Eight Steps Towards a Better Scholarship Essay
Writing a scholarship essay can be very difficult – especially if you want to do it well. Your essay will need to wow the reader, and speak directly to the goals of that organization, as well as the objectives of that award. If done properly, you will very rarely be able to submit the same application to multiple awards – it is not a one-size-fits-all; most essays will need to be tweaked or completely altered to show the reader that you are deserving of the award above and beyond any of the other participant who also applied.
Read on to find eight steps to help you write a better scholarship essay so that you can get the money you need to fund your international education.
Step 1: Read the Essay Prompt Thoroughly
Many schools and other organizations that give out scholarships will give you a "prompt" or a question which the essay is supposed to address. Read the question or prompt carefully and try to "read between the lines." For example, the prompt you are to answer might be, "Describe a book that made a lasting impression on you and your life and why?" Ask yourself, "Are they really interested in my literary preferences or is there something more to this question?" More than likely, they want to get a better idea of who you are—not only what types of books you like but also what motivates you and what sorts of stories or topics interest you. They may also be interested in getting a sense for how promising a student you are based on the type of book you choose and what you have to say about it.
Tip: Always keep in mind that any scholarship essay question, no matter the topic, should demonstrate your interests, your background, and most importantly, highlight the experiences you've had that fit with the goals and mission of the funding organization.
Instead of being given a prompt, you might be asked to write an essay on the topic of your choosing. Although challenging, this is also an opportunity to demonstrate your creativity. Finally, if anything about the directions aren't clear, don't be afraid to contact someone at the funding organization and ask for clarification.
Step 2: Make a List of Important Points and Keywords to Include
Looking for sample essays?
Check out our Sample Essay section where you can see scholarship essays, admissions essays, and more!
Regardless of the essay prompt, you will want to make sure to include the important and relevant information about your experiences and background that makes you an ideal candidate for the scholarship award. To complete this step, it can be helpful to first research the organization to which you're applying and try to find their mission statement on their website. Circle a few key words from the mission statement and make sure to include those buzzwords in your essay.
Scholarship committees are not only looking for good students, they are often looking for a person that fits their organizational goals. You should gather your other application materials such as transcripts and resumes so you can review your qualifications as well as make note of what is missing in these materials that needs to be included in the essay.
For example, if you're applying for a general academic scholarship, you might want to talk about a specific class you took that really piqued your interest or inspired your current academic and career goals. The committee will see the list of the classes that you took on your transcript but they won't know how a particular class inspired you unless you tell them. The essay is the best place to do this. Your list of important points to make might also include:
- Any academic awards or other honors you've won.
- Any AP or college-level courses you took in high school.
- Any outside courses, internships, or other academic experiences that won't necessarily appear on your transcript.
- Why your experience and the mission of the funding organization match.
- What you plan to major in during college and how you think that major will be useful to your future career goals.
- Any special training or knowledge you have, or a project you completed in school or as an extracurricular activity.
- An example of how you overcame a challenge.
- Your financial circumstances that makes it necessary for you to finance your studies through scholarship money.
The challenge now is to integrate those points that you want the committee to know with an essay that answers the prompt. You can see our example scholarship essays to get a better idea of how to do this.
Step 3: Write an Outline or a Rough Draft
Not everyone likes to make an outline before they begin writing, but in this case it can be very helpful. You can start with your list of important points to begin writing the outline. For many, telling a story is the easiest and most effective way to write a scholarship essay. You can tell the story of how you found your favorite book, and how it has changed and inspired you. Start with large headings in your outline that describes the basic storyline. For example:
- High school composition teacher recommended book
- Read it over one weekend
- Made me see the world around me differently
- Inspired me to pursue a career in social justice
Now you can start filling in the subheadings with points from your previous list:
- High school composition teacher recommended book
- Favorite class in high school
- Class opened my eyes to new ways of thinking
- Teacher noticed my enthusiasm—recommended outside reading
- Read it over one weekend
- Was the first time I was so drawn in by a book, I read it very quickly
- I realized my academic potential beyond getting good grades
- Made me see the world around me differently
- Started to look for jobs in social justice
- Interned for a summer at a law firm doing pro bono work for the poor
- This was a big challenge because I realized you can't help everyone and resources are limited
- Overcame this challenge by knowing that small change can be big, and working hard in a field you are passionate about will inspire you everyday
- Inspired me to pursue a career in social justice
- The book is a constant source of inspiration and will keep me motivated as I pursue my career
- The book will always remind me how people with limited financial resources can still make a huge difference in others' lives
Step 4: Write a Strong Statement that Summarizes Your Points
You will want to include one strong thesis statement that summarizes all the major points you will make in your essay. It is often easy to start writing with this simple statement. Your essay doesn't have to begin or end with the thesis statement, but it should appear somewhere in order to tie all the individual sections together.
