Sample Scholarship Essays
If you’re applying for a scholarship, chances are you are going to need to write an essay. Very few scholarship programs are based solely on an application form or transcript. The essay is often the most important part of your application; it gives the scholarship committee a sense of who you are and your dedication to your goals. You’ll want to make sure that your scholarship essay is the best it can possibly be.
Unless specified otherwise, scholarship essays should always use the following formatting:
- Double spaced
- Times New Roman font
- 12 point font
- One-inch top, bottom, and side margins
Other useful tips to keep in mind include:
- Read the instructions thoroughly and make sure you completely understand them before you start writing.
- Think about what you are going to write and organize your thoughts into an outline.
- Write your essay by elaborating on each point you included in your outline.
- Use clear, concise, and simple language throughout your essay.
- When you are finished, read the question again and then read your essay to make sure that the essay addresses every point.
For more tips on writing a scholarship essay, check out our Eight Steps Towards a Better Scholarship Essay .
The Book that Made Me a Journalist
Prompt: Describe a book that made a lasting impression on you and your life and why.It is 6 am on a hot day in July and I’ve already showered and eaten breakfast. I know that my classmates are all sleeping in and enjoying their summer break, but I don’t envy them; I’m excited to start my day interning with a local newspaper doing investigative journalism. I work a typical 8-5 day during my summer vacation and despite the early mornings, nothing has made me happier. Although it wasn't clear to me then, looking back on my high school experiences and everything that led to me to this internship, I believe this path began with a particularly savvy teacher and a little book she gave me to read outside of class.
I was taking a composition class, and we were learning how to write persuasive essays. Up until that point, I had had average grades, but I was always a good writer and my teacher immediately recognized this. The first paper I wrote for the class was about my experience going to an Indian reservation located near my uncle's ranch in southwest Colorado. I wrote of the severe poverty experienced by the people on the reservation, and the lack of access to voting booths during the most recent election. After reading this short story, my teacher approached me and asked about my future plans. No one had ever asked me this, and I wasn't sure how to answer. I said I liked writing and I liked thinking about people who are different from myself. She gave me a book and told me that if I had time to read it, she thought it would be something I would enjoy. I was actually quite surprised that a high school teacher was giving me a book titled Lies My Teacher Told Me. It had never occurred to me that teachers would lie to students. The title intrigued me so much that on Friday night I found myself staying up almost all night reading, instead of going out with friends.
In short, the book discusses several instances in which typical American history classes do not tell the whole story. For example, the author addresses the way that American history classes do not usually address about the Vietnam War, even though it happened only a short time ago. This made me realize that we hadn't discussed the Vietnam War in my own history class! The book taught me that, like my story of the Indian reservation, there are always more stories beyond what we see on the surface and what we’re taught in school. I was inspired to continue to tell these stories and to make that my career.
For my next article for the class, I wrote about the practice of my own high school suspending students, sometimes indefinitely, for seemingly minor offenses such as tardiness and smoking. I found that the number of suspensions had increased by 200% at my school in just three years, and also discovered that students who are suspended after only one offense often drop out and some later end up in prison. The article caused quite a stir. The administration of my school dismissed it, but it caught the attention of my local newspaper. A local journalist worked with me to publish an updated and more thoroughly researched version of my article in the local newspaper. The article forced the school board to revisit their “zero tolerance” policy as well as reinstate some indefinitely suspended students.I won no favors with the administration and it was a difficult time for me, but it was also thrilling to see how one article can have such a direct effect on people’s lives. It reaffirmed my commitment to a career in journalism.
This is why I’m applying for this scholarship. Your organization has been providing young aspiring journalists with funds to further their skills and work to uncover the untold stories in our communities that need to be reported. I share your organization’s vision of working towards a more just and equitable world by uncovering stories of abuse of power. I have already demonstrated this commitment through my writing in high school and I look forward to pursuing a BA in this field at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. With your help, I will hone my natural instincts and inherent writing skills. I will become a better and more persuasive writer and I will learn the ethics of professional journalism.
