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Most scholarships require an essay that asks a question or includes a prompt that you must answer. Often, the essay is the most important part of your scholarship application.

Follow these steps to write a compelling scholarship essay.

1. Research the scholarship

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Researching the scholarship provider will help you understand the organization's values. Research is important because:

  • Understanding the scholarship organization's mission will help you highlight certain aspects of your scholarship essay.

  • Viewing the previous scholarship winners will help you understand their essay structure and will help you define specific aspects of your essay.

  • Knowing the essay requirements (word count, structure, font, size, etc) will help you organize your essay clearly and concisely.

2. Stick to the prompt

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Scholarship essays often have essay prompts in the form of a question which you must answer using an essay format. Some example questions or prompts that you may find on a scholarship essay include:

  • What was the most impactful moment of your life?

  • Share an experience where you impacted your community.

  • Share a moment when someone changed your life.

  • What are you passionate about and why?

These questions and prompts are your chance to tell a story with your essay.


You are a graduate student applying for a scholarship, you chose the prompt “share an experience where you impacted your community”. Which essay topics are appropriate for this prompt?

3. Choose a topic

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Sometimes a scholarship essay doesn't offer a prompt and you're able to choose your own topic. If this is the case, it's best to choose a topic you're passionate about that aligns with the scholarship. Here are a few things to remember:

  • Don't tailor your essay to what you think the reader wants to hear. Be true to yourself and stay authentic by writing what you know.

  • Be honest and concise in your writing.

  • Showcase your achievements and work or volunteer experience.

Scenario: You're an undergraduate student studying biology and applying for a scholarship from your university.

Here are some example topics you can write about in your scholarship essay, even if there isn't a prompt or question in the scholarship essay:

  • Your passion for biology led you to volunteer at a marine life conservation center.

  • You started tutoring disadvantaged high school students in biology.

  • You gained research experience with a member of the biology faculty at the university.

  • You spent the summer in Costa Rica working with a biology lab.

Any of these example topics will demonstrate your dedication to biology, your academic and research excellence, and your volunteering experience.

4. Brainstorm and plan

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Brainstorming and planning how you'll write and structure your essay is a key part of the writing process before writing. It's best to use the common structure below:

  • Introduce your scholarship essay with a "hook", an attention-grabbing sentence that will draw the reader into your essay.

  • The body of your essay is the largest part of your essay. This is when you write about your experiences, your achievements, why you deserve the scholarship, etc.

  • Finish strong with a concluding paragraph that summarizes the main themes of your essay.

Below is an example structure you can use when writing your scholarship essay using the scenario above.

Introduction: Anger rushed through my body, angry at people and at the world when I learned of the 200 animals on Costa Rica's endangered animals list, some of which are critically endangered.

Body: These animals were endangered because of hunting, deforestation, and man-made developments. However, I realized anger wasn't going to solve anything. I decided to do something about it. I volunteered at a marine life conservation centre in Costa Rica and worked primarily with Hawksbill sea turtles.

Conclusion: My experiences volunteering at the marine life conservation center and working with the study of conserving the lives of Hawksbill sea turtles have led me to change my study path and major in marine biology to continue conservation efforts.

5. Write with persuasion

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When writing a scholarship essay, the key idea is to persuade the reader to consider your essay and be awarded the scholarship. When writing a persuasive essay, a helpful technique is the ethos, pathos, and logos format.

  • Ethos gives your essay credibility and authority on this topic. For example, if the essay topic requires you to discuss your life, you must be the authority in your own life when discussing it.

  • Pathos means emotions. When writing, appeal to the emotions of the reader by sharing your values and beliefs.

  • Logos means logic. Think logically when sharing specific reasons about why you deserve the scholarship and how you will benefit from it.

Learn more about ethos, pathos, and logos to help you improve your persuasive writing.


What is the writer trying to convey with this statement? "Moving to the U.S. with very limited English, I was conscious that I lacked English speaking skills and the fear was isolating. It was then that I understood the importance of language learning."

6. Follow these do's when writing

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It's best to leave out a few things when writing scholarship essays, as they don't benefit your essay and may cost you the scholarship. The do's below are basic rules that will help you write your scholarship essay.

  • Describe important advice that you've received. This could be advice that changed your perspective on something or that impacted you in some way.

  • Explicitly state how you'll be impacted. Ask yourself how the scholarship will help you and how the scholarship will impact your life and your studies.

  • Be specific. Use clear language and consciously tell your story.

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  • Share what causes you believe in. Write about your experiences and passions.

  • Take on a hopeful approach regardless of your current situation. Show your positivity. Demonstrate that although the scholarship will help you, you're always going to seek opportunities.

  • Share only what is required to answer the prompt or question related to the scholarship essay.

7. Avoid these don'ts when writing

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Staying away from these don'ts of scholarship essay writing will help you structure your essay in an appealing and appropriate way to anyone who reads it.

  • Inspirational quotes. Using these will distract the reader from your scholarship essay. It's highly predictable to use inspirational quotes.

  • General sweeping statements. An example is, "I love studying biology." That's too general and grand in a way that doesn't have a positive impact on your scholarship essay.

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  • Cliché statements. These statements include standard and overly used words or phrases that don't help your essay stand out.

  • Controversial or political topics. It's best to steer clear from expressing your political thoughts or controversial topics. It's unnecessary and won't positively impact your scholarship essay.

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  • Extreme declarations. Avoid statements like, "Without this scholarship, I won't be able to graduate," or "I need this scholarship to academically excel." This will wash down your scholarship essay and make you seem unreliable and dramatic.

  • Every detail of your life. Oversharing won't help your scholarship essay be more reliable or informative. Share only what is necessary and appropriate in your scholarship essay.

Take Action

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You now know how to write a compelling scholarship essay. There are a few more things you can do to make sure your scholarship essay is outstanding:


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