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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

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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78 Comments

I M FROM MYANMAR.I'm now studying mechanic. i don't know what things i need.please tell me about these.

where should i post my essay?

Hey Sabrina
I am a Kenyan .I would like to apply to either a German or French university to pursue my undergraduate degree and also i would like to get suggestions on probable international undergraduate scholarships for students in my criteria.
i would appreciate your assistance.

Hello! You might be interested in applying for our undergraduate scholarship, which will award up to US$10,000 for one undergraduate student to study at a QS-ranked university. You can find scholarships for France here and scholarships to study in Germany here. Good luck with your search!

Hii Sabrina.
I am an Indian.I would like to get suggestions for the universities in Germany who provide scholarships in the field of Media and Journalism.Is it mandatory to know German language , as I don't?
Yes , and please tell me if you know the scolarship procedure of other countries also.
P.S - I have a very good academic record.
Please tell me specifically about post graduate courses in Journalism , communication ,Media and PHD as well.
Thank You!!

Hi Arpita, which study level are you applying for? You might be able to study for free at a public university (for a bachelor's or PhD - you might need to pay tuition fees for a masters degree) and you can find a range of scholarships to study in Germany here. You don't need to know German as there are English-taught courses available, which you can search for using the Study-in.de search tool. 

Hi, Im eliza from Philippines my dream is to study business in abroad with full scholarship and i hope there's a university that will help me.

Hi I am Arzo from Afghanistan Can you Please give me information about writing essay Maximum and minimum how many words required ?

Good afternoon.

My name is Raymundo and I am really interested to study abroad to be specific in U.S.A.

I am bachellor on environmental ingenieer and I would like to study a master or doctoral degree in this matter.

I would be grateful if you could help me about what are the requirements that some universities require like TOEFL examen result and others. Thanks

Hi Raymundo, you'll probably be asked to provide an English language test result like TOEFL if you're not a native English speaker (you may not need to provide it if you've previously studied in English, however!) and US universities are also likely to ask for the GRE - the score you need in this will depend on the university. You can find out more about the GRE here. For more advice on applying to US universities, please read our complete guide on how to study abroad in the US. Hope this helps!

hello I am Ahmed,
I am looking for full scholarship to get master degree in chemical engineering,I know that there are a lot of options,but I wanna a scholarship available for Egyptian students

Hi Ahmed, please take a look at our list of scholarships for engineering students. Good luck with your search!

Hi, i want to study in germany in undergraduate programme of machanical engg. with scholarship and i am completely unaware how to apply in any university and what are their requirments and visa policy
i want your help

Hi Ali. Our guide "How to Study Abroad in Germany" should help you get started :)

Hi, I need first of all to know how to apply for a scholarship because I have been several time I have never got even one please who can help me to get one I am in need

Hi Hyacinthe. Our guide How to Find Scholarships to Study Abroad may be helpful, as well as our lists of scholarships to study abroad. But also remember that it's normal to receive rejections - most successful scholarship applicants receive a lot of rejection letters before eventually achieving success! We also run our own scholarships scheme, which you can read about here. And you can get some advice from past scholarship winners here.

Good luck!

Hi, I am Abigail bekoe. I want to do my masters in communication studies in U.S . How do I get a scholarship for my tuition.

Hi Abigail, please take a look at our list of scholarships to study in the US. :)

hello
my name is ARSHAD SALEEM
i am new user of internet so have no idea about any thing any one can help me i am a student of chemical engineering and want to do master abroad with full scholarship
if any one can help me pleas

Hi Arshad, not to worry! If you have a look on our list of scholarships for engineering students there are many options available to study your masters abroad - each external link will take you to the site for each scholarship with full details on how to apply. Another good place to look for scholarships would be your chosen university's official website - you can usually find them in the 'fees and funding' or similarly titled section. Good luck!  

HELLO
My name OLadipo, I am an undergraduate seeking admission for this fall in Canada but haven't found any university that can suit my parents budget.
Any form of help would be highly appreciated.

Hi Oladipo, I've replied to your comment here. :)

HELLO
My name is chijioke.I just applied for the upcoming fair in Nigeria and would love to take a scholarship.Should I proceed with the application or wait after the fair.?

Hi Chijioke, if you'd like to apply for a QS scholarship, please wait until after you've attended an event to apply. You can read more application guidelines in this PDF file. Hope this helps!

I need a scholarship and student loan to fund my masters degree in Canada, USA or Western Europe. I need it like my life depended on it.

Hi Solomon, we've listed scholarships for Canada, the US and Europe, with many more listings found here. Hope this helps!

I NEED SCHOLARSHIP SERIOUSLY

Hi Emmanuel, you can browse a range of scholarships for different countries, regions, subjects and student groups here. :)

assalm u alikum ..how i can apply for scholership ? where is the regestration to apply thanks

Hi Murtaza, we offer our own scholarships here, and you can browse a range of external scholarships to study abroad from here. :)

Hi, I am Faustin BASIGALIYE from Rwanda. I am looking for a PhD scholarships in accounting.
Can you help please

Hello! My name is Isti Nurul Sakinah i'm 16 years old. I'm a student grade 12. I planned to continue my education in abroad, and want to focus on International Studies. Does anyone can give me ideas which country that i should choose? And what are the criterias of that major?
Thank you :)

How do i get started with the Admission program and everything ,,,,Just got the A/L certificate in Cameroon...so how do we go about admission and Everything to further my studies in any University in USA.....Please would really do need your help and Guide.,...Thanks and Expecting your soonest reply

Hi Romeo, our complete guide on how to study abroad in the US should help to get you started on applying. 

Hayley, great tips, thank's.

Hello Dear, i am Peter From Egypt

I am bilal A research scholar How can I get scholarship post doctoral programm
in Canada

Hi my name is Abouthaina from algeria i want to finish my master degrees in malaysia in science and material engineering would you please help me

Hi Abouthaina, please take a look at our guide to studying in Malaysia. You might also like to view our rankings by faculty for engineering and technology, with the results narrowed down to see only Malaysian universities. Hope this helps! 

hi dear, i'm arad. i need to advise more for getting scholarship in european country or canada and australia.could you pls advise me more things?alsom i 've been in uk and i've got entry 3 level in wolverhampton college in birmingham in uk.
"arad"

Hi Arad, please take a look at our main page of scholarships to study abroad - here you can find links to our scholarships listings for Europe, Canada and Australia, as well as scholarships for different subjects/student groups. Hope this helps! 

Hi ! my name is Yahye Adkadir Haji. i usually look for scholarship from America . I hope I will get that from them as possible time . I am doing very hard work to earn that scholarship .... any respond for that the dearest proffesor to send me that email. THANK YOU .... GOOD LUCKY AND HARD WORK .....

Hi Yahye, we don't have any professors to email you I'm afraid, but if you'd like a scholarship to study in the US, we've listed lots of scholarships here. :)

hei my name is lynn kiondo a high school student from uganda,africa and am trying to apply for the scholarships but am getting hard time and need guidance as i do this application because this place is too remote and my parents cant finance my studies abroad even paying for my visa but i would like to take my education further and learn more. i will be pleased if u send mi some1 to help mi thank you

Hi Lynn, I'm afraid I can't provide personalized guidance on your scholarship application, but I can link you to our guide on how to find scholarships to study abroad, which includes help on how to apply for scholarships. 

Hi, thank you so much for this opportunity. The registration process for the QS World Grad School Tour was very fast and effective. I have saved the dates and am hopeful that I will get more knowledge on what will fit me best in terms of studying and hopefully get a scholarship too. Really looking forward to the day. Thank you

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.