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How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay

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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 learnHow 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 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?

Good luck!


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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Hi, I'm Pahmia Noska from Philippines. I earned a degree of Marketing, can I get a full scholarship without attending the QS World Grad School Tour? How I wish to attend but due to financial problem, It's not possible.

Hi Pahmia, I'm afraid you cannot receive a QS scholarship without attending one of our QS World Grad School Tour events, however we have lots of other external scholarship listings here, for various countries, subjects and students. 

Hi , my name is Mursal I am from Afghanistan I would like to apply for your Scholarship i am studying BBA and this is my 4th semester but i want to study in abroad country for continuing of my education Can I ?

Hi Mursal. Take a look at the list of current QS Scholarships to see which ones you may be eligible for. In order to apply, you'll first need to attend a QS World Grad School Tour event, and be accepted to study a master's or PhD. We also have lists of lots of other scholarships to study abroad, which may be of interest.

hi Sabrina Collier my name is sani please i am looking for undergraduate scholarships for computer science or information technology for international student please

Hi Sani, we have an article listing scholarships to study computer science, which includes undergraduate level scholarships. Hope this helps!

Dear Laura,
I applied for one of your scholarships this spring, but I don't understand, where u can check the results of this competition!

Can you help please?

Hi Victoria, we have announced the winners of the scholarships here. 

HI QS, i am adithyan from india , i heard world tour is coming to chennai in dec 16 2015. i want to do internation relation course after my undergraduate in english which i am doing now. i need to know about best universities abroad giving this degree and scholorship about same. how i should prepare an essay when i am coming to qs world tour chennai..?pls help me..

Hi Adithyan. I'm not quite sure about your question - you don't need to prepare an essay to bring with you to the event. You will need to write an essay if you'd like to apply for a QS Scholarship after attending the tour; you can view the details for each essay by clicking on each scholarship, here. You may also be interested in our ranking of the world's top universities for politics & international relations, here.

We'll look forward to meeting you in December!

Hi i am mohamed fahad from india i love to do masters in abroad. But i am from poor getting Scholarship is the only way for doing masters.please guide me..

Im an undergraduate student about to complete my first year. Can i attend this event? If it is possible, I would love to do so.

Hi Kavya. Yes, you're very welcome to join us at the QS World Grad School Tour, or at the QS World University Tour - both coming to India in the next few weeks. We'll look forward to seeing you there.

Im an undergraduate student studying at Ramjas College, Delhi University. Im at the end of my first year. Can I attend this event?

I'm studying Chinese language , I don't know if there's a chinese department in US universities . and if there's a scholarship for it . the Chinese scholarship is really expensive .

Hi there, we have a ranking of the world's top universities for modern languages, which you can use to find US only schools with reputed language departments. I'm afraid I don't know which school's offer the program you're looking for but many will offer chinese studies. For scholarships, you should search the website of the school you wish to study at for funding opportunities. You can also find general scholarships to study in the US here. Laura

I just want to contact with QS staff .

It was great looking at the post here about writing a winning scholarship essay. Many are there who finds it difficult to prepare the essay for some reasons. Some used to seek assistance from the scholars or professionals to have their help in the essay writing. The students even if takes help from some scholars or professionals, must be sure to look at the way of writing a proper essay.

Thank you Hayley. I really do appreciate your advice. Congratulations for having won the scholarship

It is very important for everyone to know that how to write a proper essay for your college assignment. When you enter in the professional life or any university for your higher education you must know all thing about write an assignments

Hi, any available full scholarships for Masters in Economics pls? I graduated from a university in Nigeria (BSc Economics) with a good grade.I would like to continue my education abroad. Thanks for this opportunity

Hi Olayemi. You can see all the currently available QS Scholarships here:

Good luck!

Hi Laura, I attended the QS grad fair in Montreal in Sep. 2014. I am right now a first year master in McGill Unversity. I wonder whether I am eligible for this year's application. Because my master study will finish in 2016.

Hi Xiangkun. I'm afraid the QS Scholarships are for students preparing to start a new graduate-level program - either at master's or PhD level. So you wouldn't be eligible to apply for master's funding, but you would be welcome to apply if you're planning to enrol in a PhD.

Hi, what is the deadline to apply for the scholarships?

Hi Dimpy. You can find all the application deadlines here - just click on each scholarship to get the full details:

Hi Keshav. As well as attending a QS event, you may also need to meet additional criteria, and you'll also be asked to submit an application essay and other supporting materials. Please look at each individual scholarship for the full requirements:

Attending a QS world grad school tour event will be Only fulfilling the eligible criteria for scholarship?
Or There is some other terms and condition also for eliglbility?

I would definitely like to get support to pursue a communication and media program and would like to be directed as to where i can access funding to realize this dream.

i really appreciate your support for the program of nurturing leadership across the globe,i would like to apply also for the scholarship where do i get to apply?

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