#FinancialFebruary: How to Write a Scholarship Essay

by Alyssa Sileo


Editor’s Note: Financial February is sponsored by our partners at State Farm.


Around this time last year, I was applying for multiple scholarships as I was gearing up to enter my freshman year of college. Dear high school seniors — I remember being in your shoes! I want to offer some tips on how to write a great scholarship essay, whether it be for a specific award from an educational institution or a private organization.

Scholarship essay writing can be a fun experience because you get to show how unique you are, and what interests you most about the world and your studies.

  1. In the brainstorming stage, write out a list of your school and community involvement since joining high school. This involves school clubs and local organizations. This list is going to come in handy because a lot of scholarship essays that at least I have seen ask about experiences that I have had involving teamwork, goal-setting, and engaging with my interests.
  2. Connect the things you have learned and the skills you have acquired with each of these experiences. This is the value of our extra-curricular experiences — what we can take away from them and apply to the many other aspects of our lives.
  3. Read the prompt carefully and pull out the buzzwords, and ensure your essay is answering the question. Take a look at the mission statement of the institution or organization, too, and apply the content about yourself to their values. This will help demonstrate that you are a good match for this scholarship. There’s also another function of this tip — you may have a hard time connecting yourself the values, meaning this may not be the opportunity to go for.
  4. Don’t be afraid to speak about personal, academic, and emotional growth within your talking points. There is a wide misconception that we have to present ourselves as perfect people to employers, educators, and admissions personnel. But doing everything right is not a reality, and if college has taught me one thing, it’s that things go south all the time, and that’s normal. This is inevitable, for students, professors with multiple degrees, and professionals who have been in their fields for ages.
  5. I have heard many times from people I trust that one of the most valuable things you can share within a personal essay is a story of how you have grown, thanks to a challenging task, assignment, or situation. Not knowing how to do something and then learning how to is not a bad thing, even though society sometimes makes it seem like it is. This act of expanding your knowledge and heart is actually one of the best things ever, because it makes the world go ‘round. (And, truthfully, in my opinion, if an educational institution is looking for perfect people — don’t pursue this institution any further. Every college and university is a business, but schools that very shy away from the idea for growth are certainly not the places for you. They aren’t concerned with your learning, they’re just vying for your money. Okay. Rant over.)
  6. You can repurpose a staple essay for several different scholarships. My staple scholarship essay had to do with a theatre advocacy initiative I started my junior year. I would edit this according to word count and prompt for multiple scholarships. No need to entirely reinvent the wheel, seeing as though these committees won’t see the other scholarships you’re applying to. It’s just like tailoring a personal statement or objective on a resume as you apply to multiple job positions throughout the years. One thing to remember though — make sure you read through your essay before sending it off, you don’t want an organization name X in the essay you’re sending to organization name Y! And since you’re probably applying to multiple scholarships, organize your documents well, so you can access them in a pinch.
  7. Submit these scholarship essays early — don’t put them off! You won’t send them if you put them off! On my calendar I had the due dates for the scholarships as a week before they were actually due.
  8. Make sure to demonstrate how and why you are eager to learn and grow as you take this next step in your educational journey. This is a question only you can answer. As I say to college applicants all of the time, you should not change the most essential and honest parts of yourself for any institution or organization. You deserve to show your truest self.

Best wishes with this new journey. I’ve got to say, college is full of writing personal statements for different opportunities and applications, so scholarship essay writing ended up helping me a lot with this. Check out my recent blog on great LGBTQ+ scholarships to apply to. Happy essay writing!


About the Author:

Alyssa Sileo’s Thespian identity comes first and foremost in anything she carries out. As a member of the Drew University Class of 2022, she studies theatre arts, women’s and gender studies, and Spanish. She’s a proud NJ Thespian Alumni and member of their state chapter board. She is the leader of the international performances network The Laramie Project Project, which unites worldwide productions and readings of the acclaimed Tectonic Theater Project play and encourages community-based LGBTQ+ advocacy. Alyssa is humbled to serve as the 2017 Spirit of Matthew Award winner and as a Youth Ambassador for Matthew Shepard Foundation. She believes there is an advocacy platform tucked into every piece of the theatre catalogue and intends to write outreach into the canon.