For example, your thesis statement might be, "You will find that various experiences from both my academic career and my personal life align very well with your organization's mission: shaping community leaders who are working towards a more just and sustainable world." Starting with this sentence can help you organize your thoughts and main points, and provide you with a direction for your essay. When you've finished your essay, be sure to reflect back on your thesis statement and ask yourself, "Does this essay further explain and support my thesis statement?"
Step 5: Fill in the Missing Parts
Now that you have a thesis statement, an outline, and a list of important points to include, you can begin to fill in the missing parts of your story. The first sentence is particularly important: it should capture the attention of the reader, and motivate him or her to continue reading. We recommend starting your story by painting a vivid picture of an experience about which you will be talking in the essay.
For example: "It is 6 am on a hot day in July, I've already showered and I'm eating breakfast. My classmates are all sleeping in and the sun has yet to awaken, but I'm ready to seize the day, as I couldn't imagine spending my summer any other way but interning at a local law firm that specializes in representing the poor. I work a typical 8-5 day during my summer vacation and nothing has made me happier. But I wouldn't be here if it weren't for one particularly savvy teacher and a little book she gave me to read outside of class."
Step 6: Rewrite, Revise, Rewrite
A good writer rewrites and revises his or her work many, many times. After getting a first draft on paper, take a day or two away from the essay and then come back to it with fresh eyes. Make appropriate edits for content, and pay attention to proper spelling and grammar. If need be, you might want to write an entirely new draft and then integrate the best of both into a final draft. Writing a new draft can inspire you to think of new ideas or a better way to tell your story. Some other tips to think about as you rewrite and revise:
- Make sure it sounds like your voice. You want the scholarship committee to feel like they are getting to know you. If you don't sound authentic, the committee will know. It is better to be yourself than to say what you think the committee wants to hear.
- Strike a balance between modesty and arrogance. You should be proud of your accomplishments, but you don't want to sound arrogant. Don't exaggerate a story; instead be clear about what you did and the impact it had and let that speak for itself.
- Check to make sure you are answering the prompt and fulfilling all other requirements of the essay as directed by the committee, such as font preference and word count limits.
- Don't just list your accomplishments; describe them in detail and also tell the reader how you felt during these experiences.
- A scholarship essay is not a dissertation. You don't need to impress the committee with big words, especially if you're not completely clear if you're using them correctly. Simplicity and clarity should be the goals.
- Make sure your essay will be read from the beginning to the end. Committee members won't dedicate much time to reading the essay, so you need to make sure they are given motivation to read the entire thing. If you are telling a story, don't reveal the end of the story until the end.
- Check to make sure the buzzwords from the mission statement appear. It is easy to forget the scholarship committee's goals as you write. Return to their mission statement and look for spots to place keywords from the statement. Be sure, however, that you're not copying the mission statement word-for-word.
Step 7: Have someone else read your essay
Ideally, you could give your essay to a teacher or college admissions counselor who is familiar with scholarship essays and the college admission process. If such a person is not available, virtually anyone with good reading and writing skills can help make your essay better. When your editor is done reading and you've looked over his or her notes, be sure to ask the following questions:
- Was the story interesting and did it hold your attention?
- Were there any parts that were confusing?
- Did you find any spelling or grammar errors?
- Does the essay sound like my voice?
