Most college scholarships require you to write an essay or personal statement of some kind. Why? Almost all of the applicants for these scholarships have high GPAs, high SAT and/or ACT scores, and great track records in school and in extracurricular activities so scholarship providers ask for a personal statement to get to know the applicant a bit better and ensure that they’ve chosen the best candidate.

A lot of scholarships are based on community, leadership, and advancements in various industries and fields of study. Those things cannot be shown completely in a high school transcript. And that’s actually probably a very good thing for you.

Think of it this way… If you were applying for scholarships based on nothing but your transcript and standardized test scores, you would have to hope and pray that you had the very highest scores among all of the other applicants. Someone with poorer leadership skills and less ambitious goals could beat you simply because they answered one more question correctly on a standardized test.

Sometimes our transcripts and/or test scores suffer because we’re working on important projects, participating in multiple extracurricular activities, and/or because we’re not the best test-takers in the world. A scholarship essay can give you the opportunity to shine beyond just your GPA and test scores. To do this, you’ll need to know how to make your scholarship essay really stand out from the crowd and show who you are.

Tip #1 – Know Your Audience and Write for Them

Especially if you’re applying for a scholarship funded by a private organization, you need to realize that the people funding your scholarship want something back from their investment.

Corporations like Apple and Microsoft fund scholarships because they want to see the best and brightest of the next generation of technology professionals get the most out of their educations, but that’s not all they want. They want their companies to continue to flourish. Funding these programs gives young programmers and technical professionals incentives to be better and to learn more. Scholarships like these also make them more attractive to workers coming into the industry.

So, before you sit down to write your scholarship essay, read through all of the information available to you about the scholarship. Read the questions carefully and think about how they’re worded and what kinds of responses they’re looking for. Then read about the corporation or organization funding the scholarship and get to know them as well as you can. Only then, when you know whom you’re writing for, should you start writing your scholarship essay.

Tip #2 – Choose a Topic You’re Passionate About for Your Scholarship Essay

A lot of scholarships will give you a choice for your essay topics, and there will usually be fairly open-ended questions, too. You’ll see essay questions like, “Describe a time when you’ve shown leadership,” or, “What inspires you?” Obviously, you can go in a lot of different directions with these questions and topics.

When choosing a topic, grab a pen and paper, and start brainstorming. For 15-20 minutes, just write everything down that pops into your mind related to that topic. For example, if you’re writing about what inspires you, your brainstorming list could look something like:

  • Successful women in my field.
  • The progress of handheld technology over the last 20 years.
  • Cartoons I watched when I was a kid.
  • Living in a cleaner, more eco-friendly world.
  • Tech innovations that improve people’s lives in third world countries.
  • “Fitspiration” images on Facebook and Instagram.

Now, you’ll notice that at least two of these seem a little bit off-the-wall. Are you really going to write a scholarship about how you’re inspired to workout by seeing “fitspiration’ images on social media? Probably not. However, you never know when an oddball idea might turn into a brilliant essay topic. So write them all down.

Do this for all of the available questions or topics for your scholarship. Then, when you’re done, start crossing off the things that really don’t work for you and/or that you don’t want to write about. This process will narrow your choices down to topics that really excite you and that you can write a personal and passionate essay about.

Tip #3 – Start Early and Get It Done Before Deadline

When it comes to writing scholarship essays, it’s never too early to get started. You may have 3-6 months until your deadline right now, but that time will pass before you know it. You do not want to be sweating over that deadline. So, when you start the application process, make a calendar for yourself and set yourself a deadline at least a week (if not a month) before the deadline for scholarship applications.

On your calendar, set milestones for your essay. If you’re working on a 3-month timeline, for example, you should set a goal for finishing your essay’s outline and a good, solid first draft within the first month. The second month can be dedicated to revising and polishing, and the third month can go to editing and final proofreading. If you do this, you won’t be scribbling an incoherent mess of an essay at the last minute; you’ll have a well thought-out piece of structured writing about a topic that you love and care about. This will set you apart more than any test score ever will.

Tip #4 – Get Proofreading and Editing Help

Finally, we can’t stress enough how important proofreading and editing are. You might think, “I don’t make editing mistakes, and I can see typos pop up on my screen with spell check. Why should I get someone to help me proofread and edit my work?”

Your essay is very close to you, and it’s about a topic that you know a lot about. Something you write may seem very clear to you because you have context for it, but to someone else it may be confusing. A set of fresh eyes on the page can also see mistakes that you might otherwise have missed. Even professional writers need editors, and you can benefit from editing help, too.

With these tips, you should have everything you need to write a great scholarship essay that stands out from the crowd. Good luck!

Search and Apply for Scholarships on helps students and parents search and apply for scholarships, grants, awards and other financial aid options to help pay for college. Whether you are a high school senior starting college or a single mom going back to school, you can find money for college through