future? Learn more about financial aid at APU today.