What You Need to Know About Scholarships and Scholarship Essays

Scholarship discussion.
What You Need to Know About Scholarships and Scholarship Essays

If you're nearing the end of your high school career and are realizing that the price of going to college is quite expensive, you're definitely not alone. Many students of all ages who choose to continue their education at colleges and universities across the country often find themselves buried in debt, sometimes lasting for years after they've left the academic scene. Taking the time to plan your path, evaluate your finances, and research options can lead to successful strategies that place you in prime position to be debt-free upon receiving your college degree. One option that has the power to directly impact both your education and your wallet is scholarships. Completing scholarship applications in a timely manner is essential if you wish to be considered. To give yourself the best chance of being selected for the monetary award, your time, effort, and strategy will prove to be of utmost importance, especially when it comes to writing your application essay. In this post, we'll cover the most important details you should know about scholarships and, in particular, the essay component of the application.

Why do organizations offer scholarships?

As organizations, businesses, programs, and schools near and far open their doors in service of others across the country and around the world, they often seek to offer financial awards to those who align with their mission and goals in some predetermined way. Offering scholarships creates opportunities for recipients to not only progress in their personal lives, but to share what they come to learn and experience with others they meet on their life journey. This far-reaching impact often furthers the work of the scholarship sponsors and their efforts to achieve their goals.

What types of scholarships are there?

There are numerous types of scholarships available to students of all ages. Here are 10 common scholarship categories (list is not inclusive):

  1. Academic scholarships

  2. Merit scholarships

  3. Athletic scholarships

  4. Music scholarships

  5. Military scholarships

  6. Theatrical/Drama scholarships

  7. Interest-specific scholarships

  8. Scholarships for minorities

  9. Community service scholarships

  10. Legacy scholarships

When considering scholarships, don't put any limits on your thinking. If you have experience, skills, or achievements--which we all have in some way, shape, or form--take a chance and search for awards that are related. There's a really good possibility you'll discover an opportunity, or two, or maybe even more!

Where do I find information on available scholarships?

With access to the Internet, you can easily find scholarship information on websites. Colleges, universities, non-profit organizations, private businesses, and other entities often post scholarship details on their websites, marketing materials, and press releases. If you don't have access to the Internet at home or at school, visit your local library as many have computer stations available for public use. If you're currently a student, schedule an appointment to meet with your guidance counselor, academic advisor, or college counselor; they usually receive information on opportunities available to students.

Why do most scholarship applications require an essay?

With potentially thousands of interested scholarship seekers and only a limited amount of awards available, it's important and useful to have details about applicants that are not easily found in measurable data such as grade point averages, test scores, and lists of extracurricular activities. By requiring written statements in response to a prompt or question, scholarship committees have access to additional details such as critical thinking, communication, decision making, and reasoning skills. They also can learn about applicants' personalities, styles, interests, outlook, attitude, and other personal qualities that aren't easily gathered with checkboxes and fill-in-the-blank fields.

What is the best way to write a scholarship essay?

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, your time, effort, and strategy are of utmost importance if you wish to be considered for a scholarship. With potentially thousands of applicants vying to be selected, you need to shine--to stand out--above the rest. The way to achieve this is by:

  1. Setting plenty of time aside to read and think about the essay prompt or short-answer question listed on the application form. The more time you have, the better your brainstorming sessions, writing periods, and editing phases are likely to be. Quality work and unique insights rarely result when stress is high and the pressure is on. Avoid last minute work if at all possible.

  2. Putting focused consideration into the essay question and reflect on how it relates to you personally. Think about relevant past experiences, reflect on how these experiences made you feel, and evaluate and share what you learned as a result. Write your response in a way that is true to you. Remember: It's common for logistics of experiences to be similar from one person to the next, whether it's through paid or volunteer positions, school, or extracurricular activities. You are the sole factor that is unique amongst the other applicants who are also unique in their own ways. If you want to stand out, you need to include your personal touch in your essay, which means writing your story in your voice and style. In this way, you can transform the experience of working at the local grocery store, for example, from bagging groceries, doing price checks, and pushing carts (logistics of the job) to building relationships with frequent shoppers and receiving a hug or handshake each week after you've helped them to their car (personal touch and impact).

  3. Following a strategy that helps you to align 1) yourself; your knowledge, skills, and abilities; and your experiences and goals, with 2) the scholarship provider's mission, activities, and eligibility requirements. You'll greatly improve your chances of being selected for a scholarship award if you show that you're a good fit for their program and what they strive to achieve as an organization.

How long should my scholarship essay response be?

The length of your response should remain within the limits described in the application's instructions. Some allow only 50 words, others ask for 500, and yet others may not set a limit. Before you start writing, be sure to read the directions carefully so you know exactly what the minimum and maximum limits are. Show that you are respectful of their written requests, that you know how to follow directions, and that you pay attention to details. If there is a high word or character limit allotted, you'll have more flexibility to elaborate on the information you choose to share. Topics you choose to write about should be highly relevant to the prompt and should be followed by specific supporting examples and details to tell your story. Do your best to not veer off subject! Every word or character space matters, so you need to be picky in where you put your focus. If the word count is low, such as 50 words or less, put your time and effort into phrasing your ideas clearly and concisely. Know the message you want to send and get to the point in sending it. Throughout our experiences of working with students, we've observed how word and character limits can greatly affect the flow of details and getting those ideas written out on paper. It's like a ton of bricks fall suddenly in front of the minds of applicants. A simple way to work through this invisible, but very real barrier, is to ignore the limits as you write your first draft. Make it your goal to just write--write everything you feel is relevant. Don't edit, don't re-read your sentences, don't try to find the "right" words--just write. After you have your first draft completed, do a quick run-through from beginning to end to see if any new ideas pop up in your mind or if anything seems irrelevant or out of place. After this step, then start the process of pruning the ideas you've written to just the key points. Once you've identified the key points, put your attention to editing and cleaning up your essay until you feel it answers the prompt or question honestly and thoroughly. Piecing words together to craft powerful phrases and sentences within a limited amount of space takes time and effort, but it is very achievable. We've seen successes with our strategy time and time again, which is why we're so confident that it can be done. If you have a method that works well for you and gets the job done to your complete satisfaction, put it to work as quickly as possible so you don't waste any time. If you don't have a method, click on the Contact Us link below and send us your questions to get the ball rolling in the right direction.

What if the essay prompt asks for a formal essay?

In some cases, the scholarship committee may want you to take a more formal, academic or professional approach to your essay rather than a creative or narrative approach. For these situations, first and foremost, follow the instructions listed on the application. You'll likely need to use the typical essay format of including an introduction and thesis statement, body paragraphs consisting of supporting details for the thesis statement, and the concluding paragraph to summarize what you've written. If you find that you're unsure of what's being requested, contact the scholarship sponsor for clarification.


Scholarship awards are plentiful and are absolutely worth looking into if you plan to further your education at a college or university. To set yourself up for the best chance to receive a financial scholarship, it's important to devote time and quality effort to your application materials, which often requires an essay or two. Pay particular attention to word count or character limits, if any, and do your best to respond to the prompt or question authentically and concisely. If a formal response is needed, use the formatting and style that consists of the introduction, body, and conclusion paragraphs. If you're unsure of how to approach the essay, reach out to the scholarship provider for more information. Taking this extra step to clarify uncertainties may be uncomfortable to do at first, but it will point you in the right direction to have the best chance at completing your application packet properly. Invest in yourself and increase your chances of reducing--or maybe even eliminating--the debt that often accumulates during many students' college years.

A final word…

Keep in mind that scholarship opportunities are always meant to have award winners. The amount of recipients will vary depending on how the scholarship sponsors choose to divide the available funds, but there will always be at least one person who receives a reward. Knowing this, keep your head in the game and take a chance on yourself. You deserve the opportunity just like every other eligible applicant! If you meet the minimum qualifications for the scholarship, consider completing the application materials. If you're hesitant because the application or an essay component leaves you feeling overwhelmed, reach out to us and let us help you. Contact us here and we'll get back to you.