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10 Great Essay Writing Tips

how long should a college scholarship essay be

Knowing how to write a college essay is a useful skill for anyone who plans to go to college. Most colleges and universities ask you to submit a writing sample with your application. As a student, you’ll also write essays in your courses. Impress your professors with your knowledge and skill by using these great essay writing tips.

Prepare to Answer the Question

Most college essays ask you to answer a question or synthesize information you learned in class. Review notes you have from lectures, read the recommended texts and make sure you understand the topic. You should refer to these sources in your essay.

how long should a college scholarship essay be

Plan Your Essay

Many students see planning as a waste of time, but it actually saves you time. Take a few minutes to think about the topic and what you want to say about it. You can write an outline, draw a chart or use a graphic organizer to arrange your ideas. This gives you a chance to spot problems in your ideas before you spend time writing out the paragraphs.

Choose a Writing Method That Feels Comfortable

You might have to type your essay before turning it in, but that doesn’t mean you have to write it that way. Some people find it easy to write out their ideas by hand. Others prefer typing in a word processor where they can erase and rewrite as needed. Find the one that works best for you and stick with it.

how long should a college scholarship essay be

View It as a Conversation

Writing is a form of communication, so think of your essay as a conversation between you and the reader. Think about your response to the source material and the topic. Decide what you want to tell the reader about the topic. Then, stay focused on your response as you write.

how long should a college scholarship essay be

Provide the Context in the Introduction

If you look at an example of an essay introduction, you’ll see that the best essays give the reader a context. Think of how you introduce two people to each other. You share the details you think they will find most interesting. Do this in your essay by stating what it’s about and then telling readers what the issue is.

how long should a college scholarship essay be

Explain What Needs to be Explained

Sometimes you have to explain concepts or define words to help the reader understand your viewpoint. You also have to explain the reasoning behind your ideas. For example, it’s not enough to write that your greatest achievement is running an ultra marathon. You might need to define ultra marathon and explain why finishing the race is such an accomplishment.

how long should a college scholarship essay be

Answer All the Questions

After you finish writing the first draft of your essay, make sure you’ve answered all the questions you were supposed to answer. For example, essays in compare and contrast format should show the similarities and differences between ideas, objects or events. If you’re writing about a significant achievement, describe what you did and how it affected you.

how long should a college scholarship essay be

Stay Focused as You Write

Writing requires concentration. Find a place where you have few distractions and give yourself time to write without interruptions. Don’t wait until the night before the essay is due to start working on it.

how long should a college scholarship essay be

Read the Essay Aloud to Proofread

When you finish writing your essay, read it aloud. You can do this by yourself or ask someone to listen to you read it. You’ll notice places where the ideas don’t make sense, and your listener can give you feedback about your ideas.

how long should a college scholarship essay be

Avoid Filling the Page with Words

A great essay does more than follow an essay layout. It has something to say. Sometimes students panic and write everything they know about a topic or summarize everything in the source material. Your job as a writer is to show why this information is important.

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how long should a college scholarship essay be

3 Fatal Flaws That Will Ruin Your Scholarship Essay

I have had the privilege to sit on several scholarship committees over the years. Lately, it seems as though fewer students are actually reading the guidelines before they submit their applications whether it’s for their high school or college scholarship applications. I don’t know if they believe that the winners are chosen at random. Or maybe that no one is actually reading the essays? But, after reviewing a recent stack of submissions one thing has become clear. Many students are simply too lazy to follow directions.

Just like most things in life,  scholarships  come with rules. I know most students abhor them, but scholarship providers don’t simply give away money because students ask nicely for it.

Providers want to know that the investment they are making is a good one and that’s where scholarship guidelines play a part. If students are unwilling to spend the time needed to review the rules and submit a  quality essay , they probably won’t be willing to go above and beyond in college, either.

Although that may not be the case for all students, it’s the rationale used by many providers to weed out possible contenders. In general, three fatal flaws that continue to keep most students from reaching the coveted finalists pool.

1. Word Count

First fatal flaws that will ruin your scholarship essay is the word count. I know many students express their frustration over the limitations placed on scholarship essays, but the word count is there for a reason. In most cases for length guidelines, scholarship essays are kept to 500 words or less. It makes it easier for committees to review hundreds (sometimes thousands!) of submissions. It also ensures that students are staying on topic.

It’s also an easy way for scholarship committee members to reject those applicants who failed to read the directions. No matter how brilliant the college essay may be, if it doesn’t meet the word count, whether it’s a short essay or longer essay, no one will be reading it. In my experience, more than 20 percent of the applications are disqualified because of this simple rule.

FAQS ABOUT HOW LONG AN ESSAY SHOULD BE

How long should an essay be?

There is no exact number required for the length of an essay but, look at the instructions and DO NOT go over the word or character count from the length requirements listed. You will typically be disqualified based on that essay length issue. Remember, this is not a thesis or a research paper! If not specified in the scholarship guidelines, assume that shorter is better as long as you are able to succinctly get your point across therefore having a word limit is kind of important. Having a maximum or minimum length is still depends on the given instructions so better to read it carefully.

How many paragraphs is a 250-500 word essay?

There is no set number of paragraphs for a college essay because it will depend on the essay length and how much you have to say about the topic. Suggested length for a 250-500 word essay, I would recommend 3-5 body paragraphs for the intro and the main body, but this is just a general guideline.

How many paragraphs is a 900 word essay?

In a 900 word college essay length, you should aim for 4-5 paragraphs. However, this will depend on the essay structure and spacing you use in your essay and how much you have to say about the topic.

Second fatal flaws that will ruin your scholarship essay is grammar. One of the quickest ways to lose a scholarship is to submit an essay riddled with grammatical errors. Even if you don’t have good writing skills, you can still avoid this critical mistake by proofreading your essay thoroughly or having someone else review it for you.

I blame  Twitter  for derailing many students in this area. So many have grown accustomed to fitting in 140 characters in their everyday conversations that it seems to have filtered into their scholarship essays, as well.

I cannot tell you how many times I have come across someone using the lowercase ‘i’ instead of the appropriate version, not to mention all the acronyms littering the page; OMG, it’s enough to make me SMH!

Another area to watch – spelling errors! Many are obvious keystroke errors, but simply having another set of eyes proofread the essay would save many students from this fatal flaw. Many scholarship reviewers use the baseball rule when it comes to grammatical errors; 1-2-3 and you’re out!

3. Wrong Response

Third fatal flaws that will ruin your scholarship essay is a wrong response. I know I have mentioned in previous posts that students should work smarter by reusing some of their previous work. That does not mean, however, submitting an essay that has nothing to do with the scholarship prompt.

For example, a college essay about the  zombie apocalypse  probably shouldn’t be used for an essay about  ice cream . As a reviewer, nothing is more frustrating than coming across a submission that was obviously meant for another scholarship program. It basically screams, ‘I want the money, but I don’t want to work for it.’

Another way to ruin your essay is to stray off topic. Typical essay or scholarship essays are usually short, so you need to make sure that every word counts. When writing your essay, be sure to answer the question that is being asked and stay on topic. Also, avoid using filler words or phrases just to reach the minimum number of words. Admissions committees can spot filler words a mile away, and they will not be impressed.

You should also avoid plagiarism. When writing your essay, make sure to write an original content that you really work hard on by your own. Avoid searching for college admission essay samples on Google and paste it in your essay. All students must apply this rule on any type of essay. It’s better to be accepted because of your unique piece of writing and get compliments from you academic level of writing your own essay!

Another fatal flaw, students who write why they deserve a scholarship or list all of the hardships in their life; unless the high school or college scholarship provider specifically asked for this information, students need to stick to the central idea and stay on topic. They may think that it will tug at the scholarship committee’s heart strings (and sometimes it does), but if their essays do not answer the scholarship prompt, they’ll be headed for the rejection pile.

So many students complain about not winning scholarships, but if more would take a few moments to review the guidelines for their college application essay and learn to stick to the rules, I think they would have a better chance at actually earning some cash for college. It’s amazing how many never even take the time to edit their work before hitting the submit button. Clearly, these students don’t value the scholarship committee’s time, so why should we feel inclined to provide them with a scholarship? In most cases, the students who put forth their best efforts (and pay attention!) will earn the scholarship rewards.

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How to Win Scholarships with the Right Scholarship Essay Format

Scholarships & Financial Aid

How to Win Scholarships With the Right Scholarship Essay Format

Updated on October 25th, 2021

We all know that scholarships are great. Being selected for an award means your child can pay less out of pocket for college while avoiding costly student loans and other debts. Typically, your student needs to write an essay for scholarship applications, and having the right scholarship essay format is critical.

Often, students get distracted by the content requirements of the essay, so your child may neglect scholarship essay format details that can set them apart from the crowd (and help judges understand what they are trying to say!)

To help your student reach the higher echelons of success, here are some scholarship essay format tips that can increase their odds of getting noticed for the right reasons. And if you are curious where to find scholarships that your child is actually eligible, you can learn more here .