I sincerely appreciate the committee’s time in evaluating my application and giving me the opportunity to tell my story. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Scholarship Essay Do's and Don'ts
|Do:||Follow the prompt and other instructions exactly. You might write a great essay but it may get your application rejected if you don’t follow the word count guidelines or other formatting requirements.|
|DON'T:||Open your essay with a quote. This is a well-worn strategy that is mostly used ineffectively. Instead of using someone else’s words, use your own.|
|DON'T:||Use perfunctory sentences such as, “In this essay, I will…”|
|DO:||Be clear and concise. Make sure each paragraph discusses only one central thought or argument.|
|DON'T:||Use words from a thesaurus that are new to you. You may end up using the word incorrectly and that will make your writing awkward. Keep it simple and straightforward. The point of the essay is to tell your story, not to demonstrate how many words you know.|
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Planners and Searchers
Prompt: In 600 words or less, please tell us about yourself and why you are applying for this scholarship. Please be clear about how this scholarship will help you achieve your personal and professional goals.
Being African, I recognize Africa’s need for home- grown talent in the form of “planners” (assistants with possible solutions) and “searchers” (those with desperate need) working towards international development. I represent both. Coming from Zimbabwe my greatest challenge is in helping to improve the livelihoods of developing nations through sustainable development and good governance principles. The need for policy-makers capable of employing cross-jurisdictional, and cross- disciplinary strategies to solve complex challenges cannot be under-emphasized; hence my application to this scholarship program.
After graduating from Africa University with an Honors degree in Sociology and Psychology, I am now seeking scholarship support to study in the United States at the Master’s level. My interest in democracy, elections, constitutionalism and development stems from my lasting interest in public policy issues. Accordingly, my current research interests in democracy and ethnic diversity require a deeper understanding of legal processes of constitutionalism and governance. As a Master’s student in the US, I intend to write articles on these subjects from the perspective of someone born, raised, and educated in Africa. I will bring a unique and much-needed perspective to my graduate program in the United States, and I will take the technical and theoretical knowledge from my graduate program back with me to Africa to further my career goals as a practitioner of good governance and community development.
To augment my theoretical understanding of governance and democratic practices, I worked with the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) as a Programs Assistant in the Monitoring and Observation department. This not only enhanced my project management skills, but also developed my skills in research and producing communication materials. ZESN is Zimbabwe’s biggest election observation organization, and I had the responsibility of monitoring the political environment and producing monthly publications on human rights issues and electoral processes. These publications were disseminated to various civil society organizations, donors and other stakeholders. Now I intend to develop my career in order to enhance Africa’s capacity to advocate, write and vote for representative constitutions.
I also participated in a fellowship program at Africa University, where I gained greater insight into social development by teaching courses on entrepreneurship, free market economics, and development in needy communities. I worked with women in rural areas of Zimbabwe to setup income-generating projects such as the jatropha soap-making project. Managing such a project gave me great insight into how many simple initiatives can transform lives.
Your organization has a history of awarding scholarships to promising young students from the developing world in order to bring knowledge, skills and leadership abilities to their home communities. I have already done some of this work but I want to continue, and with your assistance, I can. The multidisciplinary focus of the development programs I am applying to in the US will provide me with the necessary skills to creatively address the economic and social development challenges and develop sound public policies for Third World countries. I thank you for your time and consideration for this prestigious award.
Scholarship Essay Do's and Don'ts
|DO:||Research the organization and make sure you understand their mission and values and incorporate them into your essay.|
|DO:||Focus on your strengths and turn in any problems or weaknesses into a success story.|
|DO:||Use actual, detailed examples from your own life to backup your claims and arguments as to why you should receive the scholarship.|
|DO:||Proofread several times before finally submitting your essay.|
|DON'T:||Rehash what is already stated on your resume. Choose additional, unique stories to tell sell yourself to the scholarship committee.|
|DON'T:||Simply state that you need the money. Even if you have severe financial need, it won’t help to simply ask for the money and it may come off as tacky.|
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Saving the Manatees
Prompt: Please give the committee an idea of who you are and why you are the perfect candidate for the scholarship.
It is a cliché to say that I’ve always known what I want to do with my life, but in my case it happens to be true. When I first visited Sea World as a young child, I fell in love with marine animals in general. Specifically, I felt drawn to manatees. I was compelled by their placid and friendly nature. I knew then and there that I wanted to dedicate my life to protecting these beautiful creatures.
Since that day in Orlando, I have spent much of my spare time learning everything there is to know about manatees. As a junior high and high school student, I attempted to read scholarly articles on manatees from scientific journals. I annoyed my friends and family with scientific facts about manatees-- such as that they are close relatives of elephants--at the dinner table. I watched documentaries, and even mapped their migration pattern on a wall map my sister gave me for my birthday.
