scholarship essay

Prove You Deserve to Win in Your Scholarship Essays


Scholarship essays are critical if you want to go to college, but can’t afford it. To win them, you usually need to write powerful and personal scholarship essays.

(Yes, QuestBridge applicants, this includes you!)

Scholarship essays are similar to the personal essays you write for college applications. They need to give schools (or sponsors) a sense of who you are, what makes you tick and what you value.

Scholarship essays, however, usually need to go one step further. Applicants need to also show and explain why they deserve to win the scholarship.


scholarship essays



Start By Finding Your Problems


The best way to show your readers why you deserve scholarship funds is to help them see what obstacles/problems you have faced in your life so far, and how you handled them, and what you learned in the process.

Here’s a Quick Sample Outline for Writing Your Scholarship Essays:

  1. Describe a real-life example (in the form of a mini-story, moment or incident) of your main problem (These are called anecdotes).
  2. Explain how that made you feel, and the steps you took to deal with that obstacle, and others that relate to it
  3. Share how you thought about that problem, and what you learned by handling it

This blog has many posts filled with ideas on how to write about a problem and turn that into a compelling and meaningful essay.

Start here by reading my Jumpstart Guide or When Your Problem is a Good Thing or How to Show Your Grit.

If you have faced problems in your life, chances are you can qualify for scholarship money.

Is your family considered “low income,” or would you be the first in your family to attend college, or are you somehow “underprivileged” or “at-risk” or a minority?

If you have managed to rise above difficulties in your life despite any of these obstacles (problems), many colleges are looking for you, and want to find ways to help you attend their school. (See below for list of scholarship opportunities.)


scholarship essays


Types of “Problems” to Write About in your Scholarship Essays

  • You have had to take on an unusual amount of responsibility in your home (care for brothers or sisters; grandparent, ill parent, etc.)
  • You have had to work part-time during high school to help support yourself and family
  • You have a large family and live with people other than your family
  • English is your second language
  • You have been homeless or in foster care
  • One or both of your parents have been absent in your life for whatever reason (illness, abandonment, alcoholism, death, divorce, etc.)
  • You have had to commute a long way to attend a special school

Of course, many scholarships have different type of prompts they want you to write about–and read them carefully. But typically, they will ask about your background and these type of issues.

The trick is to pick one of the main problems you have had to deal with, instead of trying to list all of them or showcasing only your good qualities or accomplishments.

Share problems first; then go into what a good job you did at dealing with them!

HIT TIP: To give your essay a sharp focus, look for your personal, real-life stories of moments or times that would illustrate a larger problem you faced.

Example: The time you had to eat tortillas and beans for two weeks in a row–because your dad left and your mom was working two jobs.


Don’t Hold Back in Your Scholarship Essays!

These schools need to hear exactly how hard it has been for you. Including how you felt at your lowest point.

That is the only way they can appreciate what you have gone through, and then learned and grown through the experience.

If you only talk about how strong, independent or determined you are, it won’t have the same impact. They have to understand WHY you had to be that way. And to do that, you need to share your problems.

Don’t worry. No one will think you are whining or complaining or weak because you write about how you had to care for three younger sisters because your mom was addicted to drugs, or how you struggled to learn English because you moved from Mexico during the middle of high school, or how you sometimes didn’t know where your next meal was coming from because your dad left when you were young and your mom struggled cleaning houses just to pay rent.


scholarship essays


Invest in Your Future: Research Scholarship Opportunities

It is worth spending time learning how to tell your story. There are literally millions of dollars out there just waiting to help you.

Also, start collecting scholarships you could apply to.

Here are just a few of the scholarships that are out there:

College Scholarships




8 Awesome Organizations that Help Low-Income Students

5 Financial Moves DREAMers Should Make Now (by Bankrate):

You can also continue searching by Googling “college scholarships,” and ask your teachers or counselors for ideas. Help is out there! You just need to ask.