Follow All Scholarship Essay Format Directions

First and foremost, your child needs to follow any instructions that are listed regarding the scholarship essay format. This includes aspects like word count, line spacing, font choice, and the use of headings.

If an organization provides guidelines about the scholarship essay format, these are there to ensure everyone is competing at the same level AND to make sure your student can effectively follow directions.

Failing to follow the rules about scholarship essay format can lead your child to be immediately disqualified, so these should always take precedence over personal preferences or standard guidelines regarding how letters are constructed.

In many cases, requirements like word count, spacing, and font ensure that the scholarship committee can successfully review the anticipated number of submissions within the time they have available. And, typically, they won’t make exceptions.

For example, if an essay needs to be 300 words, the committee will likely be fine with submissions that aren’t exactly 300, as hitting a target that specific can be challenging. So, if your child submits a piece that is 297 or 304 words, that could be okay. However, if your student turns in a 400-word essay, they’ll likely disqualify themselves from consideration.  In the end, the closer to the target, the better. In our online course for students , we recommend always maximizing the word count by getting as close to the limit as possible but avoiding going over.

Standard Scholarship Essay Format

How to Win Scholarships With The Right Essay Format

Generally, this means creating a piece consisting of three or more paragraphs, with each paragraph being at least three sentences long. The introductory paragraph should contain a thesis statement that provides an overview of what will be discussed while the last paragraph should be dedicated to a conclusion and reiterating the primary point.

Any middle sections provide additional depth to the essay and typically represent the bulk of the content. However, in a standard scholarship essay format, each paragraph should focus on a single point that supports the larger thesis. When it’s time to cover a different point, another paragraph should be created, preferably leading off with transition sentence that creates a bridge between the previous point and the next.

Scholarship Essay Format Tips

When there isn’t specific guidance, your child may struggle with certain formatting choices.

To help them navigate tricky scholarship essay format decisions, here are some general tips:

Keeping the Content on Target

As your child writes their scholarship essays, it’s easy for them to drift off on a tangent. While they may find the additional details interesting, falling off target can be seen as them not following instructions, a lack of focus, or trouble with self-editing.

When writing their scholarship essay, your student needs to ask themselves a few key questions, including:

That third point can be especially tricky when an essay question is asking about role models or people who’ve influenced your child’s life. While your student needs to touch on what they found inspiring about the person, they should spend the majority of the content talking about how they were moved/inspired/influenced and what that means for their lives. The rest can provide the necessary backstory and other details about their role model.

Ultimately, the scholarship essay format and content need to provide a cohesive narrative that helps the judges learn about your child.

If any part of the content doesn’t stay on target, it needs to be adjusted or removed. This is especially true when there is a word count or page length requirement, as superfluous details may look like your student was trying to create filler content or “fluff” as a means of hitting the minimum.

Reviewing the Essay

Ideally, your child should enlist the help of someone else, such as a trusted teacher, friend, or parent (like you!) to review their essays before they are submitted. Often, it is easier for a fresh set of eyes to catch errors that may be overlooked by the person who wrote the piece. Additionally, it can serve as confirmation that your student stayed on target and that everything feels cohesive when it’s reviewed by someone who hasn’t created it (or even knows what the prompt was).

Now, that doesn’t mean you should assume your child will want you to do the revisions. It can be tough to have writings as personal as scholarship essays read by family members, as it may make them feel vulnerable or uncomfortable. And, in the end, being able to write openly and honestly about their experiences can be the difference that sets them apart and helps them score scholarships.

So, don’t be afraid to offer your help, but, if your child says no, remember that that’s okay. Just be there to support them through this journey and provide encouragement. In the end, that can make more of a difference in the long-term than taking a red pen to their essay ever could.

What is the craziest essay prompt you’ve seen? Share it below!

Did you find this helpful? If so, share it with your friends and family so they don’t forget anything either.

Related Articles:

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November 19, 2018 at 5:06 pm

Thanks for info!

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November 20, 2018 at 7:37 am

My pleasure!

November 29, 2018 at 1:29 pm

Set aside time each day to search for and apply to scholarships. You should be consistent in your search and make sure you are continually giving yourself every opportunity to win a scholarship. Don’t give up! It will take time and effort, but with the right focus, you can find the scholarship that is right for you.

November 29, 2018 at 2:57 pm

Great advice!

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May 28, 2022 at 8:25 am

Loving your tips on reading the essay and pinpointing vague areas, as well as your suggestion that the essay as a whole should leave no doubt as to what the essay is about!

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Popular posts, how to write winning scholarship essays, how to write an amazing scholarship resume, 75 easy ways to save money in college.

how long should a college scholarship essay be

how long should a college scholarship essay be

Steps to Writing a Successful Scholarship Essay

Learn more about how to write a scholarship essay so you can get the financial help you need for school.

Scholarships are an important part of helping pay for your education. They can be just what you need to get the books you need for class or help pay for tuition or housing. Under most circumstances, scholarships are even generally tax-free so you don't have to worry about them too much when tax preparation season comes around. 

Many scholarships include essays you need to write in order to complete the scholarship application. Take heed to the following tips and tricks so you can learn how to write a successful scholarship essay. 

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how long should a college scholarship essay be

How to Write a Scholarship Essay

Before we go over the key tips to writing the best scholarship essay, let's take a moment to go over the steps you should take when writing a scholarship essay. 

You might be tempted to draft up a quick essay response and move onto the next scholarship application, but if you go over these key steps to writing an essay then your essay will be a much stronger contestant. 

Step 1: Understand the prompt

Take a minute to make sure you understand the prompt of the essay. The last thing you want to do is misunderstand the prompt and write your essay incorrectly or miss a key aspect scholarship essay reviewers will be looking for when reading your essay. 

Read and jot down all the essay requirements and all the aspects of the essay prompt. Then incorporate those sections of the prompt into your essay outline to make sure you don't miss any aspect of the prompt. 

Step 2: Outline the essay

Before you actually start writing, make an outline. Start with a simple outline that includes the essay and prompt requirements you need to meet. Then add to the outline ways you can go above and beyond in meeting those minimum requirements. 

As your essay outline becomes more detailed, writing your essay later will become both easier and quicker. 

A typical essay includes 3 parts: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. The biggest keys to using these 3 parts are to give each section a clear purpose and seamless transitions and connections to each other. 

Step 3: Write and rewrite 

Once you have a good outline it's a lot easier to start writing. Make sure your essay reaches the appropriate word or page count suggestions and that it does not exceed these suggestions by too much. 

Don't be afraid to rewrite your entire essay. 

A first draft is just that—a first draft. Even for a simple essay, first drafts often serve better as architecture for your final draft rather than as a final draft. 

Take a moment to read over your first draft and mark up any changes or ideas you might have. 

Then, open up a new document right next to your first draft and start rewriting your essay. You'll find that some things stay the same while other parts change completely for a more thoughtful and structured final piece. 

Step 4: Proofread 

Always, always, ALWAYS proofread your essay before submitting it. Ideally, listen to or read your essay out loud, and have someone else read it to check for mistakes. 

Sometimes, while rereading our own writing, our brains fill in the blanks or fix our own mistakes as we read, so we don't notice them. This is why listening to, reading out loud, and having a second pair of eyes that aren't your own to review your essay is so essential. 

Tips for Writing Scholarship Essays

Now that you know the steps to write an effective scholarship essay, it's time to talk about essay writing tips and other essay help. 

Don't submit the first draft 

It can be really tempting to submit the first draft and move on with your day. But other applicants are going to put in the work to redraft their essays at least once or twice. If you don't also put in this extra effort, you'll lower your chances of measuring up to the essays other candidates submitted. 

Balance between personal and professional 

Try to strike a balance between being personal and professional in your essay. The person reading your essay wants to connect with you in a personal way, but sharing too much personal information, especially when it isn't relevant to the prompt, can become a hindrance. 

Above all, stay on topic with the prompt and focus on evoking positive emotions and associations with you in the content you give reviewers to read. 

Make connections 

Make lots of connections in your essay. Connect yourself and your academic endeavors with the prompt as much as possible. If you want to talk about a personal experience, make sure the connection to the prompt is made clear. 

At the end of your essay, make sure you wrap up all the things your essay brought up into a neat and tidy conclusion. 

Scholarship Essay Format Example

Many scholarship essays might not come with specific essay format requirements. But there is a gold standard for how to format a basic essay submission. Adhere to these basic essay format guidelines to take your essay to the next level of professionalism. 

How to format a scholarship essay document: 

how long should a college scholarship essay be

How to start off an essay: 

All essays begin with at least one introductory paragraph. The introduction should reiterate the prompt in order to let the reader know you understand the prompt completely. Then it should go over how the prompt will be addressed in your essay. 

How long should an essay be? 

In general, scholarship essays are meant to be about 500 words or one page in length. 

Many scholarship essays will provide some kind of minimum requirement for the word or page count of your essay. But if you can't find one then you are generally fine to stick to 500 words or one page. 

The longest part of any essay should be the body paragraphs. These body paragraphs should tackle the prompt in more detail. Here is your chance to thoroughly answer the prompt and show that you meet the criteria the scholarship committee is looking for in a winning applicant. 