- Does the essay respond appropriately to the prompt?
- Is there anything you would have done differently or something you thought was missing?
After having an editor (or two or three) look over your draft, it is time again to revise and rewrite.
Step 8: Refine the Final Draft
Once you feel satisfied with the draft, review it one more time and pay particular attention to structure, spelling, grammar, and whether you fulfilled all the required points dictated by the committee. If you are over the required word count, you will need to make edits so that you are within the limit. If you are significantly under the word count, consider adding a supporting paragraph.
Essay Writing Center
Misconception: No one actually reads your scholarship essay! – Wrong!
Fact: Your essay is the key to your scholarship application. It is an opportunity to demonstrate to the selection committee that you are a well-rounded individual, that you are more than your GPA, that you are a strong writer, and it gives you a chance to talk about your experiences and qualifications in greater detail than what appears on your resume or transcripts.
A Highly Regarded School with Accomplished Faculty
Westphal College of Media Arts & Design at Drexel University offers six Master of Science (M.S.) degree programs that combine classroom study, studio work, and professional experience under the supervision of faculty with outstanding industry backgrounds. Master's degrees are offered in arts administration, digital media, fashion design, interior architecture and design, museum leadership, and television management.
For 6 years, Drexel has ranked among the Top 100 National Universities as chosen by "U.S. News and World Report." "Fashionista" has ranked Westphal College's fashion design program among the 'top 20 fashion schools worldwide'; "Design Intelligence" has ranked the graduate interior design program at Drexel University among the top 10 in the nation, and "The Princeton Review" has ranked Westphal's graduate game design program at sixth in the country. Drexel has also been recognized nationally for its campus security, use of technology, and outreach to military members and veterans.
Westphal faculty members are leaders in their industries. For example, Westphal Dean Allen Sabinson is the former president of production at Miramax Films and has held senior positions at A&E, TNT, ABC, ICM, NBC and Showtime.
Julie Hawkins, program director for the on-campus program Arts Administration program, served as the Executive Vice President for the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance for 12 years and has worked on ground breaking research projects in Philadelphia, including the creation of Portfolio, a comprehensive report on the depth, breadth, and health of nonprofit cultural organizations.
Jean Brody, head of the online Arts Administration program, has more than 25 years' experience in education and the arts, and has worked in a variety of roles with Philadelphia arts organizations including the Philadelphia Theatre Caravan, Hedgerow Theatre, Point Breeze Performing Arts Center, the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, Relâche, Inc., and more.
Dr. Danielle Rice, director of the Museum Leadership program, served as the Executive Director of the Delaware Art Museum since June 2005. Prior to that Dr. Rice worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art for 19 years where she served as senior curator of education and associate director for programs.
Michael G Wagner, Associate Professor and the Director of the Digital Media Program, is the scientific director of "Ludwig", a curriculum based physics learning game for middle schools that has been awarded with the German Game Developer Award for Best Serious Game 2011.
Diana Nicholas, Director of the Interior Architecture & Design program, ran a solo practice in Philadelphia executing residential interiors, storefront revitalization, space planning and adaptive interior nonprofit reuse for over 10 years. Ms. Nicholas has exhibited widely and taught architecture and interior design for 16 years at various schools universities. She has presented research works at both national and international conferences. Her work has been published and exhibited in a variety of academic journals including ARCH IN-Form, ARCC and ACSA.
Kathi Martin, head of the Fashion graduate program, has her work in the Permanent Collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and has been in editorials in British Vogue, Women's Wear Daily, The New York Sunday Times Magazine, Harpers and Queen and other fashion magazines.
Albert Tedesco, director of the Paul F. Harron Graduate Program in Television Management is also the president of Medianex, Incorporated, a marketing communications and management-consulting firm, and directs The Documentary Laboratory there. Tedesco created and directed the foundation-supported and award winning Video Documentary Laboratory at Drexel and was the founding Vice-President and General Manager of WWSG-TV57, Philadelphia's first hybrid television station.
