How to Write A Successful Scholarship Essay

This post may contain affiliate links. For more details, please view our full disclosure.

These are great tips for writing a successful scholarship essay. I'm liking her track record, too.

A few weeks ago we talked about finding scholarships that give you good odds of getting awarded. But that’s just the first step. Now you actually have to apply, and a large part of your application is usually your essay.  After

I found the right approach to picking scholarships, I used this method and was awarded for everyone that I applied for.  It’s not a one-size-fits all strategy, but it is a one-size-fits most.

Don’t Tell a Sob Story in Your Scholarship Essay

While some scholarship essays will give you very specific and unique prompts, most of them come down to two basic questions:

“Why do you need this money?”


“Why should we give it to you?”

When presented with these questions, it can be very tempting to write the saddest sob story you’ve got. There are two reasons you shouldn’t do this.

The first is that someone will always have a sadder sob story than your own. Trying to compete in this way is almost always futile.

The second is that while your story may stir up some empathy, that empathy may not be enough to answer the second question. When someone considers awarding someone a large sum of money, they want to see the merit of the person. Horrible things that have happened to you are just that: things that have happened to you. Show them instead how you have built skills to be able to deal with difficult situations.

Do Use Your Scholarship Essay to Highlight Your Strengths

To begin, think of some adversity or hard decision you have experienced in your life. Brainstorm a few, as the hardest thing you’ve ever dealt with may not be the best thing to write about relative to the question or prompt.

To decide which experience is the best one for your essay, ask yourself, “How did I react? Did my reaction turn the situation around to end on a positive note or make my story one of triumph rather than tragedy?“

Now make sure you can take that experience and turn it into an anecdote. Stories make for a much more fun read for those reviewing essays.

Tie Your Story Back to the Prompt

Once you have your first draft of your anecdote, highlighting the characteristics and qualities that have made you successful, make sure to tie it back to the prompt.

Briefly cover why you need the money. You may have bills, children, a mortgage, or simply tuition rates that are outside of your economic capabilities.

Then remind the reader why you deserve that scholarship money. Reiterate the characteristics you displayed in your anecdote that will make their investment in you a good one.

Perhaps you’ll use your empathy in the world of medicine.

Perhaps you’ll use your motivation to achieve highest honors while in school.

Perhaps you’ll use your perseverance to apply for scholarships rather than just give up and say, “I can’t afford college.”

Revise Your Essay

Now that you have your entire scholarship essay written, go back and revise it. Make sure there are no grammatical errors. Make sure it makes sense. Make sure it flows well. Get someone else who will be honest with you to proofread it before sending it in.

Revision is the writer’s best friend.



Have you been awarded a scholarship?  What approach did you use in your essay?

10 thoughts on “How to Write A Successful Scholarship Essay

  1. donebyforty

    I got a scholarship for half my tuition, but I honestly can’t even remember what I wrote or said during the interviews. So, as usual, I am of no help to today’s youth. 🙂

    That’s solid advice about not writing a sob story, but rather emphasizing your own strengths or accomplishments. The same advice applies to asking for a raise. No one wants to hear about your bills…

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Well, you’re inspiration to try at the very least. 🙂
      So true about the same thing for getting a raise. It’s so much more appealing to advertise merit over desperation.

  2. femmefrugality Post author

    Such great advice! I’m so lucky to have a few readers who sit on these boards! I really appreciate your input!

  3. The Frugal Exerciser

    I was thinking about going back to school for fun to get a degree in French but the thought of preparing for tests shook me back into reality LOL. If I change my mind, I will consider getting a scholarship. Thanks for the post and visiting from Financially Savvy Saturdays .

  4. Pingback: When Things Got Financially Real - Femme Frugality

  5. Pingback: Why a Scholarship Resume is an Important Part of Your College-Funding Arsenal - Femme Frugality

  6. Pingback: How To Dodge Student Loans As A Nontraditional Student

  7. Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies

    Speaking as a secondary education teacher and a tutor who looks at dozens a year, playing your strengths is great advice. Also, looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary. Too often, students think they need to do something (or invent something!) just for these essays. It’s really apparent, sometimes painfully so.

    1. Femme

      YES. Some of the best essays I wrote were born out of seemingly ordinary circumstances. Drama isn’t what wins you the scholarship money. It’s the argument you make for yourself as a candidate that’s important.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *