Scholarship Essays For People Who Can’t Write

Rachel’s a 4.0 student, but she doesn’t think she’s a good enough writer to pull out victories in a lot of newer scholarship essay contests with really creative questions. So she doesn’t know whether it’s worth it to bother.

I’m currently going into my sophomore year in college at a small, private college, which is expensive!

Ain’t it though?

I’ve already gotten their top academic scholarship for grades coming out of high school

Outstanding! Congrats!

, a little financial aid (we’re one of those in-between, middle class families that don’t get much of that), and a few other odd scholarships from high school but it’s still not even close to cover what my family and I can afford.

I still have a 4.0 there after my first year but they don’t give any more academic scholarships that I fit with. But that’s beside the point. I’ve been back online looking for more scholarships to ease the load of my upcoming debt. I’ve read all your e-mails about scholarship screw-ups and tips to write better essays and whatnot but I have a slight problem. I’m not that bad of a writer.

Hey wait, that’s not a problem! And excuse the headline here, because I know that in your particular case it’s not true that you “can’t write.” What can I say, I’m an ad man – provocative headlines are required around these parts.

I’m an Exercise and Health Science major so it’s not exactly my strongest subject but I do write good papers, I think.


If I had a nickel for every night this was me...

However, I am greatly lacking in the creativity sector. I think my right-brain may not work anymore.

Oh, I doubt it. There must be some creative bones still left in your body.

When I see all these new creative scholarship essay prompts, all I can think about is that oh I can’t come up with something creative enough to spark the judges attention and win this scholarship so what’s the point?

On rare occasions, someone will ask me about success in general — as in, how to be successful at X, Y or Z, how to make money at X, Y or Z, etc. And the answer I give is the same whoever asks it and whatever they’re asking about:

If you want to be successful in any crowded marketplace (and yours, the students-who-want-free-money marketplace, is one of the most crowded), is to be willing to do what the other guy won’t do. If that sounds oversimplified, so be it, but that’s always the best advice I have to give people.

It sounds like you can probably make it without the scholarships, just by taking student loans and possibly a PLUS loan for your parents, and if that’s OK with you, then it’s OK with me. But if you want to slash those loans as much as you can, you’ll have to buck up and start applying.

Remember — plenty of other students are thinking the same thing about those scholarships. They think there’s too much competition and they aren’t worth doing. The more who drop out, the better the chances for those who stay in.

Therefore, I have resolved to stick to the scholarship essay prompts that stay with the basic, overdone question of ‘why do you want to pursue this field?’ or ‘why should you get this scholarship?’ because I already have form essays that answer those questions saved on my computer from applying to college, scholarships, etc. and I just tweak them a little for each scholarship.

That’s fine — as long as it’s an outstanding essay, and as long as you tweak it enough that it sounds like you wrote it JUST for this one scholarship. 🙂

However, I feel like EVERYONE applies for those scholarships so I have slim chances of winning those either. I’m kind of stuck in a rut. Help me, please? 🙂

Well, “everyone” (more or less) does apply for those scholarships. I know because my company’s college scholarships are that type of general-essay competition.

However, a large majority of applicants send in half-assed essays of a paragraph or two. Believe me, when you open up the doors wide, a lot of riff-raff runs in.

So if you have a really well-done essay, then believe me, it will be refreshing for judges who aren’t giving the time of day to over half of the applications that come in because they’re so poorly done.

My advice, then, comes with two choices. If you really think you’re not very creative and you really don’t think you can win much in the way of scholarships, then don’t worry about them if you think student loans can meet your expenses.

The other choice is to dive in and give it a try every time you’re feeling good about your chances. If nothing else, it’ll hone your writing chops and perhaps break your out of your creativity rut. You never know, you may just accidentally discover your left brain again.

— That’s all I’ve got today. Lunch beckons. If you’ve got questions or comments, leave ’em below. Have a good week!

