How to Make Your Case and Win Scholarships


With the ever-rising costs of college tuition, many students are reliant on scholarships to be able to go to college. This has led to increased competition for the limited number of scholarships and other financial aid. However, there are a few tricks that you can use when writing scholarship essays or responses that can substantially improve your odds for success when writing scholarship essays or responses.

Unfortunately, the prompts for scholarships can vary widely, but some of the most common are a variation of the following:

  • Where do you see yourself in 5 (10) years?
  • Explain why you are a good candidate for this scholarship.
  • How will your collegiate studies contribute to your life goals?
  • How have you demonstrated leadership (or another ability) in your life?

You may have noticed that the common theme is a probing question asking you, in one way or another, how you stand out from other candidates. The prompt is usually quite straightforward, but it is important to avoid sounding bland and falling into the same traps as other candidates. An ideal essay will highlight a candidates academic achievements, extracurricular activities, financial need (if applicable), and personal drive.

Know Your Audience

Before diving into your essay, it is critical to know to whom you are writing. If you are writing to an individual or a family, it may be beneficial to Google them and find out what they do in an attempt to relate to their experiences and it is likely that hard work or financial need are some of the most important factors to them. If they are alumni of your school, be sure to mention the school.

If you are writing to someone unnamed, it is probable that it will be a committee in the scholarship office or someone from the department that houses your major. In that case, it is usually more beneficial to talk about the school and the department, invoking the school’s motto or creed if possible (without seeming forced).

The most important rule for knowing your audience is knowing how formal or informal to be. Generally stay as formal as you can, but if the addressee is an individual that you can relate to personally, it is usually worth the risk of going informal. Remember, you have to stand out.

Avoid Typos and Unimaginative Descriptors

One of the most common mistakes that disqualify a candidate for a scholarship is poor grammar or sloppiness.

This makes sense.

Why would a committee award a scholarship to someone who didn’t take the time to proofread an essay?

It doesn’t exactly scream academic excellence. Additionally, it is generally a good rule to avoid any contractions (hence, you should replace “don’t” with “do not” and can’t with “cannot”), as they are seen as a more informal form of writing. The same holds true for weak adjectives and adverbs. Avoid using bland words like “great” and “very”, opting instead for “tremendous” or “incredibly”. Readers will feel more sincerity and stay more interested in essays that avoid weak descriptors.

At the very least, it is a good idea to write your essay in Microsoft Word or a similar program. This allows you to catch more typographical and grammatical mistakes. Additionally, if you find you have used a weak descriptor, you can right-click and select synonyms for an idea on some potentially stronger alternatives. Finally, you should have someone you know read your essay for suggestions. It can never hurt to have a fresh set of eyes look at your work.

Explain What Winning the Scholarship Would Mean to You

At the end of the day, those in charge of giving scholarships want their decisions to have positive impacts. It is usually a good idea to mention the impact that scholarship money will have on you. If a scholarship means less you have to take in student loans or relieving hardship on your parents, who are helping you pay for school, be sure to emphasize that.

Your essay should clearly demonstrate your need and gratitude to the reader. Sincere flattery can go a long way, but insincere flattery could backfire, so be sure to mean what you say and clearly articulate when telling your audience what the scholarship would mean to you.

While these steps might not apply to all prompts, they can be broadly used in almost all cases. Showing awareness, drive, and sincerity can be as important as anything else you might say in a scholarship essay and will certainly help your chances of being selected for the award.

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