Writing a Compelling Scholarship Essay

Tips and tricks to make your essay shine

Scholarships are a great way to offset the cost of a study-abroad program, but scholarships can be limited in how many are offered per semester. So it’s important that you make sure that your scholarship essay is readable, portrays who you are as a student and makes you stand out from the other applicants.

Here are 6 tips to make your scholarship essay shine:

1. If there’s an essay prompt, follow it!

Read it several times over so that you are sure that you understand what you are being asked to write about. As you read the prompt several times, note down ideas that come to mind. You can use these ideas later as you start to write your essay. This is absolutely critical: Do not deviate from the prompt! Your ability to write about a very specific question is what’s being assessed—and will serve you well in your university studies.

2. No prompt? Then write what you are passionate about!

Write about a subject area, an event or something that you value. When you enjoy what you’re writing about, you’ll have a deeper connection to the essay and can produce a thoughtful, competitive essay.

3. Stick to the word count.

Here’s a handy tip: As a rule of thumb, 250 words is equivalent to one typed page, double-spaced. Have you already written an essay for a previous class? Open it up and run a word count on it. You’ll have a better idea of how long or short you’ll need to write for the scholarship. Most organizations won’t penalize you for going a few words over the limit, but try to come as close as possible.

4. Have a clear introduction, body and conclusion statement. You should be precise in your writing and have an easy-to-follow statement.

Your introduction should get the reader’s attention and provide a very specific statement of why you are writing this essay.

The body paragraphs should address your “why” in your introduction. Use as many body paragraphs as you need to explain your “why.” It’s easier to read many short paragraphs than a couple of long paragraphs.

The conclusion summarizes what you explained in your body paragraphs and answers “why I should be awarded a scholarship.” You can also include a short “thank you for this opportunity and reading my submission.”

5. Leave yourself enough time!

Don’t wait until the last day to start working on your scholarship essay. Make sure you take time to think about what you want to write, draft the essay and then revise and revise again, and potentially again. We’d recommend giving yourself about two weeks before the deadline—and leave a couple of days in between your brainstorming period, your writing period and your revising period. This will help you have fresh eyes to find sentences that aren’t grammatically correct, phrases that don’t address the prompt and so on.

6. Proofread, proofread, proofread.

Would a grammatical error on your scholarship essay really keep you from your educational goal? It could, according to Randeep Kullar, manager for our Career Services.

“The biggest thing that I've noticed in reviewing any kind of document is that the minute there is a grammatical error, it pulls me away from the content,” says Randeep. “It's an automatic red flag for me. If I see that the author’s first language isn’t English, then I will take this into consideration and give them a bit of leeway, as learning another language is a feat unto itself that shows how adaptable and versatile the individual is in other ways.

“Overall, grammar is important, and it points to a variety of skills that employers, schools, et cetera, look for in candidates. However, any good reviewer of an application will take context into consideration and look at supporting documentation or details, if available, that paint a more comprehensive approach of a candidate.

Ready to submit your scholarship application for our Berkeley Haas Global Access Program or Legal Studies Global Access Program?