When I was chosen from hundreds of applicants to take part in a summer internship with Sea World, I fell even more in love with these gentle giants. I also learned a very important and valuable lesson: prior to this internship, I had imagined becoming a marine biologist, working directly with the animals in their care both in captivity and in the wild. However, during the internship, I discovered that this is not where my strengths lie. Unfortunately, I am not a strong student in science or math, which are required skills to become a marine biologist. Although this was a disheartening realization, I found that I possess other strengths can still be of great value to manatees and other endangered marine mammals: my skills as a public relations manager and communicator. During the internship, I helped write new lessons and presentations for elementary school groups visiting the park and developed a series of fun activities for children to help them learn more about manatees as well as conservation of endangered species in general. I also worked directly with the park’s conservation and communication director, and helped develop a new local outreach program designed to educate Floridians on how to avoid hitting a manatee when boating. My supervisor recommended me to the Save the Manatee Foundation so in addition to my full-time internship at Sea World, I interned with the Save the Manatee Foundation part-time. It was there that I witnessed the manatee rescue and conservation effort first hand, and worked directly with the marine biologists in developing fund-raising and awareness-raising campaigns. I found that the foundation’s social media presence was lacking, and, using skills I learned from Sea World, I helped them raise over $5,000 through a Twitter challenge, which we linked to the various social media outlets of the World Wildlife Federation.
While I know that your organization typically awards scholarships to students planning to major in disciplines directly related to conservation such as environmental studies or zoology, I feel that the public relations side of conservation is just as important as the actual work done on the ground. Whether it is reducing one’s carbon footprint, or saving the manatees, these are efforts that, in order to be successful, must involve the larger public. In fact, the relative success of the environmental movement today is largely due to a massive global public relations campaign that turned environmentalism from something scientific and obscure into something that is both fashionable and accessible to just about anyone. However, that success is being challenged more than ever before--especially here in the US, where an equally strong anti-environmental public relations campaign has taken hold. Therefore, conservationists need to start getting more creative.
I want to be a part of this renewed effort and use my natural abilities as a communicator to push back against the rather formidable forces behind the anti-environmentalist movement. I sincerely hope you will consider supporting this non-traditional avenue towards global sustainability and conservation. I have already been accepted to one of the most prestigious communications undergraduate programs in the country and I plan to minor in environmental studies. In addition, I maintain a relationship with my former supervisors at Save the Manatee and Sea World, who will be invaluable resources for finding employment upon graduation. I thank the committee for thinking outside the box in considering my application.
Scholarship Essay Do's and Don'ts
|DO:||Tell a story. Discuss your personal history and why those experiences have led you to apply for these scholarships.|
|DO:||Write an outline. If you’ve already started writing or have a first draft, make an outline based on what you’ve written so far. This will help you see whether your paragraphs flow and connect with one another.|
|DON'T:||Write a generic essay for every application. Adapt your personal statement for each individual scholarship application.|
|DO:||Run spellcheck and grammar check on your computer but also do your own personal check. Spellcheck isn’t perfect and you shouldn't rely on technology to make your essay perfect.|
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Chapter 5: Writing Powerful Sentences
Published November 2009
After choosing your structure and topic, creating a paragraph-by-paragraph outline of your statement, and writing your first draft, you are still not done with your personal statement. In a sense, you are only just beginning. While composing and revising your statement, pay attention to your language. A successful personal statement joins powerful ideas with powerful expression. Make sure every one of your sentences is clear. Think of your personal statement in economic terms. Words are a scarce resource, so every word counts. If you were a real estate developer building on a plot of land in downtown Tokyo or midtown Manhattan, you would try to maximize the potential of every square inch you had available to you. Likewise, if you have five hundred words to paint a mental picture of yourself for the committee, you do not want to waste a single word. “The personal statement is…a sample of your writing, and we are looking for precision of writing skills,” says Dean Edward Tom of UC Berkeley Boalt Hall. “It is not up to Boalt to teach you how to write a sentence.”
Because the personal statement is so important to your chances of admission, you might be tempted to go over the word limit. You might think that writing more would be better than writing less, but you would be wrong: “Don’t make it too long,” cautions Dean Jeanette Leach of Santa Clara. “Santa Clara receives 3500-4000 applications, all of which will be reviewed, so don’t bore the admissions committee. Over three pages double-spaced is going too far.” A compact personal statement can be much more effective than an overwritten or lengthy statement—not to mention much less trying to the nerves of busy admissions committee members. Respect the page limit or word count. Most well-written personal statements are no longer than two to three double-spaced pages. Length does not correlate with quality. Do not make margins any less than 1” around. Use 12-point Times font. Use the limited space you have as effectively as possible. The advice in this section will help you use every available word effectively.
