20 Smart Strategies for Writing a Scholarship Essay

20 Smart Strategies for Writing a Scholarship Essay

by Tahj Mayes, January 19, 2016

Guess what? You don’t have to excel in language arts to write a compelling scholarship essay. A big part of scholarship essay writing is thinking for yourself; everyone is capable of this. One common issue with essays is not answering or responding completely to the question or prompt. Thinking deeply is a process and you can learn it. In fact, is has to be learned. And like most processes that appear complicated, by breaking it down into steps or strategies, it becomes doable and even simple.

Plus, strengthening your essay-writing brain muscles will only aid you for college and life. (A compelling email in a professional gig can go a long way for your work life and even your salary!)

Essay writing can be intimidating, sure, but don’t let it keep you from winning free money!


20 Smart Strategies for Writing a Scholarship Essay

1. Go for it. Put your heart into it and don’t listen to any naysaying voices from anyone (even yourself, especially yourself). This is especially critical to beginning a project and to strategy #2.

2. Do a free-writing draft. Write down everything the theme or prompt makes you think about, even if it seems silly or thoughts seem contradictory. Push yourself to write for 10 minutes or 20 minutes. Just flow! Write as much as you can. Free-writing means no judging or editing. Don’t get hung up on grammar, for now.

3. Take a break. Minimum break time should be at least 20 minutes. Move around. Physical movement stimulates scholarship essay strategy #9brain activity.

4. Now, read through your draft. Loosely organize your thoughts. Break it up into paragraphs. Don’t delete anything, yet. Your thesis (main idea) belongs in your first paragraph. The rest of the essay will prove your thesis. Subsequent paragraphs will be full of your evidence. You can make an outline, if you prefer that type of organization. In fact, you can make an outline as your first step, and then proceed to strategy #2.

5. All your reasons for claiming what you say in your thesis is your evidence and the rest of your essay builds on these. Imagine that someone says to you, after reading your thesis, “Prove it,” or “Why?” Let’s say your essay question is “Why do you want to be a nurse?” In this case “To help people” is not a sufficient answer. It’s the beginning of an answer. (It’s also the same answer that 99.9% of people will give.)

6. Elaborate. What events/ideas have influenced your decision or confirmed that it’s the path you want to take? Read your answers and ask “Why?” Your reasons, your influences–these make up your evidence. This step is where you dig deeper. It’s the step that many applicants don’t take the time or energy to do. It’s also where the magic happens.

7.  Use personal anecdotes and specific examples. Your personality is revealed through details. These belong solely to you and will set you apart.

8. Authentic personality and creativity is interesting. Weird for weirdness’ sake is not the goal. Everything must tie together and extra points if the way a story ties into your thesis isn’t immediately obvious.

9. At this point, you might revise your thesis. It isn’t unusual to revise your thesis based on what you discover while writing your evidence. A specific and unique thesis trumps a generic one.

10.  Strike through any cliché and rephrase it using new words, your own words. (Instead of “think outside the box” you can say, “creative thinking” or “surprisingly unique way of thinking.” Except you can’t because now I said that, and copying me would be plagiarism, the deadly sin of writing.)

scholarship essay tip

11. Ask someone who is educated (and experienced) to read through your draft for content. You want them to ask questions to help you dig deeper. You want them to point out anything that doesn’t make sense or needs to be clarified or expanded (so don’t get defensive). Ask them to check whether your essay answers the question or prompt completely.

12. While that person is reading your essay draft, take care of the scholarship logistics. Fill out the entry form, the envelope, save the website address, etc. Prepare anything that needs doing for the final submission ahead of time.

13. Don’t worry about grammar–it’s still not time. Use the feedback you received to improve your draft content. If you feel that you didn’t really receive much feedback, seek another source.

14. Read through your (almost) final draft and check that you are within the word limit. Make edits accordingly.

#7 scholarship essay strategies


15. Format your essay: first, check the scholarship application. Use the font size and type and any writing format instructions specified. If none, then go standard: Times New Roman, size 12. (A scholarship essay is not the place for artistic formatting.)

16. Now, proofread for grammar. It’s time! (The OWL is a great resource for grammar questions, and a personal favorite is Grammar Girl.)

17. Let your draft sit all alone for at least a few hours, preferably a day. Go outside. Do some physical activity. Taking breaks is good for the brain, baby.

18. Get someone (a teacher or a professional) to proofread your draft for grammar as well as content. And yes,  proofreading multiple times (with at least one other set of eyes) is required for writing a strong scholarship essay. 

19. Send in your application early! Always aim to turn in work early so that if any unexpected roadblocks pop up, you have time for the detour. Also, when you turn it in early, you can spend the due date binge-reading The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.

20. Don’t reinvent the wheel. If one essay would work for more than one scholarship application, you can build on the great work you’ve already completed! Don’t send in the exact same essay, but use some of your points or even your basic structure and then tweak it so it fits the particulars.



Need more? Read 10 Scholarship Tips You Need to Know, especially if you are lacking motivation. Now, go win yourself some money!