20 thoughts on “Scholarship Essays For People Who Can’t Write”

  1. Josh, why didn’t you advise this girl to go to community college for her sophomore year then transfer to a public university, saving thousands of dollars? Is her situation different somehow from the gazillions of others having problems with paying for college?

    My kids have applied for scholarships out the wazoo and the only money they received were merit scholarships that they got from their high school and SAT achievements (and didn’t have to write any essays to apply).

    I’ve even gone back and looked at the kids who were the winners of some of the scholarships (when available) and those kids were unbelievable high achievers, most of Asian background.

    Go ahead and apply for the scholarships, Rachel, but minimize your cost and debt by going to community college as long as you can, then transferring to a public university.

  2. I would look into companies that give out lots of scholarships to increase your chances. Maybe local organizations such as Lion’s Club, American Legion, etc. I’ve heard of people getting 30,000+ in scholarships just because they applied to SO many. One person told me their male friend won a women’s scholarship because he was the only person to apply!

    Believe me, it’s not easy and it’s not fun. But go for ones you really think you can win, put some passion into them, and hope for the best. Don’t take loans for an answer! That’s what worked for me.

  3. Try writing scholarship essays for local scholarships as opposed to state-wide or national scholarships. Also you might want to consider transfering to a university that offers you a full ride. Althought, it is eaiser to get a full ride coming from high school rather than college, it just may be worth looking into.( Or even try community college) Personally, the only scholarships that I was able to recieve where from my local school district and my college’s scholarship fund. Good Luck!

  4. Rachel and Josh,

    I took a class called “Creative Non-Fiction” where basically the students read and wrote creative non-fiction essays. The big emphasis in the class was description; be specific in your essays. For example, if you decide to write a response to “why do you want to pursue this field?” or “why should you get this scholarship”, then I recommend that you tell the judges EXACTLY why you want to pursue that field or deserve the scholarship. I don’t mean tell them your entire life story about how your family is one of the border-middle-class types and you need cash for college or you why for 10 years you wanted to be a Exercise/ Health specialist. Specifically, tell the judges a true story.

    Pick a moment in your life that relates to the scholarship essay question and write about it. If, when you were 15 (or whatever age), you saw the series premier of “The Biggest Loser” and decided that you wanted to be just like Jillian Michaels (helping people change their lives and looking good while doing it), write about it! Set the scene, then let your memories take the lead.

    I’ll be honest, I have NEVER applied for an essay scholarship. But that’s because I like to think that there are no harsher judges than English professors, and I seem to woo them every time.

    One thing I’ve learned from all of my English teachers/ professors through the years is that essays stand out for one of two reasons: they’re truly excellent, or they’re mind-blowingly horrible. However, excellent essays aren’t that hard to write. The outstanding, excellent essays, the ones that the teacher/ professor reads aloud or brings special attention to, are the essays that warm the heart and/or excite the psyche.

    Give the judges something to think about, something to remember. Still, I’ve never applied for essay scholarships (I should start that soon) so I can’t really say for sure what a scholarship judge wants to read.

    Maybe JJ could offer some correspondence?

  5. I must admit that Pam’s comment made me chuckle. 🙂 I, too, get a little frustrated with the community college suggestion, because I would have DIED at community college. (I attended one over summers to get some Gen Eds out of the way, and I definitely would not have been able to handle that environment full time. It felt like high school to me, and I was DONE with high school.) Going to a four year school first was the only good option for me, regardless of the debt issue. Though I don’t feel the anger that Pam seems to. 🙂

    Anyway, my suggestion would be to give yourself as much time as possible to write creative essays. As soon as you find a scholarship you have to write such an essay for, start writing. And then rewrite. And rewrite again. Most scholarships don’t get listed a week before they’re due, so you have plenty of time. Sometimes, it just takes time to get the creative juices flowing.

