How to Draft Scholarship Essays That Make You Stand Out

The scholarship essay is one of the most important parts of a scholarship application. This essay gives you a chance to introduce yourself, share your story and motivations, and help selection committees get to know the person behind the application materials. With so much riding on one essay, it can be challenging to figure out where to start and craft an essay that stands out. This comprehensive guide covers how to draft scholarship essays; the scholarship essay writing process from brainstorming to proofreading so you can create a compelling essay.

Understanding the Prompt

Before you begin writing, take time to thoroughly analyze the essay prompt or question. Make sure you understand exactly what it is asking you to write about and the key details to include. Break the prompt down into sections and highlight the keywords. Some examples of common scholarship essay prompts include:

  • How will you use your college degree to impact society?
  • Share a personal story that shaped who you are today.
  • Why do you deserve to win this scholarship?
  • Describe your career goals and how they relate to your field of study.
  • Who in your life inspired you the most and why?

Carefully considering what the prompt is asking before you start drafting your response ensures your essay directly addresses the topic.

Brainstorming Ideas

Brainstorming is an essential step that gives your essay direction and substance. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and jot down any ideas that come to mind related to the prompt. Don’t self-edit at this stage – just write down any thoughts freely. Consider:

  • Key experiences, accomplishments, activities relevant to the prompt
  • Values, passions, hobbies, talents that make you unique
  • People, books, events that influenced you significantly
  • Hardships overcome, challenges faced, lessons learned
  • Dreams, goals, impact you hope to make in college and beyond

Review your brainstorm list and circle or star the 3-5 most compelling ideas to focus your essay around. Make sure to directly link these ideas back to the scholarship goals and your own qualities and motivations.

Creating an Outline

With your main essay points identified, create an outline to organize your structure. This provides an overarching map of your essay before you begin writing sentences. Your outline should include:

  • Introduction: Hook capturing attention, background context if needed, thesis statement previewing main focus.
  • Body Paragraphs: Each focused on one main idea, with topic sentence stating point, specific examples/details, and explanations demonstrating relevance to prompt.
  • Conclusion: Transition sentence, restate key points, final memorable thought that conveys your passions.

Keeping the essay structure in mind from the outset will make the writing process much smoother.

Writing a Strong Draft

Now it’s time to bring your scholarship essay outline to life in a compelling first draft. As you write each paragraph, consider the following elements:

Opening Hook

The first 1-2 sentences are crucial for immediately engaging the reader before delving into the meat of your essay. Effective hooks include:

  • Rhetorical question – e.g. “What does leadership mean in the face of adversity?”
  • Relevant quote – e.g. “As Michelle Obama said, ‘There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.'”
  • Poignant anecdote – briefly introduce a personal story that illustrates your motivation.
  • Vivid description – create a mental image capturing the setting of a pivotal moment.

Transition Sentences

Transition smoothly between ideas using sentences that create logical bridges between paragraphs. Some techniques:

  • Reference the previous point – “Now that I understood the power of perseverance…”
  • State the relationship between points – “Not only did this experience shape my work ethic, but also my perspective on teamwork.”
  • Use ordering transition words – “Firstly, Secondly, Finally”

Topic Sentences

Concisely state the main idea of each paragraph in a topic sentence close to the start. This gives direction to the reader upfront about your paragraph’s focus.

Specific Examples

Back up your main points with specific, vivid examples and anecdotes. Provide interesting details, dialogue, descriptions, and facts. However, be sure to balance specifics with analysis explaining the significance of these examples.

Unique Voice and Style

Let your natural writing voice shine through using active language and varying sentence structure. Avoid overly formal or clichéd language in attempting to sound academic. The scholarship committee wants to hear your genuine voice.

Proofreading Your Essay

After completing your draft, set it aside for a day before revising. Then proofread line-by-line with fresh eyes, keeping these tips in mind:

Follow Instructions

Verify you met all requirements like word/page limits and addressing every part of the prompt. Omitting key requested elements can disqualify you.

Check Structure and Flow

Revise any transitions between paragraphs to ensure logical flow. Make sure your introduction sets up the overall focus coherently and your conclusion wraps up with a memorable final statement.

Edit Language

Tighten up sentences wordily, split into multiple sentences if needed. Vary sentence length and structure to enhance flow. Sprinkle in rhetorical questions and pivotal quotes when relevant.

Fix Grammar/Spelling Errors

Run spellcheckers and grammar checkers to catch typos and errors. However, don’t rely solely on technology – double check issues it may miss.

Avoid Clichés and Generalities

Remove overused phrases and vague claims that lack concrete evidence. Replace with specific, original examples demonstrating your points.