How to end an essay: 

Always include at least one closing paragraph at the end of your essay to sum up your points and wrap everything up into one neat package. 

Here is your chance to drive home the fact that you understood the prompt, answered the prompt, and meet the criteria the committee is looking for from the prompt they provided. 

Apply for the Richard Rawle Memorial Scholarship

The Richard Rawle Memorial Scholarship is a community service scholarship from Check City. This scholarship looks for members of the community who go above and beyond to make a difference in the world around them through community service and volunteer work. 

In Conclusion, 

The essay you submit for a scholarship is one of the primary things the scholarship committee will review to decide whether you make the cut or not. It is up to you to take the time necessary to make sure your essay does this job before making your final submission.

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Use This Scholarship Essay Format (w/example)

David Dec 24, 2018

Use This Scholarship Essay Format (w/example)

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Scholarship Essay Format

Winning a scholarship can be hard. There is a lot of competition, especially for the more prestigious awards. It is important that you do as much as you can to increase your chances of winning.

You may do this in many ways. Of course, if you apply to more scholarships, you increase your chances of winning. Getting awesome letters of recommendation is also key.

And then, there’s the dreaded scholarship essay that so many students have trouble with. As challenging as the essay is, it is critical to your application. 

The fastest path to earning scholarships

Simplify and focus your application process with the one-stop platform for vetted scholarships.

Your resume may show off all your achievements. But your essay shows the scholarship committee who you are. This is the place for you to set yourself apart from other candidates.

No doubt, the content of your essay is very important. (Like having an engaging introduction and memorable conclusion ). However, the scholarship essay format is also important for making a good impression.

Often times, students invest so much of their time focusing on the content requirements of the essay, that they forget about the es say format.

Why the Essay Format is Important

Scholarship committees have many essays to review. Setting a general format for all students saves them time when reading essays. They will not make any exceptions.

The last thing you want to do is ruin your awesome essay with a lousy format. So, here are some tips on how you should format your essay to make it look professional. You want to come across as a serious contender and a top candidate for the scholarship.

How to Format Your Scholarship Essay

Most scholarship applications  have the same format requirements for the scholarship essay. If you come across an application that doesn’t specify how to format your essay, the following format is a safe option for you to go with. Remember, if you ever have doubts, contact the scholarship committee for clarification.

Essay Format: 

Follow the word count guidelines as set by the scholarship committee. Scholarship judges usually don’t want to read an essay that is longer than ¾ to a page in length.

If your essay needs to be 300 words, it is okay if you don’t meet that exact number, such as 294 or 310. But, if you hand in a 450-word essay, they might not accept your application. It is best to get closest to the number as possible.

It can be tempting to write a long essay on all your accomplishments. But this isn’t what the scholarship committee wants to see . Quality is more important than quantity. 

Of course, there are exceptions. Always make sure that you know what the word requirement is.

Brainstorm your thoughts beforehand, create an outline, and stick to it. This should help you keep to the maximum work number.

Body Paragraphs

Your essay should consist of three or more paragraphs. Each paragraph should have at least three sentences.

Include a thesis statement in your introduction paragraph. The thesis sentence explains what you will talk about during your essay. Remember, your introduction paragraph should reel in your reader. 

Each body paragraph should f ocus on a different aspect that represents your thesis statement. Your concluding paragraph should revisit the theme and wrap up your main points. 

Use logical transitions between your body paragraphs. These help to connect the different topics in your essay. 

Other Tips: 

When reviewing your essay, make sure that it is easy to follow. Are you answering the essay prompt in a concise manner? Ask family members if they know what the essay prompt is from reading your essay.

Before starting to write your essay, get to know the organization awarding the scholarship. What is its mission? The information you include in your essay should match their expectations and goals.

Finally, make sure that your essay focuses on you and not somebody else, like a role model. If you are talking about a role model, explain how that person has impacted your life and your goals.

Some of the guidelines ma y seem unimportant. But, the scholarship committee pays attention to minute details. They usually provide guidelines as a way to see how well applicants can follow them. If they don’t provide instructions, follow the essay format we have listed for you above.

Clearly read all instructions of the scholarship application. Making trivial mistakes is a sure way to get your candidacy revoked. If there’s something you don’t understand, reach out to the scholarship committee. They are there to assist you and answer questions. 

You may be tempted to apply only to scholarships that don’t require an essay. These scholarship applications are easier to fill out. But, for this reason, they receive a lot more applications. 

Using a free scholarship matching service can help you find loads of scholarships in no time. Get the money you deserve by applying to scholarships you qualify for. Spend time working on those essays and you may be a lucky winner.

Scholarship Essay Examp le: 

From Dad’s Shadow to My Own

Growing up, I always thought that I was going to take over my dad’s automobile shop. I had helped him in his store from a young age, handing him a screwdriver when he needed to turn a screw and a Coca-Cola when he was thirsty. He called me his mini-me and nothing made the smile on my face wider. I hid behind the shadow of my dad, a shy and awkward middle-schooler. I wanted to be just like him, that is, until I grew into Sam Foster and realized my own potential. 

When I entered freshman ye

ar of high school, I looked for a way to get to know new people. I decided to join my school’s drama club. Never having acted before, it was a pretty random choice. Especially because I was so shy. But, not being the sporty type or the science type didn’t leave me with many other options. 

We got our first assignment to perform a monologue in front of everyone. I was absolutely terrified. I practiced in front of the mirror in the bathroom for hours every night. I couldn’t imagine performing it in front of 20 other students in the club. 

The time came to perform my monologue. I got up on stage, my entire body shaking. My director gave me the okay to start. What happened next was a miracle. I started reciting my lines and gained confidence that I’ve never felt before. I became my character and didn’t not ice the crowd in front of me. 

On that day, I realized my calling in life. I was born to be an actor. Since freshman year, I have starred in every play at my school. I have taken acting classes in my high school, and outside acting classes. Next year, I am starting at the University of Michigan where I will major in drama. 

Unfortunately, my parents haven’t been the most supportive of my career choice. They were expecting me to take over the family business and not pursue my own path. I will have to rely on taking out loans to fund my education. 

I am planning to find a part-time job at school, but with all of the studying I will be doing and participation in school clubs and shows, my time to work will be limited. This scholarship will greatly assist me in pursuing my educational and career goals. 

As proud as little Sam Foster w as in his dad’s automobile shop, the Sam Foster of today is even prouder. No longer is he too shy to stand on his own, but he thrives in the spotlight. 

I am so excited to begin my bachelor’s degree in the fall. I know that I will gain invaluable skills. My education is so important to me and to my future. 

Thank you for your time and consideration for this award, 

David Tabachnikov ScholarshipOwl

David Tabachnikov is the CEO of ScholarshipOwl. Formerly at Waze and Google, David is an experienced CTO/R&D manager with over 10 years of experience of leading tech teams. David fervently believes that students should have greater access to education, and is passionate about using technology to help them achieve that goal.

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Frequently asked questions

How long should a college essay be.

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay.

You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely. However, don’t write too little, as it may seem like you are unwilling or unable to write a detailed and insightful narrative about yourself.

If no word count is specified, we advise keeping your essay between 400 and 600 words.

Frequently asked questions: College admissions essays

When writing your Common App essay , choose a prompt that sparks your interest and that you can connect to a unique personal story.

No matter which prompt you choose, admissions officers are more interested in your ability to demonstrate personal development , insight, or motivation for a certain area of study.

The Common App essay is your primary writing sample within the Common Application, a college application portal accepted by more than 900 schools. All your prospective schools that accept the Common App will read this essay to understand your character, background, and value as a potential student.

Since this essay is read by many colleges, avoid mentioning any college names or programs; instead, save tailored answers for the supplementary school-specific essays within the Common App.

Most importantly, your essay should be about you , not another person or thing. An insightful college admissions essay requires deep self-reflection, authenticity, and a balance between confidence and vulnerability.

Your essay shouldn’t be a résumé of your experiences but instead should tell a story that demonstrates your most important values and qualities.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding your message and content. Then, check for flow, tone, style , and clarity. Finally, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors .

If your college essay goes over the word count limit , cut any sentences with tangents or irrelevant details. Delete unnecessary words that clutter your essay.

If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

If you’ve got to write your college essay fast , don’t panic. First, set yourself deadlines: you should spend about 10% of your remaining time on brainstorming, 10% on outlining, 40% writing, 30% revising, and 10% taking breaks in between stages.

Second, brainstorm stories and values based on your essay prompt.

Third, outline your essay based on the montage or narrative essay structure .

Fourth, write specific, personal, and unique stories that would be hard for other students to replicate.

Fifth, revise your essay and make sure it’s clearly written.

Last, if possible, get feedback from an essay coach . Scribbr essay editors can help you revise your essay in 12 hours or less.

Avoid swearing in a college essay , since admissions officers’ opinions of profanity will vary. In some cases, it might be okay to use a vulgar word, such as in dialogue or quotes that make an important point in your essay. However, it’s safest to try to make the same point without swearing.

