How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay in 7 Steps?


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Anand Patinge

Lead, Brand

Are you finally ready to stop procrastinating on that scholarship essay? 

We get it, scholarship essays can be intimidating things to write, even for the best of us. 

But they aren’t impossible. (Or even as scary as they seem.)

Plus we’re here to make your life easier, and to help you get one step closer to winning that scholarship of your dreams. 

Read on to learn exactly what steps to follow to put together a winning scholarship essay.

7 steps to writing a winning scholarship essay for master’s students.

1. Read the scholarship essay instructions clearly.

Read the scholarship essay instructions clearly

IAT: Scholarship essay writing guide

The biggest mistake that most students make is not reading the requirements for the scholarship essay clearly enough.

Many just recycle their college application essay or even the essay from another scholarship application.

Now don’t get us wrong. Reusing or modifying previous essays is a smart way to work, especially when you have a pile of essays staring at you in the face. 

And you will probably reuse many parts of your previous essays anyways. 

But you must read the requirements for this scholarship essay in detail before you even think about recycling old essays. 

Look for specifications like:

  • The essay statement / prompt (ex: Tell us about how you’ve shown great leadership abilities in your life so far, through school, college, and outside of them both.)
  • Formatting requirements (like margins, font type, size, file format, etc.)
  • Word count (minimum and maximum word count)
  • Due date (also look for early bird deadlines)

Of all these, the first thing you need to focus on when it comes to writing your essay is the topic or prompt. 

Your essay should be on-topic and specifically address the prompt. So read, and re-read the essay statement. Then identify the key themes that they need you to address in it. 

This could be things like your career goals, the impact you want to create in the world, the hardships you’ve faced in life, your leadership abilities, etc.

So use these key themes as the starting point to start jotting down ideas for your essay structure. 

2. Dive deep into the scholarship organization

Dive deep into the scholarship organization

IAT: Scholarship essay writing guide

Before you get deep into planning and drafting your essay, take a minute for research. Learn more about the organization that runs the scholarship program you’re applying for. 

This is the simplest way to give your scholarship essay for a master’s program an edge, with hardly any extra effort.

Read up about them. Check out their website, and scour through any articles or press releases they might have. 

Get a good understanding of their mission and the values that guide their work. Find out their vision and goals behind setting up this scholarship. 

Look at previous winners of this scholarship and see what you have in common with them. Or what common features all the winning applicants seem to share. 

(You will often find the previous winners’ names and bios published on the scholarship website.)

Keep in mind, that this is not to encourage you to fake your personality, achievements, or story in your essay. That should always be authentic. 

But this will help you understand what they value, and the personality traits that are important to them. So you will know what qualities or life experiences to highlight in your application essay.

3. Keep them hooked from the get-go.

Keep them hooked from the get-go

The first impression matters, even in a scholarship essay for master’s program. Having a strong introduction can help you stand out among a sea of scholarship applicants.

But starting on a blank sheet can be a daunting task. 

So we’ve got some proven essay hook ideas for you to get started with an engaging and powerful introduction.

Here are a few ways you can start your scholarship application:

  • Start with an inspiring quote. But avoid platitudes or generic quotes. And always follow up with why or how that quote was personally inspiring to you. 
  • Share a surprising fact that relates to the focus of your application. Or a fact that inspired you to take action and started you on this journey. 
  • Bring in a thought-provoking question. You could then build the rest of your essay as your journey to finding an answer to that question.
  • Or get personal with a compelling anecdote about a pivotal experience in your life.

Pro tip: The first intro paragraph of any essay is usually the hardest to write. To make things easier, and avoid blank-page-paralysis, start with the easiest or meatiest sections of your scholarship essay first. With the other sections already in place, you will easily be able to come up with ideas for your intro section.

4. Think big. What’s your why?

Think big. What's your why

All powerful essays (scholarship or otherwise) have two things in common. They convey the purpose and passion of the writer. 

Bland essays with vague experiences or shallow goals fall flat and leave no imprint in the mind of the reader. 

So take a moment to introspect and look into yourself. As Simon Sinek says, ask yourself what your “big why” is. 

And don’t just stop at the shallow reasons. Think deeper to look at your bigger dreams, aspirations and goals. 