1. Hook your reader immediately.
Admissions committees read thousands of law school personal statements, and a boring introduction will result in the reader skimming over rather than fully considering the rest of what you have to say. Write a strong introduction. Hook your reader with a remarkable or a life-changing experience, an anecdote, a vivid description, or a question that will be answered by the rest of your personal statement. Your opening sentence is the most important part of your personal statement; use it to frame the meaning of every sentence that follows.
2. Write strong sentences.
Strong sentences have strong verbs. To seem, to feel, to think,to be, to know are examples of weak verbs. To attack, to overcome, to transform are strong verbs.
3. Use the active voice.
The passive voice uses the verb form “to be.” For example, The fire is seen by Joe (six words) is passive. In active sentences, the subject performs the action of the verb: Joe sees the fire (four words). Trial lawyers may use the passive voice as a rhetorical device to avoid attributing actions to a subject. Also, when used judiciously, passive voice can add a degree of variety to long pieces of writing. But the short form of the personal statement, avoid the passive voice. The passive voice robs your personal statement of clarity, brevity, and impact. Sentences written in the active voice are more powerful—and generally shorter—than those written in the passive voice.
4. Vary your words and sentences.
Word variety keeps your reader engaged. If you are writing about a job, you might want to whip out your thesaurus and find synonyms for “job,” such as “position” and “work.” If you have never used a word in written or spoken language before, do not use it in your personal statement. In general, do not use the same word more than once in a sentence unless you need to. From sentence to sentence, do not repeat a major keyword unless you can find no other word or phrase to express the same idea.
5. Write in a professional and formal tone.
Avoid contractions. Do not use colloquialisms. Write as if you were going to present your personal statement on stage before a large audience (all of whom are dressed in suits). Choose a style suitable for the occasion, but do not write “like a lawyer.” Lawyers are fond of “legalese”—that is, using long and often redundant words. The best law school personal statements display clear, succinct, enjoyable writing, never legalese.
6. Do not make elementary writing mistakes.
Elementary writing mistakes make you seem like an amateur. Unfortunately, even the very best writers make these sorts of mistakes. Do not take this aspect of revision for granted, even if you consider yourself to be a fantastic writer. Reread your personal statement a thousand times until all grammatical errors and typos have been eliminated. Do not confuse its and it’s or there, their, and they’re. Do not write complement when you mean to write compliment. Typos tell the committee that you do not take the law school application process as seriously as other viable applicants who have taken the time to meticulously copyedit their statements. A full catalogue of common writing errors is beyond the scope of this book. Any well-stocked bookstore will have dozens of excellent writing guides that can walk you through this sort of elementary revision advice.
7. Do not mismatch the number of a noun and its verb.
The group of kids love to eat is not a grammatical sentence—group (singular) is the subject of the sentence, not kids (plural). The group of kids loves to eat, meanwhile, is a grammatical sentence. Most native speakers of English should be able to “hear” when a sentence is correct or incorrect in this way. If English is a second language for you, seek out friends who are native speakers and ask them to read your essay.
8. Avoid clichés.
Every cloud has a silver lining, beat around the bush, fight tooth and nail: these are among the many clichés you should avoid like the plague (another cliché). Clichés do very little to tell the committee who you are and take up valuable “real estate” you could develop more wisely. At best, these clichés reveal that you are familiar with conventional wisdom and habitual sorts of analysis. A powerful mind does not accept received wisdom—or sentences—unreflectively.
9. Avoid sentences with empty subjects.
The English language permits sentences to open with subjects and verbs that do not refer to anything in particular. It is time to go (five words) and There are many cows standing on the field (eight words) could be rewritten more economically as Let us go (three words) and Many cows stand on the field (six words). In both cases the first two words of the sentences (“It is” and “There are” respectively) do not have any content. They do the work that a subject and verb are supposed to do but do not correlate to anything in the world. In longer-form writing, these empty openings serve the important function of varying your sentences. In a 500-word essay, you should not waste a single word.
10. Conclude powerfully.
The conclusion should pull together the different parts of the statement, rephrase main ideas and keywords, interpret the importance of your choice of topics, point towards the future, and finish with a rhetorical flourish. Conclude your personal statement by referring to your introductory paragraph. Restate your main thesis in a slightly different way that adds resonance to all that came before.
» Continue to Chapter 6: The Personal Statement Checklist
« Back to Chapter 4: Choosing Structure and Topic