If you have bad grades on your transcript, you may want to use your college admissions essay to explain the challenging circumstances that led to them. Make sure to avoid dwelling on the negative aspects and highlight how you overcame the situation or learned an important lesson.

However, some college applications offer an additional information section where you can explain your bad grades, allowing you to choose another meaningful topic for your college essay.

Here’s a brief list of college essay topics that may be considered cliché:

It’s easier to write a standout essay with a unique topic. However, it’s possible to make a common topic compelling with interesting story arcs, uncommon connections, and an advanced writing style.

Yes. The college application essay is less formal than other academic writing —though of course it’s not mandatory to use contractions in your essay.

In a college essay , you can be creative with your language . When writing about the past, you can use the present tense to make the reader feel as if they were there in the moment with you. But make sure to maintain consistency and when in doubt, default to the correct verb tense according to the time you’re writing about.

The college admissions essay gives admissions officers a different perspective on you beyond your academic achievements, test scores, and extracurriculars. It’s your chance to stand out from other applicants with similar academic profiles by telling a unique, personal, and specific story.

Use a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial to avoid distracting the reader from your college essay’s content.

A college application essay is less formal than most academic writing . Instead of citing sources formally with in-text citations and a reference list, you can cite them informally in your text.

For example, “In her research paper on genetics, Quinn Roberts explores …”

There is no set number of paragraphs in a college admissions essay . College admissions essays can diverge from the traditional five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in English class. Just make sure to stay under the specified word count .

Most topics are acceptable for college essays if you can use them to demonstrate personal growth or a lesson learned. However, there are a few difficult topics for college essays that should be avoided. Avoid topics that are:

To write an effective diversity essay , include vulnerable, authentic stories about your unique identity, background, or perspective. Provide insight into how your lived experience has influenced your outlook, activities, and goals. If relevant, you should also mention how your background has led you to apply for this university and why you’re a good fit.

Many universities believe a student body composed of different perspectives, beliefs, identities, and backgrounds will enhance the campus learning and community experience.

Admissions officers are interested in hearing about how your unique background, identity, beliefs, culture, or characteristics will enrich the campus community, which is why they assign a diversity essay .

In addition to your main college essay , some schools and scholarships may ask for a supplementary essay focused on an aspect of your identity or background. This is sometimes called a diversity essay .

You can use humor in a college essay , but carefully consider its purpose and use it wisely. An effective use of humor involves unexpected, keen observations of the everyday, or speaks to a deeper theme. Humor shouldn’t be the main focus of the essay, but rather a tool to improve your storytelling.

Get a second opinion from a teacher, counselor, or essay coach on whether your essay’s humor is appropriate.

Though admissions officers are interested in hearing your story, they’re also interested in how you tell it. An exceptionally written essay will differentiate you from other applicants, meaning that admissions officers will spend more time reading it.

You can use literary devices to catch your reader’s attention and enrich your storytelling; however, focus on using just a few devices well, rather than trying to use as many as possible.

To decide on a good college essay topic , spend time thoughtfully answering brainstorming questions. If you still have trouble identifying topics, try the following two strategies:

You can also ask family, friends, or mentors to help you brainstorm topics, give feedback on your potential essay topics, or recall key stories that showcase your qualities.

Yes—admissions officers don’t expect everyone to have a totally unique college essay topic . But you must differentiate your essay from others by having a surprising story arc, an interesting insight, and/or an advanced writing style .

There are no foolproof college essay topics —whatever your topic, the key is to write about it effectively. However, a good topic

Unlike a five-paragraph essay, your admissions essay should not end by summarizing the points you’ve already made. It’s better to be creative and aim for a strong final impression.

You should also avoid stating the obvious (for example, saying that you hope to be accepted).

There are a few strategies you can use for a memorable ending to your college essay :

The best technique will depend on your topic choice, essay outline, and writing style. You can write several endings using different techniques to see which works best.

College deadlines vary depending on the schools you’re applying to and your application plan:

Depending on your prospective schools’ requirements, you may need to submit scores for the SAT or ACT as part of your college application .

Some schools now no longer require students to submit test scores; however, you should still take the SAT or ACT and aim to get a high score to strengthen your application package.

Aim to take the SAT or ACT in the spring of your junior year to give yourself enough time to retake it in the fall of your senior year if necessary.

Apply early for federal student aid and application fee waivers. You can also look for scholarships from schools, corporations, and charitable foundations.

To maximize your options, you should aim to apply to about eight schools:

The college admissions essay accounts for roughly 25% of the weight of your application .

At highly selective schools, there are four qualified candidates for every spot. While your academic achievements are important, your college admissions essay can help you stand out from other applicants with similar profiles.

In general, for your college application you will need to submit all of the following:

Different colleges may have specific requirements, so make sure you check exactly what’s expected in the application guidance.

You should start thinking about your college applications the summer before your junior year to give you sufficient time for college visits, taking standardized tests, applying for financial aid , writing essays, and collecting application material.

Yes, but make sure your essay directly addresses the prompt, respects the word count , and demonstrates the organization’s values.

If you plan ahead, you can save time by writing one scholarship essay for multiple prompts with similar questions. In a scholarship tracker spreadsheet, you can group or color-code overlapping essay prompts; then, write a single essay for multiple scholarships. Sometimes, you can even reuse or adapt your main college essay .

You can start applying for scholarships as early as your junior year. Continue applying throughout your senior year.

Invest time in applying for various scholarships , especially local ones with small dollar amounts, which are likely easier to win and more reflective of your background and interests. It will be easier for you to write an authentic and compelling essay if the scholarship topic is meaningful to you.

You can find scholarships through your school counselor, community network, or an internet search.

A scholarship essay requires you to demonstrate your values and qualities while answering the prompt’s specific question.

After researching the scholarship organization, identify a personal experience that embodies its values and exemplifies how you will be a successful student.

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:

While timelines will differ depending on the student, plan on spending at least 1–3 weeks brainstorming and writing the first draft of your college admissions essay , and at least 2–4 weeks revising across multiple drafts. Don’t forget to save enough time for breaks between each writing and editing stage.

You should already begin thinking about your essay the summer before your senior year so that you have plenty of time to try out different topics and get feedback on what works.

Your college essay accounts for about 25% of your application’s weight. It may be the deciding factor in whether you’re accepted, especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurricular track records.

In most cases, quoting other people isn’t a good way to start your college essay . Admissions officers want to hear your thoughts about yourself, and quotes often don’t achieve that. Unless a quote truly adds something important to your essay that it otherwise wouldn’t have, you probably shouldn’t include it.

Cliché openers in a college essay introduction are usually general and applicable to many students and situations. Most successful introductions are specific: they only work for the unique essay that follows.

The key to a strong college essay introduction is not to give too much away. Try to start with a surprising statement or image that raises questions and compels the reader to find out more.

The introduction of your college essay is the first thing admissions officers will read and therefore your most important opportunity to stand out. An excellent introduction will keep admissions officers reading, allowing you to tell them what you want them to know.

If you’re struggling to reach the word count for your college essay, add vivid personal stories or share your feelings and insight to give your essay more depth and authenticity.

In your application essay , admissions officers are looking for particular features : they want to see context on your background, positive traits that you could bring to campus, and examples of you demonstrating those qualities.

Colleges want to be able to differentiate students who seem similar on paper. In the college application essay , they’re looking for a way to understand each applicant’s unique personality and experiences.

You don’t need a title for your college admissions essay , but you can include one if you think it adds something important.

Your college essay’s format should be as simple as possible:

There are no set rules for how to structure a college application essay , but these are two common structures that work:

Avoid the five-paragraph essay structure that you learned in high school.

Campus visits are always helpful, but if you can’t make it in person, the college website will have plenty of information for you to explore. You should look through the course catalog and even reach out to current faculty with any questions about the school.

Colleges set a “Why this college?” essay because they want to see that you’ve done your research. You must prove that you know what makes the school unique and can connect that to your own personal goals and academic interests.

Depending on your writing, you may go through several rounds of revision . Make sure to put aside your essay for a little while after each editing stage to return with a fresh perspective.

Teachers and guidance counselors can help you check your language, tone, and content . Ask for their help at least one to two months before the submission deadline, as many other students will also want their help.

Friends and family are a good resource to check for authenticity. It’s best to seek help from family members with a strong writing or English educational background, or from older siblings and cousins who have been through the college admissions process.

If possible, get help from an essay coach or editor ; they’ll have specialized knowledge of college admissions essays and be able to give objective expert feedback.

When revising your college essay , first check for big-picture issues regarding message, flow, tone, style , and clarity. Then, focus on eliminating grammar and punctuation errors.

Include specific, personal details and use your authentic voice to shed a new perspective on a common human experience.

Through specific stories, you can weave your achievements and qualities into your essay so that it doesn’t seem like you’re bragging from a resume.

When writing about yourself , including difficult experiences or failures can be a great way to show vulnerability and authenticity, but be careful not to overshare, and focus on showing how you matured from the experience.

