How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay – Forbes Advisor

Editorial Note: We earn a commission on partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect the opinions or ratings of our editors.

Enrolling in colleges is a lot of work for high school students. Whether you have the help of friends and family or go it alone, completing applications takes a lot of time, effort and energy. The same goes for finding ways to pay for school.

Scholarships and grants are free financial aid, which means that they do not have to be repaid. The more free money you get to pay for college, the less you need to borrow through student loans. While grants are need-based awards, scholarships tend to be merit-based. Sometimes organizations use grants and scholarships interchangeably, so make sure you know the requirements before submitting your applications.

If you’re browsing for scholarships that require an essay, you might not even want to complete an application, especially if writing doesn’t come naturally to you. But there are ways to reduce anxiety and complete a winning scholarship essay. Here’s how you can do it.

8 tips for writing a scholarship essay

1. Start early

The sooner you start exploring scholarship opportunities, the more time you will have to organize. It is a common myth that you have to have top grades or be a star athlete to get a scholarship. There are many types of awards for all kinds of students.

Start by browsing through different topics of interest and those related to your background. For example, there are scholarships based on:

  • Race and ethnicity
  • sex
  • Military Affiliation
  • Artistic or athletic ability
  • SAT or ACT scores
  • Religion
  • Major
  • School location
  • Grade point average (GPA)
  • Student organizations
  • Public Service
  • Disabled

Start by finding the most relevant scholarships for you. These can be those based on your major or where you go to school. If you don’t have a potential major band yet, you can focus on your interests or background. Getting organized helps you stay on track and gives you time to complete all available applications. The longer you wait, the more likely you are to miss scholarship opportunities.

2. Learn about the organization

Most scholarships are awarded by a private or non-profit organization or group. Whichever institution is sponsoring the award, take a few minutes to review its mission, “about” page, and other relevant information.

Although it is not necessary to know the organization directly for your scholarship essay, it helps you know who your target audience is and what they may be looking for in a candidate. This extra step also shows that you are going beyond the minimum requirements to complete a task. This is a great trait in a potential scholarship winner.

3. Find a topic that interests you

If you are planning to major in chemistry and are looking for scholarships related to your field of study, this could be a chance to prove to you that this is the right major for you. It’s easier to write a killer essay if you’re passionate about the subject, even with no writing experience. It’s easier to spend time covering a topic you like than one you don’t.

When reviewing potential rewards, organize your list based on those that best match your interests. The ones you know well and are passionate about will probably be easier to apply than the others.

4. Read These Instructions (Again)

Taking some time to review the requirements will help you in the long run. Find out if you are eligible for an award and what you need to do to submit your application. Check the deadline, submission page and any other relevant information you need. Pay close attention to the writing rules and stick to the requested word count, prompt, and other instructions.

Many organizations can weed out ineligible submissions quite easily. Make sure your essay gets the chance it deserves by sticking to your duty.

5. Use a good hook

Your introduction is how you grab the reader right off the bat. Having a solid introduction can help you stand out among a crowded pool of applicants.

Think about things you’ve read that immediately hooked you, like books or articles that stuck with you for a long time. Starting your essay with a startling fact, a compelling anecdote, or an unexpected question can grab the reader’s attention and make an immediate impression.

If you’re not sure what a good hook looks like, take some time to read sample scholarship essays and write down what you like about them. Even the bad ones can help you see what you should avoid when writing.

6. Be personal

If appropriate, don’t be afraid to share personal stories. All applicants for a certain scholarship write on the same prompts and are likely to come up with similar answers. Your unique stories are what can make you stand out from the crowd.

Whether it’s your education, life experiences, goals, or how the scholarship will help you, giving specific examples of how the award relates to your life has more impact than simply explain why you deserve to win.

Keep in mind that even if you’re writing to a specific audience, the best way to get noticed is to be yourself. There is no need to embellish or exaggerate; simply sharing your story and experiences is enough to set you apart from others.

7. Be positive

Every scholarship reader and judge is different, so what trumps one may be overlooked by another. Detailing the difficulties may be difficult for you to share, but showing how you overcame these difficulties (or plan to do so with the help of this scholarship) might be a better way forward.

Try to leave the reader feeling hopeful about your future by staying positive throughout your essay, even if you’re talking about difficult topics or feelings.

8. Get a second look

Once you’ve written and edited your essay, it’s still not done. Ask a friend or relative to review your essay. They can come to it with fresh eyes and let you know what is missing (if any). Everyone needs an editor, so use your network to see what improvements could be made.


One of the hardest parts of applying for scholarships is the scholarship essays. It’s not easy to keep track of everything you have to do and when you have to do it. That’s why it’s important to get everything in order as soon as possible. Preparation is your ally when it comes to finding free ways to pay for your education.

Since all scholarships have different amounts, requirements, and qualifying factors, it can seem like a lot of work to keep track of it all. But staying organized will help you navigate the world of college financial aid.

Compare personalized student loan rates

Takes up to 3 minutes

Comments are closed.