Do’s and Don’t’s for Writing Scholarship Essays

Last Updated on November 27, 2017

Scholarship applicants are likely to have similarly impressive academic profiles, so a written essay can often make or break an application. Following these do’s and don’t’s can produce prose that will push your student to the head of the pack.


  • Start off with a bang. The scholarship reviewing committee has read thousands of essays. They can spot a boring essay before the end of the first paragraph. Catch their attention immediately and never let it go.
  • Limit sentences that begin with “I.”
  • Use clear language supported by concrete examples and detail instead of dull generalities. If you’ve worked at a soup kitchen, how many meals did you serve? Did you cook, clean up, recruit other students? Add color by profiling a person you met who made a lasting impression on you.
  • Read your work out loud, listening for stiff, stilted language and lack of clarity.
  • Read the essay to someone whose opinion you value—and who will not be afraid to offer constructive criticism.
  • Edit, edit, edit! Spell check and proofread, but do not rely exclusively on a spell-checking computer program. These programs are not always correct.


  • Ignore the rules of the competition. For instance, don’t go over or dramatically under a suggested word count.
  • Use gimmicks such as poetry or musical accompaniment unless the competition specifically encourages an offbeat approach.
  • Repeat information like grades or test scores, which can be found elsewhere on your application.
  • Pick a topic that will alienate members of the committee, such as religion or politics. If you use something controversial, be sure to include counter arguments.

Ask yourself:

If I were reading this essay, would I remember it later? Would I admire and want to meet the person who wrote it?

This is the effect you want to have on the reviewing committee.

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