First, spend time reflecting on your core values and character . You can start with these questions:

However, you should do a comprehensive brainstorming session to fully understand your values. Also consider how your values and goals match your prospective university’s program and culture. Then, brainstorm stories that illustrate the fit between the two.

In a college application essay , you can occasionally bend grammatical rules if doing so adds value to the storytelling process and the essay maintains clarity.

However, use standard language rules if your stylistic choices would otherwise distract the reader from your overall narrative or could be easily interpreted as unintentional errors.

Write concisely and use the active voice to maintain a quick pace throughout your essay and make sure it’s the right length . Avoid adding definitions unless they provide necessary explanation.

Use first-person “I” statements to speak from your perspective . Use appropriate word choices that show off your vocabulary but don’t sound like you used a thesaurus. Avoid using idioms or cliché expressions by rewriting them in a creative, original way.

If you’re an international student applying to a US college and you’re comfortable using American idioms or cultural references , you can. But instead of potentially using them incorrectly, don’t be afraid to write in detail about yourself within your own culture.

Provide context for any words, customs, or places that an American admissions officer might be unfamiliar with.

College application essays are less formal than other kinds of academic writing . Use a conversational yet respectful tone , as if speaking with a teacher or mentor. Be vulnerable about your feelings, thoughts, and experiences to connect with the reader.

Aim to write in your authentic voice , with a style that sounds natural and genuine. You can be creative with your word choice, but don’t use elaborate vocabulary to impress admissions officers.

Admissions officers use college admissions essays to evaluate your character, writing skills , and ability to self-reflect . The essay is your chance to show what you will add to the academic community.

The college essay may be the deciding factor in your application , especially for competitive schools where most applicants have exceptional grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.

Some colleges also require supplemental essays about specific topics, such as why you chose that specific college . Scholarship essays are often required to obtain financial aid .

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How to Write a Scholarship Essay and Win BIG [2022 Edition]

With a new school year here, now’s the perfect time to get serious about searching for and winning scholarships to pay for college!

Since many applications for scholarships require an essay, you’ll want to know how to write one that persuades the scholarship program board that you’re the right person to receive the money available! 

If done right, your scholarship essay is a window into your world. Similar to your personal statement for college applications, these essays should give the readers a sense of you as a dimensional person—beyond what your high school GPA and test scores alone can reflect.

At Scholly, we’ve collectively written and read TONS of scholarship essays. And, in this post, we’re sharing our favorite tips and strategies to help you write winning scholarship essays and drastically improve your chances of graduating debt free !

Here’s a quick overview of what we’ll cover: 

Feel free to jump ahead to the section that interests you most or follow along as we begin with…

18 Tips for Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay

#1 adhere to the principles of writing any strong essay.

Like any other essay you write for school, you’ll want to format your scholarship essays in a way that makes it easy for the reader to consume and digest the content. In other words, a winning essay will have a good “flow.” 

Here are some effective essay writing skills that will help you develop an effective scholarship essay format:

For example, you may want to come out of the gates strong with a snapshot of where you see yourself in 10 years, after getting the education of your dreams: “Diving deep into the mysterious reaches of the ocean daily may not be everyone’s central goal in life, but I can’t wait to search for and protect endangered aquatic life for a living.”

And because sometimes the hardest part is starting when writing a scholarships essay or personal statement, here’s a video that will give you some ideas on how to write an intriguing first line:

#2 Familiarize yourself with the essay prompt… and stick to it!

Read the prompt several times and be totally clear about what it’s asking. Many scholarship programs have similar themes for the essay prompts, such as how you’ve demonstrated leadership qualities or how greater financial freedom will impact your life as a college student.

If the prompt doesn’t seem to have a question in it (e.g. “Reflect on the state of the environment and your role in helping it”) then we highly recommend that you re-frame the essay prompt as a question. So for example, ask yourself: “What is the overall state of the world’s natural environment and how am I directly impacting it?”

And it may sound obvious, but do NOT deviate from the prompt. Your ability to address a highly specific topic is part of what scholarship committees will assess. It can be easy for your thoughts to meander, but stick directly to the prompt.

#3 Choose a topic that you genuinely enjoy

You’ll want to stick to the essay prompt. But in some cases, you may have some freedom to choose the topic, or at least the central focus. Write about a subject, event, or value that means something to you. You’ll produce better work and come across more authentically if you care about what you’re writing. This goes a long way in improving your scholarship essays without creating more hard work for yourself.

Here’s what we mean. Let’s say a prompt asks you to describe a time that you were proud of yourself. Several instances may come to mind. Maybe it was when you dove off the high diving board the first time. Or maybe it was when you returned a wallet you found with $100 inside. 

Don’t choose which instance you think the scholarship essay readers want to hear . Choose the one that feels most resonant to you . It may sound cheesy, but when you write earnestly from the heart, your writing will be much stronger.

#4 Do a little research on the scholarship provider 

Who is the company or organization running the scholarship program? Read up a bit about them on their website’s home page. Get familiar with their mission and their motivation for giving this scholarship. When you’re better informed about the scholarship committee, you’re better able to tailor your essay to them.

Many scholarship providers also feature previous scholarship winners on their website, sometimes with the essay (or an excerpt from it) that won. Study what the scholarship provider says about those previous winners to get an idea of which of your qualities to highlight in your essay.  

#5 Know the word/character limit

Most scholarship essays have a word or character limit for your essay. If you’re not used to being mindful of these parameters, it can be hard to gauge what “250 words” actually looks like. As a rule of thumb, 250 words is equivalent to one typed page, double-spaced. (And therefore 500 words = 2 typed, double-spaced pages, and so on).

We suggest that you take an essay of yours (or any piece of written work, really) and run a word/character count on it so that you can get a feel for various lengths. Microsoft Word and Google Docs have functions for this, but you can also use a letter counter like this one . 

Once you know the word or character length, stick to it! If you have to write a 500 word essay , don’t write 501 words. You can be disqualified for going over. And while you don’t necessarily have to write an essay that hits the limit, it’s a good rule of thumb to come as close as possible.

#6 Brainstorm and plan

We can’t stress this one enough. The entire essay writing process will go much more smoothly if you have a road map for where you’re going. The very first step is to get some organic ideas circulating so that you end up choosing an essay focus that makes the most sense for you. Here are some awesome essay brainstorming techniques .

After you have a clear sense of your essay’s focus, you can begin to outline. Some students like to skip the outline. But an outline actually makes the drafting process much faster. That’s why we’ve shared an essay outline you can use later in this post! 

Depending on the length and depth of the essay, you can even just lay out the details you’ll want to include in your introduction, body, and conclusion. It can be as simple as that, but you don’t want to skip the planning process.

#7 Appeal to ethos, pathos, and logos

Uh, what-os? If you haven’t learned about ethos, pathos, and logos yet, let’s give you a quick primer. Ethos, pathos, and logos are modes of persuading your reader. In other words, they’re techniques to make your work more powerful and convincing.

Here is a great overview of ethos, pathos, and logos , but in short, here’s what each refers to:

Ethos = how you establish your own credibility, reliability, or authority on the subject matter (hint: you’ll be relying largely on your own life experiences in your scholarship essays).

For example, you might discuss how your experience working a part-time job has influenced your thoughts on minimum wage laws.

Pathos = how you use emotional appeal (including creativity, imagination, etc.) to tell your story or make your case.

For example, you might paint a picture of all of the wildlife lost in massive brush fires.

Logos = how you use logic or ration to convey your point.

For example, you may use statistics to convey how reliant high school students are on their cell phones.

Here’s a graphic that breaks down ethos, pathos, and logos clearly:

how long should a college scholarship essay be

Basically, in the ideal essay, you’ll use all three types of support to make your essay as earnest and persuasive as possible.

#8 Be honest

Your life and experiences are interesting and important! You do not need to embellish or make up details to try to seem more deserving of the scholarship money. Nothing is more powerful than your authenticity. And trust us, it’s much easier for readers to spot baloney in an essay than you may think.

Here’s a simple example. If you’re a tutor, you may be inclined to say something a bit dramatic, like, “over the last 4 years, I’ve had the privilege of helping shape thousands of lives.” 

Hmmm…have you really tutored thousands of students? Likely not—you’re busy! We get it. It’s easy to embellish. 

Instead, you could say something to the effect of: “After 4 years of tutoring nearly 150 individuals in math and science, I feel my own math and material science skills have improved substantially.”

Trust us—your unexaggerated accomplishments are impressive!

#9 Show, don’t tell

This is the cardinal rule for creative writing. Try to paint a vivid picture for your reader instead of just explaining everything. For example, don’t just say that you’re stressed out by juggling work and high school. Illustrate what that stress looks like in your life. (Are you pulling all-nighters and pounding coffee? Doing homework on your breaks between work, school activities, and community service?) Create a picture, and provide specific, believable examples.

Here’s an example of something you might write if you’re asked to discuss a challenge you’ve faced:

Instead of saying “In middle school, I tore my ACL playing ice hockey,” you can be more vivid. 

Try something like: “It was like an anvil had smashed down on my knee. In searing pain, I laid on the ice as the crowd fell silent. Something was very wrong.”