Check Tone

Ensure your essay tone is aligned with the prompt and your brand. You want to come across as intelligent but approachable – not overly formal or informal.

Completing Final Touches

How to Draft Scholarship Essays That Make You Stand Out

With your revised draft polished, complete these final steps:

  • Check word count/page limits – condense or expand if needed
  • Proofread aloud – catch errors your eye may miss
  • Ask others to proofread – teachers, mentors, peers
  • Read one last time before submitting – be your own final editor

Following this comprehensive process will produce a compelling, polished scholarship essay that makes you stand out!

Sample Scholarship Essay Prompts and Responses

Below are examples responses to common scholarship prompts:

Prompt: How will you contribute to the diversity of experiences at our university and what unique perspectives will you share?

Sample Response: As a first-generation Jamaican immigrant, I will bring a diverse perspective to campus life. Moving to America as a child completely shifted my cultural identity and worldview. I struggled initially to fit in but found a community in dance. Now as a dancer and choreographer, I am driven to celebrate diversity and help others feel welcomed. In college, I will immerse myself in multicultural courses and clubs, share my immigrant experiences through campus exhibits and events, and use art as a vehicle to promote inclusion. I am committed to fostering empathy and embracing our shared humanity regardless of background.

Prompt: Describe a personal accomplishment that ignited your passion for your field of study.

Sample Response: Discovering computer programming in high school opened my eyes to the power of technology. Our assignment was to code a simple video game, so I designed a math quiz game aimed at elementary students. The feeling when I saw my game come to life for the first time fueled my passion for STEM. Debugging code for hours taught me persistence and problem-solving skills that instilled confidence. Seeing how coding enables innovating new ways to help people inspired me to major in computer science. I aim to keep that spark alive by continuing to push boundaries and develop programs that improve lives.

Prompt: How have you overcome a major obstacle or challenge in your life?

Sample Response: My family’s house burning down my sophomore year tested my resilience like no other. In one day, we lost everything. The fire scarred me emotionally, from losing cherished possessions to the terror of escaping the smoke and flames. But with community support, we slowly rebuilt our lives. I took on extra jobs without complaint to help my family through this setback. Though we felt beaten down at times, we drew strength from each other. Today I view challenges as opportunities to learn. This perspective on overcoming adversity will guide me in college and beyond when faced with hard times. I know that uniting courage, compassion, and tenacity can help conquer any trial.

Frequently Asked Questions

How personal should I get in a scholarship essay?

Share appropriate personal details that support your main essay points while maintaining some boundaries. Avoid oversharing intensely private struggles. Use discretion to decide which life experiences to spotlight in relation to the prompt.

Do spelling and grammar mistakes ruin your chances?

Typos and minor errors won’t necessarily ruin your chances but can reflect poorly on your writing skills and attention to detail. Proofread thoroughly so easily correctable mistakes do not undermine an otherwise compelling essay.

Should I reuse essays or parts of essays?

Ideally your scholarship essays should each be custom tailored to the specific prompts. However, reusing or repurposing strong paragraphs that fit multiple prompts can save time. Just be sure the overall essay still flows cohesively and answers the unique question.

Is a sob story approach effective?

Sob stories focused heavily on traumatic experiences can come across as emotionally manipulative. Discussion of challenges is fine but should constitute only part of a balanced, nuanced essay showcasing your perseverance. Don’t let hardship define your entire narrative.

Do I have to write about my intended major?

Not necessarily. Unless the prompt asks about your major, you can elaborate on any topic or experience meaningful to you. Just ensure it connects back to your qualities and passion. Writing about your major is also fine if it represents a pivotal interest.

Should I pay for professional essay editing services?

Essay editing services can provide helpful feedback but are expensive. Free options like asking teachers, peers, and family to review your essay can provide quality input. The most important editor is yourself – revise and proofread thoroughly before submitting any essay.

Is there an ideal essay length?

Follow any length requirements specified in the application. If no length is given, 500-650 words or 1-2 single spaced pages is typical. Don’t exceed length limits. Concise, compelling essays can be more impactful than long, rambling ones.

How do I get started if I have writer’s block?

Writer’s block when facing a blank page is common. Try free writing about the general topic to get thoughts flowing without pressure. Or brainstorm out loud with someone else to generate ideas. Starting by outlining your structure can also get momentum going.

Should I take risks with unconventional approaches?

On scholarship essays, it’s best to avoid gimmicks or risky stylistic choices that could backfire. Stick to a traditional narrative format highlighting your qualities through engaging examples. Save creative risks for when you are an established, exceptional writer.

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