An M.S. in Arts Administration Degree Program in a City Rich in Culture
Westphal offers 2 pathways to the Master of Science in Arts Administration degree program -- on campus and online. The campus-based course of study provides experience and networking opportunities through Philadelphia arts organizations, and the online course puts students in contact with national leaders in the field.
Philadelphia consistently ranks among "Travel and Leisure" readers' favorite cities for cultural attractions, including theater, dance, and museums. As members of Westphal's Arts Administration Graduate Association, students can further develop professional connections and build experience by planning and participating in local and regional events, including an annual art auction and National Arts Advocacy Day lobbying activities in Washington, DC.
The M.S. in Fashion Design Degree Program
Drexel's graduate fashion program prepares students for work in fashion and costume design, merchandising, and curating historical textiles and designs. The internationally recognized Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel's UBRN Center is one of the oldest research collections in the United States, with more than 12,000 objects dating back to the 16th century and more recent pieces such as clothing worn by Greta Garbo.
The M.S. in Fashion Design degree program strongly emphasizes studio work, and the Student Fashion Club puts members in touch with major players in the industry through showroom visits, trunk shows, and designer events. High-profile club guests have included designers Vera Wang, Anna Sui, Josie Natori, and David Yurman, along with designers for Ralph Lauren, Coach, Lilly Pulitzer, and Anthropologie.
A Digital Media Program with Acclaimed Game Design Resources
Westphal's Master of Science in Digital Media degree program gives students an interdisciplinary, project-oriented experience with 3D modeling and animation, game design, and projects sponsored by industry or funded by government grants. Both "The Princeton Review" and "GamePro Media" rank Drexel's graduate video game design program in their top 10.
Digital media students have access to RePlay, Drexel's interdisciplinary lab at the UBRN Center, run by Westphal and Drexel's College of Computing and Informatics. RePlay provides more than 100 high-powered workstations, an assortment of consoles and controllers across a number of brands, motion-capture systems, 3D scanners, and eye-trackers, as well as multiple recording studios and an 80-seat 3D theater.
The program reflects the fast-paced, constantly evolving field in which art, technology and science intersect. Westphal digital media graduates have gone on to work with Disney, Pixar, Microsoft, and other industry leaders.
A Rigorous Interior Architecture and Design Program
The M.S. in Interior Architecture and Design degree program at Drexel University is one of only 14 such programs certified by the Council for Interior Design Accreditation in the U.S. and Canada. As such, its graduates are qualified to sit for the National Council for Interior Design Qualification's Interior Design Fundamentals Exam. Westphal's program is also certified by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design.
Graduate students in Westphal's interior architecture and design program are trained in design, technology, ethics, and sustainability to prepare for work on public, private, and institutional projects. Most of the program's students graduate with job offers from top-tier firms.
A Forward-Looking Museum Leadership Degree Program
Westphal's M.S. in Museum Leadership degree program sets itself apart with its emphasis on technology, audience and resource development, education, and financial management in addition to traditional topics such as conserving and curating collections. The program is designed to prepare graduates to lead and grow traditional museums as well as arboreta, zoos, children's museums, historic homes, and other kinds of museums.
Two Television Management Degree Programs with Flexible Scheduling
Students in the Paul F. Harron Graduate Program in Television Management have the option of pursuing a Master of Science or a dual Master of Science and Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) path.
Both programs offer evening classes and flexible options to accommodate working adults, and both degree plans give students lots of hands-on learning opportunities through Drexel University Television (DUTV), the new Television in Service to Society civic-engagement program, and internships in Philadelphia, the 4th-largest television market in the U.S, as well as with national broadcast and cable networks.
Scholarships, Grants, and Work-Study Opportunities
Drexel's graduate scholarship options include merit-based dean's fellowships and awards, Drexel Grad Grants for undergraduate alumni who are returning for master's degrees, and the Yellow Ribbon matching-funds program for eligible veterans.
Work-study opportunities for full-time students include teaching, research, and graduate assistant positions. Part-time graduate students who work during the day may be able to earn academic credit for up to 6 months of paid work in their chosen fields through Drexel's Graduate Co-op Program.