Notice how we immediately FEEL the impact of the injury in the latter example!

Here’s a video from Reedsy that shares some more creative writing tips to help you do more showing than telling when you start writing your scholarships essays: 

#10 Be specific and concise 

While we encourage you to be evocative in your language, we also want to stress that you should get to the point. Typically, the simplest, most direct word choices are the most effective. Avoid generalizations in favor of specific examples. Likewise, avoid flowery language in favor of more succinct sentences.

Let’s demonstrate. The following sentiment feels overly general and wordy:

“I love nature because nature is beautiful. Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing I don’t like to do in nature. Really, it’s been my favorite place to be since a young age and any activity that involves being outside is just good for my soul.”

This rewrite expresses the same idea in a much more succinct way:

“Whether I’m hiking, wading in the ocean, or planting seasonal flowers in the garden, I am rejuvenated by being in nature.”

#11 Use exclamation points sparingly

We all know that exclamation marks indicate excitement! Right?! 

Truthfully, we love exclamation points! And while winning financial aid in the form of scholarships IS very exciting, too many exclamation marks can be overkill. 

So as a rule of thumb, don’t use more than a couple of exclamation marks throughout your scholarship essay. Also make sure they’re appropriate to the prompt. We’ve seen some pretty creative scholarship essay prompts in our day (like one that asks to share a funny story or joke). In this case, you can use exclamation marks more freely.

Many people falsely believe that an exclamation mark will make a sentence more powerful. But the truth is, empowering statements pack a punch without one.

For example, “I’m looking forward to becoming a lawyer as a means of creating a more just and egalitarian world” is a powerful statement. You don’t need to throw an exclamation point on the end to make it more resonant.

#12 Emphasize your resilience

Scholarship prompts often ask you about a hardship you’ve overcome. We love this type of question because it gives the reader a chance to understand a student’s resilience and ability to problem solve. These characteristics are huge on a scholarship essay.

The mistake many students make on this question is to write 100% about the hardships they’ve faced without acknowledging or discussing how they overcame them. Essay readers are not simply looking for the hardest story when selecting a winner, but rather a complete narrative that includes how the student has worked to overcome the challenge.

In addition, we recommend focusing on a central event or experience — which tends to read as more powerful, especially when faced with a word or character limit. You may have faced several hardships in your life, but your essay will be more focused if you choose one that you’ve overcome.

#13 Be professional… but also be yourself

While you’ll want to avoid swearing and overly colloquial or conversational language, you DO want to be yourself. That means writing in your own voice and tone. So long as you keep it professional, readers want you to sound like YOU. You don’t have to write a stuffy essay for it to be good! Keep it clean and clear, but also keep it real!

Here’s a great piece on the difference between voice and tone , and how you can improve your writing skills to stand out.

#14 Sell yourself… but also be humble

Is this the definition of a humble brag? Maybe. Your scholarship essay is a great place to share your accomplishments. But don’t just list all of your best qualities and accomplishments as a rationale for why you deserve the scholarship award. It’s important to strike a fine balance.

For example, the following sounds a bit like a brag “pile on:”

“As a straight-A student who is always the first to get the answers in my classes, the captain of my debate team, and a proud volunteer at the homeless shelter, I truly believe I deserve this scholarship.”

Instead, you can simply say something like, “The discipline I bring to my academics and volunteer work reflects how hard I intend to work in my college courses, and I would be grateful for the financial assistance to attend.”

#15 Be brief with your “thank you”

Your character, dedication, and integrity should come through naturally in your writing. You don’t need to add a long-winded “Thank you for reading this essay” paragraph at the end of your essay.

Most scholarship essays are fairly short, so avoid bloating your essay with gratitude and praise for the opportunity. Use your character and words allotments to answer the prompt thoroughly instead!

If you have space, a brief thank you is thoughtful and appropriate. But you’ll want to be as succinct as possible. For example, at the very end of your essay, you can simply say something like, “Thank you for this opportunity and for taking the time to read this essay.” Bam. Polite but to the point.

If you can’t fit your thanks in the essay due to the word count, you can also wait to write a thank you letter after you’ve received the scholarship. 

#16 Pause, proofread, and revise

The author Robert Graves said, “There’s no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting,” and it’s true; nothing comes out perfect the first time. So revise, revise, revise!

In the revision process, we’re HUGE fans of taking breaks. Walk away from your work to clear your mind and then come back to it. You’ll see your essay with fresh eyes which will help you take it to the next level.

If you feel comfortable doing so, it’s also a good idea to hand off your work to someone else for feedback. Choose a trusted teacher, peer, or friend, and be open to their suggestions for improvement.

#17 Give yourself enough time

Like any written assignment, you’ll want to give yourself enough time to think about the prompt, plan, draft, and revise. A well-planned essay has a much higher chance of winning than one you crank out last minute. 

We recommend giving yourself at least 2 weeks before the deadline of an essay to brainstorm, draft, and revise your essay. Ideally, you should leave a couple of days between each of these stages of the essay writing process. This break will help you avoid essay writing burnout. It’ll also give you a better chance to edit errors, typos, and places for improvement.

#18 Reuse your scholarships essays

Sometimes you don’t even need to write a new scholarship essay. If the essay prompts and directions are nearly identical between one scholarship application and another, you can reuse the essay. If you’re a high school senior, you might even be able to reuse the personal statement you write for college applications. And this will save you a ton of time! 

For example, let’s say one scholarship asks you to write an essay addressing a prompt that says something like “Why should you receive this scholarship?” and another gives you a prompt like “Why do you deserve this scholarship?”. Your answer to both prompts is probably going to be the same, right?

Write the essay for one application. Then, reuse and adapt that same essay to fit the word count, directions, etc. of the second application. 

Just make sure of one thing: if you mention the scholarship provider’s name (e.g. Coca Cola Foundation) in your essay, remember to change the name when reusing the essay for another scholarship application!

10 Things to Leave Out of Your Scholarship Essay

Now that you have a sense of how to attack your scholarship essay, let’s take a look at what to leave out of it. 

Keep in mind that these rules aren’t written in stone, of course, but they’re guidelines that will help you write the most unique and compelling scholarship essay possible.

Okay, so here’s what you’ll typically want to avoid… 

#1 Inspirational quotes

Who doesn’t love an inspirational quote?! We sure do. Whether you find them scrolling Instagram or keep them tacked up above your desk, a great quote can be super empowering. But when it comes to scholarship essays, it’s better to leave them out.

DON’T drop in famous quotes, many of which are overused. For example: “Mahatma Gandhi said to ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’ which is why I’m applying for this scholarship award. I want to attend college so I can become a nurse and change the world.” 

Here’s the thing: wanting to be a nurse is incredibly admirable in its own right! It doesn’t have to be attached to anyone else’s sweeping statements about life or humanity. This essay is about you , so famous quotes are just a distraction.

DO include meaningful advice or wisdom you’ve received directly from the important people in your life. This is much more personal and will provide a unique account of who you are and what you’re all about. 

For example: “My mother, a registered nurse for 20 years, has always encouraged me to help care for others as a means of making the world a better place. This is why I’m planning to follow in her footsteps and go to nursing school.”

#2 Overly general phrases and platitudes

The name of the game for winning scholarships is standing out from the mix. This means you don’t want to say the exact same thing as hundreds of other applicants. 

Platitudes are common, overly simplified statements that people use all the time. For example, “Good things come to those who wait.” These are okay phrases to say, but refrain from using them in your scholarship essays to avoid sounding like every other high school student. 

DON’T discuss the scholarship opportunity in platitudes like, “It would mean the world to me to win this money” or “Winning this scholarship would be life-changing.” These statements may be true, but they don’t really tell us much about you.

DO illustrate specifically how things will change if you win the scholarship money. For example, “This scholarship award would enable me to have only one part-time job instead of two, providing me more time to focus on my college courses.”

#3 Cliche stories or themes

Many scholarship essay prompts ask you to discuss how winning a scholarship would impact you. And this is often where cliches creep in.

Cliches are phrases, stories, or themes that are overused to the point that they lose their power and meaning. And they’ll definitely weaken your scholarship essay.

The most common example of a cliche theme in scholarship essays is the “Cinderella” or “underdog” storyline (think: Cinderella getting her glass slipper, only the scholarship is the glass slipper). Many cliches involve a person who, with a little help, turns it all around and prevails.

In real life, we LOVE a Cinderella story as much as anyone. But you can imagine why this type of story ends up in scholarship essays a lot!

DON’T simply share a story about yourself that paints you as a down-on-your-luck student who could have it all if ONLY you won this scholarship money. Here’s what this might look like: “I’ve never really won anything in life: no contests, giveaways, or competitions. But if I win this scholarship and save money on college, I’ll be able to focus 100% on my academic performance and become the youngest Supreme Court Justice in American history.”

Don’t get us wrong, we’re all about dreaming BIG! But when it comes to scholarship essays, we want to help you to avoid falling into cliche narratives that dampen the power of your story and hurt your chances of winning. 