Ask yourself: 

Why do I choose to study in this college specifically?

Why do I want to earn this degree?

Why do I want to pursue this career?

What do I hope to accomplish with this scholarship?

Share those big-picture dreams, goals, inspirations and motivations in your essay. These reasons are the ones that will help you leave an inspiring imprint on the minds of the readers. 

And if you’re not what you want to accomplish long term, or if you picked colleges ad hoc or based on a random “top 10 universities” list, you may want to rethink your choices. (It isn’t too late.)

Your college isn’t just where you get your degree from, especially when it comes to master’s abroad. 

The curriculum you study, the courses you take, the mentors you meet, the college culture,  the practical / research exposure you get, the networking opportunities, the amount of student loan you accrue, your post-college job opportunities, your scholarship opportunities, etc., all vary.  

So figure out your why first, and find the best school for your specific needs using Select Right

This way, you’ll be able to find the perfect university for your specific dreams, goals, and ambitions, and have solid backing for why you picked a certain college and master’s program! 

(And you’ll probably have a much better master’s experience once you get in too!)

5. Don’t be afraid to get personal.

Don't be afraid to get personal

Remember how we said all powerful essays share two things in common?

Let’s address the second of those two things now. Passion.

You need to stand out not just as someone with a purpose, but also as a real human being. 

So lower your inhibitions a little bit and share the stories, inspirations, goals, dreams, ambitions, and fears that have shaped you or driven you. 

Share the details and experiences that paint a picture of your lives. The best scholarship essays are as much about who you are as a person, as they are about what you’ve achieved.

Most people believe scholarship essays for masters must be extremely formal. And you should avoid sounding flippant and overly conversational. But you should also sound like yourself. 

So don’t let that stop you from putting in any personal anecdotes, or sharing those pivotal moments in your life that inspired you to do what you do today.

6. Edit, edit, and re-edit your scholarship essay.

Edit, edit, and re-edit your scholarship essay

Your first draft will always be a mess. That’s normal, and you don’t have to lose all hope. 

Just keep editing and refining your story, until all the pieces seem to fit well together.

Make sure your essay flows well and is easy to read. 

It shouldn’t sound rambling or go around in circles repeating the same point over and over again. But, neither should it feel robotic or convoluted. 

A simple way to ensure it is a smooth read is to first take a break from it, for a good 24-48 hours (if you can). And then to read it out loud. 

This process will help you identify any parts of your scholarship essay that seem unnatural or awkward.

  • If you trip over any sentences while reading them out loud, then simplify them immediately. 
  • If you get confused about the narrative at any point, you know you need to fix the flow. 
  • If your story seems to be suddenly jumping from point to point, work on your transitions. 

At the same time make sure you have stuck to the word count. But don’t drag on the story just to fill pages. 

Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better for a scholarship essay. If you are bored reading the essay, the reviewer will be too. 

So, if needed, don’t be afraid to trim out entire sections of your essay while editing.

And finally, run a spelling and grammar check to correct any glaring errors.

There are a variety of tools that can help them do that, but it’s also important to not rely on technology entirely. Use tools like Grammarly to ensure you haven’t missed anything.

7. Have someone else review it.

Have someone else review it

Now by this point, your essay should be all done and ready to be sent off along with your scholarship application. 

But before you do that, there’s one final step you need to do: Get a 3rd party opinion of your essay.

Now it is tempting to skip this step, and just send out your scholarship essay. 

But don’t.

After all those rounds of editing and revisions, you’ve probably got your essay memorized. At this point, you’re in too deep to notice any glaring flaws or missing links if there are any. 

So ask a trusted friend, parent, teacher, or mentor to read it through objectively. Ask them for constructive criticism, and only approach people who you know will give you an honest opinion.

They will be able to look at it with a fresh pair of eyes and let you know if something needs to be added, removed, or fixed. 

With this final, but crucial step done, your essay is finally ready.

You can send it out to the organization, and sit tight while they review it.

Wishing you the best of luck!

Picture of Anand Patinge

Anand Patinge

A master storyteller, Anand has enriched multiple entities with captivating designs, compelling messaging, and impactful media campaigns. Beyond work, you can find him feeding stray dogs, exploring art, and watching insiprational documentaries.

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