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Writing a scholarship essay isn’t easy, but there is a strategy to it!

Writing a 500-word essay about yourself can be a challenge.

 You are not alone, though. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just stared at a blank computer screen and wondered how on earth I’d craft an essay about myself that would be interesting enough to win a scholarship. I’d start typing a line and immediately erase it. Rinse and repeat for the next four days or so until eventually, I’m forced to either write the essay in one night or skip the scholarship application altogether.


 The most common essay requirement for the majority of scholarships?

 Personal Statement: In 500 words or less, tell us about your career goals.

 Looking at that topic, most people, including me, would immediately start writing about their career goals. I mean, after all, isn’t that what they’re asking for? I’ve learned that’s not exactly the best strategy. Let me explain…

Scholarship providers are real people who truly care about who you are and what you want to do. As passionate individuals, they are much less interested in understanding WHAT you want to do than WHY you want to do it. If your dream is to become a doctor, a scholarship provider is much more interested in hearing what experiences led you to that conclusion. There are thousands of students who are smart and want to become doctors for very different reasons. It’s incredibly important to answer the WHY in your scholarship essay.

In the How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay series, I’m going to discuss how to prep for a scholarship essay and how to write a compelling masterpiece that is reusable for multiple scholarships (read: you’ll only have to write ONE essay!).

For now, here are three questions that you’ll need to answer before you start writing your scholarship essay:

 1.      What/who motivates you?

What is it about your major or career choice that gets you excited? Let’s say you wanted to be a teacher. What is motivating that? Did you have an amazing teacher who influenced you early in your childhood? Did you have a really bad teacher that traumatized you? The answer could be anything at all, just make sure it means something to you.

 2.      Have you faced any hardships?

“Hardships” should be thought of as a grey area. Your hardship doesn’t have to be some epically tragic event that devastated your world. Instead, maybe a parent lost a job and you took on a part-time gig to help out. Think about a time where you were faced with a challenge and how you overcame (or tried to overcome) it.

3.      Think about a moment that inspired you

When I was younger, I used to set up stands outside of my house and sell the various fruits that grew in my backyard. I still remember the very first time someone handed me a $5 bill for a tray of mangos. That moment was critical. It was the first moment I learned how to be an entrepreneur and tasted the freedom of creating my own income. Notice how that moment was less about the events (getting paid $5 for a box of mangoes is not particularly interesting), but more about what that moment meant to me and how it shaped me to be the person I am today.

When you’re brainstorming about these events, people, or motivations in your life, try to think of them in terms of stories.  Using lines like “in that moment I realized…” or “that day I learned to never…” really make an ordinary moment into something grand and meaningful. Think long and hard about your story (and DO NOT think about what a scholarship provider wants to hear).

In Part II of the How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay Series, I’ll deconstruct the personal statement topic and give you a template for writing your own essay.

(Photo: Wermibug/Flickr)

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  1. Akbar kyzy Alina January 28, 2013 / 4:49 am

    I want to win scholarship essay

  2. Gregory Granger April 24, 2014 / 10:05 pm

    I am inspired by the jewels of wisdom you have to share about scholarship writing. I am a student at a community college and I receive financial aide. I was told by our financial aide department that I want qualify for any scholarships because I receive financial aide. Is this true?

    • Ryan Lane April 25, 2014 / 1:21 pm

      Thanks for writing, Gregory! It sounds like there may be some confusion home. Hopefully, we can help.

      Many scholarships come from private organizations, and you can definitely win those if you receive financial aid. The two have little effect on one another–except getting scholarships means you likely won’t have to borrow as much in loans!

      Scholarships can also come from schools, and perhaps yours has eligibility requirements in line with what you said. Or, there may have been a deadline to apply for these that already passed this year. I’d suggest going back to your financial aid office and talking it through with them a bit more.

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