DO be realistic and specific when talking about yourself, your background, your career goals, your leadership qualities, and your aspirations. Focus on one primary goal that you’ll be better able to attain if you win the scholarship money. For example: “As a Spanish double major, I would love the opportunity to study abroad as an international student in Madrid to immerse myself in the culture and become fluent in Spanish. Winning this scholarship money would help fund my semester overseas.”

#4 Profanity 

Here’s another one that probably seems WAY obvious. You’d never swear in a scholarship essay, right? But you may be surprised at how many people do! 

DON’T use any profanity or curse words, even if they’re part of common phrases that we hear all the time on TV and in the real world. 

For example, try not to say things like: “I’ve worked my ass off for 18 years and now I am ready to apply myself even further in this rigorous pre-med program.”

Will you actually offend anyone with that kind of conversational tone? Probably not. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. Plus, we know you can be more creative than that!

DO stress your excitement, perseverance, and preparedness for this next chapter without the curse words. You can always use a thesaurus to look up new and exciting ways to say things or use imagery to paint a picture of your experiences.

For example: “Being a college student has been a marathon and at times I’ve worried I may not cross the finish line. But now that I’ve graduated, I know what I’m capable of and I’m thrilled to be starting this graduate program.”

#5 “Text speak”

We realize that texting is the way of the world. And we’re all pretty accustomed to abbreviating words and using acronyms daily (smdh and lol-ing about how common this language is now). But keep your “text speak” in your group chats and out of your scholarship essays. 

Your scholarship essay is a great place to showcase your eloquence and professionalism, so (unless directed otherwise), write as you would for a teacher or a boss. 

DON’T use statements like, “College should be free for everyone IMO, but because it’s not, I need this scholarship 2 help fund my education.” It looks hilarious taken out of context, right? This kind of thing is super common and distracting for the reader. 

DO remove any and all “text speak” in favor of your own unique voice and tone. You can still use mild humor and even talk like you , but keep it academic and professional.

#6 Controversial topics 

Unless the essay prompt explicitly asks you to address a currently trending, controversial topic and take a stance on it, don’t. These essays are about you. 

Based on the prompt and your personal experiences, perhaps you’ll discuss a “hot topic,” but don’t do so just to make your essay stand out. You’ll risk alienating your reader(s).

We definitely encourage you to be yourself, and to be open and honest about your life experiences, but “hot takes” are better left for Twitter than used in scholarship essays.

DON’T treat your scholarship essay like a platform to tackle a trending topic. A thoughtful essay reads 100 times better than your stance on a popular topic of the moment.

DO take firm stances on causes that you believe in and articulate how winning this scholarship will help you advocate for them. For example, you can certainly discuss your commitment to advocating for gender equality or against wage inequality. 

To be clear: we’re NOT suggesting that you sanitize your beliefs or your writing, or dampen your beliefs to cater to specific readers. The key is to be mindful of the prompt and to avoid unnecessary detours or tangents that tread into hot take territory unrelated to the prompt. 

#7 Emojis, photos, and funky fonts

We love emojis too, but they shouldn’t make their way into your scholarship essay (and, yes, we’ve seen it happen plenty of times). Unless for any reason you’re asked to creatively use an emoji in your response, just resist the urge.

The same goes for photos, fun fonts, or anything that isn’t straightforward typeface. Unless, again, you’re given the green light.

DON’T turn your scholarship essay into an art project. It may seem like a good idea, but keep it professional. More importantly, you want your essay to be as easy to read as possible, without overwhelming the readers.

DO stick to the standard: Times New Roman font, size 12 if you’re attaching your essay as a Google or Word document. If you’re pasting your essay into the text box on a website, this will format your content automatically.

And of course, read the directions carefully so you know how to format your scholarship essay when it comes to things like single vs double spacing, margins, headers/footers, etc.

#8 Extreme declarations

It’s almost always a good idea to avoid extreme, either-or perspectives. And this is definitely true when it comes to scholarship essays. An extreme declaration involves only seeing one side of a situation (often the negative side) and presenting it as fact. 

DON’T make fatalistic declarations about the future and take unnecessarily strong stances on topics. 

For example: “If I don’t get this scholarship, I won’t have enough financial aid to attend college and I’ll never get a good job to support myself.” 

Or, “The education system in the United States is entirely broken and there’s no way to turn it around.”

See how both of these statements can give the reader a feeling that the writer is not seeing the full picture? 

DO replace extreme declarations with hopeful and open-minded approaches to the future. This is not to say that you can’t take a firm and realistic stance on a topic. But try to reflect a generally optimistic and proactive mindset.

For example, if the prompt asks you about an issue facing the world today, you may say something like: “While there has undeniably been immense damage done to the planet, I’m excited to pursue a double major in environmental science and computer science as a means of taking action to reverse these toxic effects of climate change.”

Much more dynamic and compelling, right?

#9 Put-downs of other applicants

Speaking ill of anyone or saying why other students are less deserving of scholarship money isn’t a good look. You can absolutely articulate why you’re deserving without putting anyone else down!

DON’T speak unkindly about anyone, especially hypothetical applicants who you see yourself as more deserving than. This may be well-intentioned, but it’s sure to come across as distasteful no matter how well it’s written. 

DO “stay in your own lane,” as they say, and don’t let the essay wander to focus on and nitpick others. Feel free to provide compelling reasons for why you’re a great candidate to receive scholarship money without bringing others into it!

#10 Your autobiography

As discussed, most scholarships require a pretty tight word or character limits, so you won’t have a lot of room to tell your whole life story. When talking about yourself, it can be easy to get on a roll and include more details than necessary. But try to stay focused.

DON’T write a complete autobiography of your life. It can be easy to believe that going beyond the word limit will come across as working harder or putting in more of an effort. In reality, scholarship committees actually put a lot of weight into your ability to follow directions. So while your autobiography may be incredible, it’s unlikely you’ll  do it justice in 500 words or less (or whatever the requirement is).  

DO choose and focus on a central incident, challenge, personality trait, hobby, or aspiration.  For example, discuss only your love of animals, your passion for community service, your memory of the day your younger sister was born, etc.

Scholarship Essay Outline Example

We know there’s a lot of information packed in the tips we just shared. And it’d probably be a challenge to remember everything when you start writing. So, here’s an outline you can use to easily format your scholarship essays!

Winning Scholarship Essay Examples 

So far, we’ve shared a lot of tips and strategies to help you write the best scholarship essay possible. But what does all that look like in practice? 

Here are 3 videos with scholarship essay examples from now college students who knew to apply many, if not all, of the tips we’ve shared in this blog post!

This student’s scholarship essay helped him win over $100,000 in scholarships to attend the University of Maryland, College Park! 

This student’s scholarship essay helped her win a full-tuition scholarship to attend Vanderbilt University! 

This student’s scholarship essay helped her win $60,000 in scholarships to attend an Ivy League university!

Want More Scholarship Opportunities?

There are tons of scholarships that you can apply for and win. So, don’t just focus on the scholarship program you’re currently writing an essay for. Apply for as many scholarships as you can!

To easily find them, download Scholly Search , the #1 scholarship app that instantly matches you with hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in scholarships based on your interests, accomplishments, and traits! 

You can also check out the rest of our blog where we share tips on topics, like how to find jobs with tuition reimbursement programs, understand and apply for FAFSA , and win scholarships like the National Merit Scholarship .

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Scholarship Application Essay Tips

Writing your scholarship application essay, 1. plan ahead.

2. Talk about your accomplishments

3. State your need

4. Keep it simple

5. Make it easy on your reader

ORGANIZE YOUR THOUGHTS

ESSAY OUTLINE

1. introductory sentence.

2. Educational Objectives and Career Goals

3. Brief Background

5. Conclusion

WRITING YOUR ESSAY

Take the outline and begin with the first sentence (which may be the most difficult) and then just write to include everything you think is important. Don’t worry about the length of the essay at this point. Use your outline as a guide.

1. First Sentence (the most difficult part)

2. Now go back and look at what you’ve written.

Read it for content and organization of the information. At this point, it is probably too long. What can you eliminate and/or incorporate? Are you redundant? Are you too brief? Does this essay paint an accurate picture of YOU?

3. SPELL CHECK – SPELL CHECK – SPELL CHECK

4. have someone else read your essay. is it you what do they think, 5. do you like what it says about you reread it one last time and spell check it again.

REMEMBER: The essay is your chance to communicate your needs, accomplishments, goals, etc. The scholarship reviewers should be able to read your essay and feel as if they know you personally.

Download a PDF version of these tips.

5 Ways to Make Your Scholarship Essay Stand Out

When writing a scholarship essay, follow these tips to win the most money for college.

Make Your Scholarship Essay Stand Out

Writing a scholarship essay isn't like writing an essay for a high school class, experts warn.

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Students hoping to earn scholarships, a form of financial aid that does not need to be repaid, often must compete with hundreds of other applicants and sometimes for a very limited number of awards.

Free financial aid plays a significant role in helping students in the U.S. pay for college. According to the 2019 How America Pays for College report from Sallie Mae, 31% of college costs in 2018-2019 were paid for with money that does not need to be repaid; three-fifths of that were scholarships and two-fifths were grants.

