Though writing an essay for a scholarship application can be a daunting task, think of it as an opportunity to showcase your abilities and talents to the scholarship committee. By accentuating your strengths through your writing, you will be able to effectively communicate that you are a deserving candidate for their award.
Strive to illustrate your strengths and experience when writing essays for a scholarship application. Throughout your life, you continually discover your talents and abilities. As you develop these talents, they become your strengths in life. Try to demonstrate multiple strengths in your essays. Possible topics that you could illustrate in a scholarship essay include service, leadership, academics, arts, athletics, entrepreneurship, creative talent, leadership, diversity, challenges overcome, and community involvement. Decision-makers for the scholarship program will see your strengths and abilities as reasons why you are worthy of a scholarship.
Add Variety to Your Strengths
Convince selection committees that your talents and experiences are expansive. Demonstrate the variety of your strengths by dividing them into categories and highlighting each one. Below are examples of how you can emphasize the following strengths:
- Service by describing service projects you performed for your church, community, and school or work
- Leadership by outlining leadership positions in your church, community, and school or work
- Athletics by highlighting the top three sports that you excel in: football, soccer, tennis, cheerleading, track, field, or other
- Academics by specifying your top three academic subjects in school: math, science, history, civics, economics, English, or other
- Creative talent by explaining your talents: visual arts, music, dance, poetry, or other
- Any other talent or ability by identifying three ways you have demonstrated that strength in your life
Give Your Strengths Magnitude
In addition, you should show selection committees that you have developed each of your strengths extensively. Tell them how your accomplishments set you apart from others. Demonstrate the magnitude of your strengths by sharing at least three accomplishments within each category. We call this method of presenting your skills and accomplishments “powerstatements.”
Two important concepts govern the preparation of power statements:
- Highlight the skill you are presenting by using “power words,” such as motivated, organized, responsible, problem-solver, and other words that describe your particular strengths.
- Describe something you accomplished with the skill you are presenting. You may include a challenge you faced, actions you performed to overcome the challenge, and the results of your actions. Try to quantify the results of your accomplishments to show your value to a scholarship committee.
Some Examples of Power Statements:
I can achieve results. For example, I planned, organized, and led a charity project that packaged over 5,000 boxes of humanitarian supplies for victims of Hurricane Irene. The whole project was completed and shipped in one day.
I have organization management skills. For example, I reorganized my company’s manufacturing department, increasing yield by 15 percent.
I am an over-achiever. For example, I maintained a 4.0 GPA throughout college while working full-time, taking honors courses, and serving as the president of the Education Society on campus.
I am dedicated. For example, I won the city and regional championship in the 5K by training four hours daily to improve my running time by 45%.
I am creative. For example, I designed a new product line that increased my company’s revenue by $25,000.
By expressing the variety of your strengths, you will show that you are a skilled and well-rounded individual. By expressing the magnitude of your strengths, you will prove that you are accomplished in those areas of your life. Using power statements to deliver these messages will communicate your value with greater impact to selection committees. These applied techniques will create an essay that is more impressive and persuasive of your qualifications.
For more information about scholarships, see the following:
Letters of Recommendation
Scholarship Master Application
Topics for Scholarship Essays
How to Strengthen a Scholarship Essay
Finding Financial Aid on LDSjobs.org
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Hayley Capp, winner of the 2013 QS Leadership Scholarship, shares her top tips on how to write a winning scholarship application essay.
There is no one way to write a winning scholarship application. If you gathered together all the scholarship entries that have ever won a prize, you would find it difficult to identify what made them the same. Each would offer a distinctive style employed by the author; a unique insight into his or her past, present and future aspirations.
This uniqueness is the key, and the first point to remember when you pick up your pen to write. Make your scholarship application essay exclusive to you, personalize it, delve deep into your passion and drive to study your subject, and create a response that could only ever relate to you. It is this individuality that stands out, and that’s exactly what catches a judge’s eye and defines a winner.
I won the 2013 QS Leadership Scholarship, so will base my guidance on my own thought process when shaping my application essay. However, the basic principles that I highlight with this example can be extracted and applied to other scholarship essay writing processes.
