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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The BEST Scholarship Essay Tips
Scholarship deadlines are just around the corner, and if you want to study abroad, now's the time to get those scholarship applications in! You'll be writing a lot of scholarship essays, so it's important that you get it right. Essay writing is challenging, even for the most talented and dedicated students. Fortunately, technology can make a lot of things easier, and writing scholarship essays is one of those things.
Here's the best tips for writing scholarship essays to use if you want to make a good impression and get the funding you need to study abroad. With these scholarship essay tips in mind, you can surely write an award winning study abroad application essay!
Avoid “one size fits all” scholarship essays.
It's very likely that you're going to be applying for more than one study abroad scholarship. As this is the case, it's tempting to create a scholarship essay that will suit all of them, and then send it off to everyone. However, no essay will suit every scholarship application. Essays are very personal in this regard, and every team is looking for something different. Give yourself time to craft a scholarship essay that's designed to answer their questions.
Know your audience.
Before you start writing, think about what the scholarship committee is looking for in an applicant. Do they want someone who's overcome adversity in the past? Someone who's excelled in a particular subject? The answer should be in the question that they've set for you. Keep this in mind as you plan your scholarship essay.
Give yourself time.
Your teachers are right, no essay will be great if you hammer it out the night before it's due. It's especially true of scholarship essays. Start your plan at least a week before you think you should. This gives you enough time to start writing an outline, and start creating a rough draft of your scholarship essay. Once you're done writing, you'll still have plenty of time to edit.
Make sure you're answering the question.
Many scholarship essays fail because the applicant didn't actually answer the question that was set for them. You may feel as though you are answering the question, but read the question carefully and thoroughly before you start writing your scholarship essay.
For example, you may be given the question: “Name a time when you challenged a belief or idea. Why did you do this? Would you do it again?” When you read this question, you may think about how you decided to study law, even though your family wanted you to something else. If the question was different, this would be a great answer. However, look at the question again. It's asking for a time you challenged one particular belief, and your reasoning behind it. Always keep your eye on the prize if you want to write an award winning study abroad scholarship essay.
Your scholarship essay is all about you, so take the time to really delve into what makes you, YOU. Remember, you want to show the committee that you're the student they're looking for. If you're talking about a time when you volunteered, for example, give them the reasons why volunteering for that cause was so important to you. Really give the readers a sense of who you are (this is one of the most important scholarship essay tips ever!).
Use online tools to help you write your scholarship essay.
You don't have to write your essay alone. There are lots of online tools that will help you get the most out of your essay, and provide you with even more scholarship essay tips than this list. You can improve your confidence and skills by taking advantage of the following tools next time you sit down to write a scholarship essay.
- Essay Map: This tool is great for visual learners. Give it all the details of your essay, and it'll create a fully formed plan for you. It’s fun and easy way to start writing.
- Thesis Generator: If you're not sure where to start with your essay, use this tool to plug the details of your essay into the form, and it'll generate a thesis for you.
Anyone Can Win a Scholarship to Study Abroad!
And, you don’t have to waste a lot of time to do so. These scholarship essay tips will help you write the best award winning study abroad scholarship essay you can. Use them when you're planning and writing, and you'll have a scholarship essay that shows you off in the best possible light.