  6. I applied to about 5 essay based scholarships and ended up with about 8000 dollars worth of scholarships. My girlfriend applied to lots (more than I remember) of them and she ended up with about 30,000 dollars worth of scholarships. I am a stronger writer then she is.

    What was the key to our success?
    We wrote 3 different essays that covered a broad range of topics, and they had certain “fill in the blank” type of sentences that could be used to put specifics about the scholarships/institution we were applying to. You could call them “templated” essays. The other key to our success (in particular her success) was numbers. Since our essays were essentially templated, she was able to apply to a large number of scholarships increasing of winning them.

    I used the same templated essay for 3 schools and 5 scholarship applications. I won all of them.

    Tips/Topics for writing:
    Include a life-changing experience, talk about how their institution could help you (I always used the institution’s name in the essay because it made it feel personalized) and also make sure to not recite your resume. Its ok to say something like, “I maintained a high GPA throughout high-school.” But not ok to say something like, “I maintained a 3.94″ gpa . . .”
    So, apply to everything you can local and national.

    Write your college an appeal letter saying that you need more help, I did that and they replied with an extra 2000 dollars and a free laptop. If you try this the worst they can say is NO. But if you don’t try it then you will definitely not get more aid. In your letter say that BLANK school is your dream school and unfortunately you can’t attend because of financial reasons. Be sure to include specifics, my specifics were that my mother was in huge debt already. Also if another school offers you a full-ride use that in your appeal letter and send them a copy of your aid package for that school!

    Good Luck and feel free to follow up with any questions on here, because I will be checking this page periodically!

  7. Also remember Lots of people have the same mentality “Everyone is applying, there is no way that I’ll win” thus actually making the numbers of people of applying a little bit lower than you might expect!

  8. Rachel,

    First everyone has that worry, that everyone is applying so how will I stand out. Even me and I apply to everything I think I fit for no matter how small or big the award. In truth a lot of folks don’t apply because they think they won’t win anything. So there might not be as much competition as you think.

    Second, you can only win if you apply.

    In other words, taking these two points into account, you loose nothing by apply. The worst that happens is you get nothing, in which case you are no worse off. Best case is you win an award, in which case you need fewer loans. So apply, apply to everything you qualify for–and maybe to a few that you think are a reach. You might surprise yourself.

    As one person pointed out it can, and often is, a numbers game. I apply to as many as I can meet the deadlines for while going to university full time, working full time, etc… Yes, it is time consumming and frustrating if you get nothing after the hard work. But every dollar of scholarship/grant you get is a dollar you are not in debt. Every scholarship/grant dollar you get is basically paying you to attend college.

    If you are worried about the quality of your writing I have a simple tip:
    Write the essay and take it to a teacher, councilor, or mentor to proof it for you and give you feedback. I have taken some of mine to my Phi Theta Kappa advisor where I went to CC for big scholarships, she is also an English teacher with experience judging for scholarships. Her feedback has helped me morethen once fine tune an essay, or make sure I didn’t miss a point that a committing was looking for. She helped one of my fellow CC alum get the Jake Kent Cook scholarship, and a few other huge awards so I trust her input.

    This little tip has helped me win some scholarship ($10,000 for my sophmore year). It can help you organize your essay, or pin point a major idea that makes your essay specific to the scholarship. The person that proofs for you can also let you know when you might have gone off topic from what the essay questions is asking. (Going off topic can work for you if you organize it correctly by the way.) This person can also be a sounding board when you are trying to brainstorm ideas and life experience to see if you have anything to relate in your essay.

    So don’t give up. There are fewer folks applying for your scholarships then you think. Most won’t get input from a proof reader that can give constructive advice. You can’t win if you don’t play–its kind of like the lottory that way. Besides it gives you practice for writing other essays–for admissions, classes, etc..–you don’t know when the ability to write a different kind of essay will come in handy.

    Good luck:)

  9. I think that if the private school isn’t happy to pony up money to further her education further, it’s time to transfer.