1. Read and re-read the essay statement you are being asked to respond to, and identify the key themes.
From my own example, the essay statement was: ‘Where I have demonstrated responsible leadership, or innovation, and how it made a difference either in my community or in my work’. I identified the key themes as ‘leadership’ and ‘community impact’.
2. Understand the meaning of the key themes.
After identifying the key themes, it is important to understand what each of these ideas really means, beyond the initial level. For instance, I acknowledged that the meaning of ‘leadership’ involved identifying the effects my leadership had – the actions taken and results achieved under my leadership – and not simply describing the position I held and my responsibilities. The more depth you bring to your understanding of the meaning of each theme, the more examples you will be able to identify to demonstrate your abilities.
3. Fill your scholarship essay with keywords/synonyms of keywords used in the scholarship statement.
Using the keywords from the scholarship statement throughout your essay will demonstrate your commitment to addressing the question being asked. For instance, I made a special effort to ensure references to ‘leadership’; ‘innovation’ and ‘impacting communities’ ran throughout my essay.
4. Make an engaging start to your essay.
If you are struggling to start your scholarship application essay, why not include a quote or statement that relates to your intended course, and which you can later link to the main body of your text. Showing wider knowledge and aptitude for your subject will help convince the judges that it is a worthwhile investment to support you in your chosen course.
5. Understand the criteria used by the scholarship committee to evaluate application essays.
Based on my own experience, I have outlined what I believe to be the key criteria used by scholarship committee judges for evaluating scholarship application essays on the themes of leadership and community impact. My advice would be to address all of these areas in your essay, whether the question explicitly asks for it or not.
What to include in scholarship essays about leadership:
- The extent of the leadership experience and degree of accomplishment. What were the results? Did you manage to grow a society from 10 to 100 members through your tenure?
- Why you got involved in the leadership experience. What was your initial inspiration and how did the experience make you feel? This is a very important aspect as it allows you to show your sincerity and demonstrates your passion.
- What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them? Inspirational stories of perseverance despite adversity make readers (especially judges) want to help you succeed. It also shows that you have great leadership qualities: the ability to adapt to new situations and the determination to not give up.
- What did you learn?How did these lessons shape you as a leader? Every experience brings new lessons and personal growth opportunities and the best leaders are humble and realize this. Speaking about these lessons indicates that you have truly reflected on your experiences and that you understand what leadership is. (In other words, you know that leadership isn’t just about getting a title like “President” or “Executive Director”.)
- What does this mean for the future? A scholarship isn’t just an award; it’s an investment in your future. So if you plan to continue being involved in your particular leadership activity in the future, tell the judges.
What to include in scholarship essays about community impact:
- How much time did you dedicate to the activity? The scholarship committee is likely to be looking for applicants who made a fairly long commitment to a community activity.
- Why was it important to you? Joy from helping others? Excitement of trying something new? Opportunity to form relationships with others? Having a genuine reason helps build a convincing essay.
- Why was it important to the community? Ask the question: What would be different for your community if you didn’t do what you do? It is most important to show that you recognize the real needs in your communities, and act to address these.
- What did you gain yourself through giving to the community? It is important to show that you understand how through giving, you end up receiving more in the end. Sharing what community service has taught you and how it helped you develop demonstrates that you have truly gained from your participation and suggests you will continue doing so in the future.
My final point of advice when writing your scholarship application essay or cover letter is to really show that you know who you are. What are the relevant past and present experiences that demonstrate your abilities and where are you headed? Use carefully selected language to emphasize your passion, ambition and enthusiasm and remember to adopt a positive mindset, in which you believe in all the great things you have done and plan to continue achieving in the future. If you don’t believe in yourself, why would the judges?
You can browse our various scholarship listings here, and QS also offers its own scholarships. Also, you can download our free guide for more advice on how to find scholarships to study abroad.
Hayley Capp is the winner of the 2013 QS Leadership Scholarship. Covering up to US$10,000 of course fees for a graduate program, the scholarship is awarded to the applicant best able to demonstrate his/her ability to use entrepreneurial and leadership skills to make a positive impact on a community.
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