Writing a College Scholarship Essay

The thick envelopes with good news and glossy brochures have started to arrive and you’re ecstatic about landing a spot at that dream school. You have every right to be proud and revel in your accomplishment, but below that joy and excitement is the reality of paying for tuition, living expenses, books, and plan tickets home. 

College is expensive. It’s no wonder that 85% of students receive financial aid during their academic careers.  To that end, there’s a lot you can do to help offset the cost through scholarships.  

College Scholarship Essay 101

One of the best places to search for scholarships is in a database like Scholarship Owl.  Once you find a handful (or more) scholarships that you’re interested in, be prepared to write an essay as part of the application.  Yes, it’s a pain and yes you’ve written so many essays already for college applications, but a good essay can lead to a scholarship worth thousands of dollars.  Put it this way, you’re crazy if you don’t at least try to get FREE MONEY!

One way to snag that free money is to make sure your college scholarship essay is a winner.   

Here’s the thing, just because you’ve been in the essay-writing zone lately, doesn’t necessarily mean you can reuse your original essays or that those original essays even lived up to their potential. Thankfully, scholarship essays are a lot like application essays.  Brush up on these writing tips and improve your chances of rolling in some extra college cash.

Know your audience.

The first thing to remember when writing an essay is the audience. Good writing always accounts for who is going to read the essay. For a scholarship, you can assume a few keys things:

  1. The reader will have to review a lot of essays in a short amount of time. In many cases, you’ll have a couple of minutes’ attention from the person reading your essay to make an impression
  1. With such a limited amount of time, trying to be clever or creative is a real risk. It takes more time to recognize subtleties in an essay and time is something evaluators don’t have. Writing a focused, direct, and organized essay is much less risky. Plus, when there are a lot of essays to read, these characteristics help you stand out. 

Stay focused, direct, organized.

Scholarship committees, like college admissions officers, read hundreds of essays and have a streamlined processes in place to churn through the applications. In many cases they have evaluation standards that need to be met.  If your essay answers these points, you’ve got an edge in the free-money competition.

  • You offer a clear answer to the question.
  • You develop a discussion with clear examples and connect those examples to the overall point.
  • Your essay is organized.

So how do you write a focused, direct, and organized college scholarship essay? The same way you would write an essay for a class. 

  1. State the main point of your essay in the first paragraph. 
  2. Introduce examples and ideas to develop your essay. 
  3. Develop a main idea in each body paragraph that focuses on that singular idea. 
  4. End your essay by summarizing your discussion and leaving your reader with something to think about. 


Like any sport or musical instrument, writing a solid essay takes practice Imagine you are applying for a $5,000 scholarship. Part of the application asks you to write an essay about this question: Explain one of your passions. How has that passion influenced your life so far and how might that passion continue to influence your life once you go to college?

Think about how you would answer this question. If you’re applying for a few scholarships, try and write an essay that answers this question, keeping in mind the audience and the need for focus, direction, and organization.