    Outside of that, keep applying for scholarships, and the writing skills will improve over time.

  10. Wilberto,

    Can you please share the templates that you use so that we can get an idea of how you do the essays? It would be helpful to everyone. Thanks!

  11. Thank you Josh, and everyone, for your input! I read the response and all the comments and I am definitely going to take into account all of your advice 🙂

  12. I agree with what you are saying Judge Josh. You just given me some inspiration to work on those scholarships with creative questions. I believe if you want money college bad enough you’ll work hard enough to do it even if you don’t win that one you might still win another one.

  13. This is just a small suggestion and it may not work in her circumstances, but I’ll give it a go. At my private university, they have a lot of organizational based scholarships. Look at different organizations and clubs on campus and see if there are any scholarships offered to the members. All of our music performance groups and student council are like that, and I get two scholarships just for being on the newspaper staff. Like I said this may not apply because her school may be different or she may not want to join a new group. However, I think it’s something worth checking out as an alternative to essay scholarships.

  14. Rachel, just trying to enter into a scholarship is always worth it!!! I have the same and/or similar concerns as you. You won’t win if you don’t apply. Even if you don’t know about a topic, do some research. Who knows who else doesn’t know about a topic? Don’t overload yourself though. You will do great! The more you write the better you will become! 🙂

  15. Go ahead and try out for them anyway! If you don’t expect anything, then you won’t be so disappointed if you don’t get the scholarship. On the other hand, you may get a pleasant surprise! Trust me – I speak from experience. Practice makes perfect, and you’ll get better with time. Sometimes organizations will put previous winning essays on their website. If they do, read them and try to get tips. Let people read your essay whose judgement you trust, and ask them for pointers. Then turn it in, and call it a learning experience – anything else is a bonus. 🙂 Good luck!

  16. If I were a scholarship judge (which I’m not, but I am a writer), these are some of the qualities I would want in the ideal essay:

    1. Be concise and use strong, simple language–throwing in gigantic words will not impress me, especially since people tend to put them in the wrong places.

    2. Play to your own quirkiness. If you’re like me, you probably have an average family background and no stupendous achievements to your name. But you do have something that’s unique to you, and if that comes through your essay, you’ll be more memorable.

    3. Be specific. If you can include relevant details, that’d be preferable to vague generalities.

    4. Grammar! Nuff said.

    If you haven’t already, take a look at Judge Josh’s Scholarship screw-ups. They’re really useful.

    It helps to have several opinions on your essays. Ask friends, parents, siblings, and perhaps some peer English tutors. It can only make your essays stronger.

    I went to community college, and I loved it, partly because everyone in the Honors Program there was paired with a mentor professor that has knowledge of their desired field. If your university doesn’t offer this, try suggesting it through the office of student affairs or something. All students were required to keep a set of informal notes throughout detailing goals, desired universities, dream jobs, defining moments, people who have influenced them, etc. Just take a notebook and write short answers to just about everything, and this will be a great quick-reference for when you write your essays. Don’t forget to date your entries and update your information.

    Hope this helps.

    Best wishes to all.

  17. Wow….and I always thought the hardest topics were the ones that ask why you think you deserve to win. Guess I feel awkward with those. BTW- there is the contest for reading certain Ayn Rand books worth $10,000 for first place. I think it is open to the world though but at least it is just solely about writing and doesn’t include any of your own accomplishments.

  18. I used to think the same exact thing, then I got put into AP English where all we do is write, because I was told I “had potential”. I still think my writing can be a lot better then it is now, but why sell yourself short just because you think certain things about yourself. Other people may and more than likely will think differently of you then you think of yourself. Do all you can and the best you can, and you’ll be surprised at what may and can happen.

  19. honestly, it’s always worth it to write scholarships even if you aren’t sure you’ll get them. Every little bit helps & if you do get it that’s great. I am a freshman in college & I will definitely be filling out plenty of scholarships for next year. Good luck!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top