To get the most of this highly desirable aid, students can take advantage of a few expert-recommended strategies to make their application stand out. Below are a few tips for writing scholarship essays that pack a punch.

Get Personal and Be Specific

The key to a successful scholarship essay is making it personal, experts say, and including impactful details. An essay that feels genuine and offers insights into who the applicant is on a deeper level will stand out in a crowd of academic essays that may be boring for readers who review hundreds and sometimes thousands of applications.

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Scholarships awarded by the Pride Foundation, for example, require an application that involves multiple essays in which students are asked to describe themselves, what they plan to study and the kinds of work they hope to do. The social justice-focused philanthropic foundation aims to support the LGBTQ community in the Northwest region and awards more than 60 scholarships for any accredited postsecondary school or program, according to its website.

College scholarships had an average award amount of about $5,000 to $8,000 last year, says Katelen Kellogg, the foundation's communications and outreach manager. She says the scholarships are for LGBTQ or strongly LGBTQ-allied students who are residents of the Pacific Northwest.

Kellogg, who helps read essays from applicants each year, says the scholarship essays that stand out to her include "details that paint the picture of their lives." She says the most successful essays are "less about something you do and more about who you are as a person."

Eden Shore, a volunteer manager at the Pride Foundation who also has experience reading hundreds of scholarship essays, says the writing process should be meaningful for students – and that comes across in the essay.

"Your essay can be an opportunity for you to make sense of something yourself," Shore says. "Illustrate you can thoughtfully reflect."

Tell a Story

A standout essay hooks the reader from the first sentence, says Monica Matthews, author of the scholarship guide, "How to Win College Scholarships."

Think about the structure of the essay, and how the reader can be drawn in by it, experts say. The story should feel real and true to the student's life.

"Students need to begin with a hook and share personal and tangible details about their life," Matthews wrote in an email. "Simply stating that they have helped others, for example, does not let the judges see the kind of person that they really are. Writing about specific experiences with real-life situations using interesting details makes compelling and memorable essays."

Tailor the Scholarship Essay to the Prompt

In some cases, it may be acceptable and even smart to repurpose an essay the student has already written and use it for another application. But experts say students should exercise caution.

"Many times, students try to re-purpose essays from the admissions process for scholarship essays, and the result ends up being so-so," Colleen Paparella Ganjian, an independent educational consultant and founder of DC College Counseling in Virginia, wrote in an email.

Instead, essays should be on topic and specific to the unique question being asked and the organization to which students are applying.

A typical scholarship essay topic will likely ask students about their career goals and their plan to achieve those goals, Matthews says. Other essay prompts might ask students what they've done to make their community a better place or to describe a personal achievement and how they overcame challenges to reach it.

Don't Tailor Yourself to the Reader

Students often feel they need to project a certain image or side of themselves in scholarship applications and essays. This isn't always necessary.

"The only person an applicant has to be is themselves," Shore says of applicants to the Pride Foundation Scholarship.

The trap of tailoring themselves can be particularly tempting for students who are nontraditional or have an international background, says Mandee Heller Adler, founder and president of International College Counselors based in Florida.

"Don't shy away from talking about your culture, traditions, and experiences. If you're an international applicant , a minority, or non-traditional student, don't try to 'Americanize' or 'mainstream' your application," Heller Adler wrote in an email. "Scholarship committees like diversity, and the goal is to stand out and not appear to be like all the other applicants. Don't be afraid to expand on details about your culture that are meaningful to you and essential to understanding who you are."

Follow Directions

The greatest frustration in reading scholarship application essays, Shore says, is when students fail to follow directions. This means taking note of any formatting specifications, length restrictions and answering the question posed.

"Make sure you're answering the question that has been asked and stay within the word limit you're given," Shore says. "Longer doesn't necessarily mean better. If students are bored by the essay they write, the reader will be too."

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.

12 Ways to Win a Scholarship

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Home » Financial Assistance » College Scholarships » How Long Should I Write My Essay?

How Long Should I Write My Essay?

Length of Scholarship Essay

August 14, 2021

You have completed the procedure of applying for the college scholarship . Now you are asked to write an essay to impress the admission committee and give them a brief idea about your personality and goals. You must be thinking that how many words would be enough for writing an essay. There are varying approaches to this. Usually, the words limit to write the essay is mentioned. However, in some applications, you are provided with a free space to express yourself out. This is where you need to decide on the optimal length of the essay.

You need to do complete research on this as these few words will decide either the acceptance or rejection of your application. You need to spend days crafting an impressive essay that covers all the essential details of your life. But, it should not be too long. You should stay to-the-point and precise in your statements as the scholarship committee doesn’t have enough time to read long essays.

A scholarship essay should be as long as needed to cover the precise but complete information on the topic required.

Different applications and supplemental essays have different approaches.

Keep reading to get more clarity.

Personal statements

The personal statement is the primary essay that you write for your college application. It is recommended to cover the essay within 400-600 words. However, the word count varies in different applications.

It does not matter where you are applying, but it is recommended to follow the higher limit of word count to properly showcase your talent as a student or as a person.

Supplemental & scholarship essays

In addition to the personal statement, many schools demand supplemental essays. The length of supplemental and scholarship essays varies and depends upon the requirements of the school. However, these essays are shorter than personal statements, especially when required to write multiple supplemental articles.

For example, the word count of supplemental essays required by Georgetown is 250-700, and they need four essays.

Stanford requires an essay with a word count of 10-250. However, they need 11 essays. The lower the word limit you are provided, the more strictly you should stick to it.

Final words

On the whole, it is suggested to either meet the word limit or stay within, as writing more words will result in your essay being cut off. On the other hand, if you write fewer words, it gives an impression that you are not interested at all and applying just to fill a formality. If you are not provided with any word limit, it is recommended to stick to 400-600 words. This can help you demonstrate yourself and your interest in a proper way. 

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How Long Should a College Essay Be?

by Story2 Staff , on Jul 22, 2021 11:39:34 AM

When you’re starting to write a college essay, you might find yourself wondering about the word count. How long or short should it be? Are word count limits suggested, or required? What happens if you go over the limit? Read on for answers to all of these questions, and more! 

College essay word count limits 

Most colleges do provide a word count limit or range. If there’s a limit, you should generally aim to get close to the limit, and if there’s a range, you should aim to fall within the range. Avoid going over the limit, as your essay may be cut off, or under the range. You don’t want to give readers the impression that you can’t follow instructions — that’s a surefire way to start things off on a bad foot, before they’ve read a single word of your essay! 

But what if there’s no limit or range provided? In those cases, we recommend sticking to the standard 400-600 words. That will give you enough room to make your case! 

Personal statements

The primary essay for your college application, often called a personal statement, is typically around 400-600 words. The Common App personal statement — which is used as the primary application essay by more than 800 colleges —  must be 250-650 words. Some schools don’t use the Common App, but their primary essays usually fall within the same range. The University of California system, for example, requires 4 essays with a maximum of 350 words. 

No matter where you’re applying, we recommend aiming for the higher end of the given limit or range, in order to properly showcase who you are as a person and student. 

Supplements & scholarship essays

Most schools require supplemental essays in addition to the personal statement. Supplemental and scholarship essays vary in length depending on the requirements of the school, but they are often shorter than the personal statement or primary essay, especially if multiple supplemental essays are required. 

Some schools require quite a few supplemental essays, each with very different word count limits. For example, Georgetown requires 4 supplemental essays, ranging from 250 to 700 words, and Stanford requires a whopping 11 , ranging anywhere from 10 to 250 words. The lower the word count limit, the more closely you should stick to it, unless you’re absolutely sure you can answer the prompt completely and successfully in fewer words. 

Overall, it’s best to stay within the word count limit or range — it’s provided for a reason! Writing too much will likely result in your essay being cut off, and writing too little may cause readers to think that you aren’t truly interested in their school. If no range is given, remember to stick to 400-600 words. This will give you enough space to demonstrate your interest and help readers learn about you! 

Want to see some real examples of essays written by students just like you? Check out our guide to personal statements and scholarship essays !

Go to College Admission Essays Made Easy.

For more info about college admission and scholarship essays and interviews, sign up for self-paced courses and our award-winning StoryBuilder writing platform FREE . Want to stay up to date on the latest tips and resources? Follow us @story2 on Instagram!

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    Most scholarship essays have a word or character limit for your essay. If you're not used to being mindful of these parameters, it can be hard

  11. Scholarship Application Essay Tips

    At this point, it is probably too long. What can you eliminate and/or incorporate? Are you redundant? Are you too brief? Does this essay paint an accurate

  12. 5 Ways to Make Your Scholarship Essay Stand Out

    a form of financial aid that does not need to be repaid, often must

  13. How Long Should I Write My Essay?

    The personal statement is the primary essay that you write for your college application. It is recommended to cover the essay within 400-600

  14. How Long Should a College Essay Be?

    Most schools require supplemental essays in addition to the personal statement. Supplemental and scholarship essays vary in length depending on the requirements