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    Overview of Common Scholarship Essay Prompts

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman
    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

    Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger
    Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: May 20th, 2024
    Man responding to common scholarship essay prompts in his notebook

    Applying for scholarships can be intimidating, but it’s reassuring to remind yourself that many applications share common essay prompts. Once you come up with answers to some of the most common scholarship essay prompts, applying for new scholarships becomes much easier. Our overview of common scholarship essay prompts will help you write your best essays to date.

    In the guide below, we offer advice about answering eight of the most popular scholarship essay prompts. When you encounter these questions on your applications, you can refer back to this list for guidance on how to answer the prompts effectively and leave an impression on your reader.

    Don’t miss: Top writing and essay scholarships

    “Tell us about yourself.”

    This is a very open-ended question, and the most common problem that students face is trying to accomplish too much in their responses. To avoid this pitfall, remember why the scholarship committee is asking the question: they want to get an idea of your passions, your ambitions, and any life events or circumstances that may be relevant to the scholarship you are applying for. 

    While it is impossible to give a thorough rundown of your entire life in a short essay, it is much more feasible to give a succinct overview of the information about your life that is relevant to the scholarship. Here are some ideas of what to include in the essay:

    • Formative experiences that inspired you to pursue your field of study
    • Values that you hold that align with the values of the scholarship organization
    • Demographic information
    • Short-term and long-term goals for the future

    “How will this scholarship help you?”

    This question is a great opportunity to describe the opportunities that you will be able to take on as a result of receiving the scholarship. Scholarship committees are not only looking for qualified candidates, but also candidates who stand to benefit the most from their assistance. 

    EXAMPLE: A scholarship might help a student accept an unpaid internship in a lab this summer rather than working as a lifeguard to save up money to pay for tuition for next year. Or it could allow them to attend their first-choice college rather than a college that was lower on their list but offered a better financial aid package. 

    See also: How to write a statement of financial need

    “Tell us about a time where you demonstrated leadership.”

    There is a lot of room to get creative when answering this question. You should tell an anecdote about a time that you demonstrated independent thinking and effective teamwork. This can be in a formal leadership position or an informal one; a creative interpretation of the idea of “leadership” could help your essay stand out. 

    The most effective part of this essay will not be the story itself, but rather your reflection on it. Try to communicate your story succinctly to leave adequate space for reflection. Discuss how the values and skills you learned will make you successful in college and beyond.

    It can be helpful to tell your story to a friend or family member, and ask them what values or characteristics they think it demonstrates. They might be able to identify characteristics about you that you hadn’t even noticed.

    Read more: How to start a scholarship essay (with examples)

    “Tell us about a time that you failed and what you learned from it.”

    This question allows you to show an advanced sense of self-awareness, as well as an ability to learn from your mistakes and adapt to a situation. As a general rule, try to avoid any failures that are overly personal or speak poorly to your character. 

    EXAMPLE: You could write about failing to meet a project deadline at school or at your job. This incident could teach you about the importance of scheduling your time and to seek out help from your teacher or supervisor when you need it. This response depicts a failure that many people face, but puts you ahead of the crowd by showing that you learned a skill that will be very useful in a college environment.

    Related: How to answer scholarship essay questions about your career goals

    “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

    With this question, the scholarship committee wants to know about your ambitions that extend past your college career. In your essay, you should apply your educational goals towards some specific career and personal goals. This question will help persuade the scholarship committee that you will go on to be a success story for their organization. 

    You can also use this prompt to showcase your understanding of the path to achieve your goals. After laying out your ambitions, you should provide an explanation of how you envision yourself reaching them, to show that you have researched your goals and are confident in your choice to pursue the degree you are pursuing.

    “Tell us about a contribution you’ve made to your community.”

    This question is a great opportunity to demonstrate the impact you’ve had and hope to have on the people around you. Your contribution may have been formal or informal; you can write about anything you’ve done in your community that has affected others. This could be volunteering with a local nonprofit, working in a student organization at your high school, or even a creative project that you shared with the public. 

    Remember, the main reason why a scholarship committee cares about what you’ve done in your past is how it forecasts what you’ll do with your future. After you have described your contribution, make sure to reflect on it and describe how it relates to the contributions you hope to make in the future.

    Read more: What’s the best scholarship essay format?

    “How are you planning on paying for your education?”

    When answering this prompt, you should show that you have a thorough plan to finance your college education. This demonstrates a sense of responsibility and shows that you have a feasible plan to finance your education should you receive the scholarship. 

    You can outline all of your revenue streams, but emphasize the ones that you have taken the lead on. Make sure to include:

    • College savings accounts
    • Jobs that you have worked to save up for college
    • Other financial planning such as research about different types of loans
    • Mention that there is still a gap between your funding and the amount you are being asked to pay, to show the importance of the scholarship to you

    See also: How to write a statement of financial need

    “What are your academic and professional goals?”

    This is a similar question to “Where will you be in 5 years?” An effective answer will provide an overview of your future goals and how you plan on getting there. You can also circle back and emphasize how this scholarship would help you to achieve those goals. It’s also a good idea to relate these goals to your values; discuss personal experiences that led you to set these goals. 

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Because so many scholarships use very similar prompts, you should save and compile your responses so you can adapt them for future prompts
    • Most prompts will ask you questions about yourself, so you should become as comfortable as possible with writing essays about yourself
    • While some applications may ask you the same questions, you should keep in mind that it can be worth changing some of the language to address the values of a specific scholarship organization
    • Remember to have a well-researched financial plan as well, as that may be something you are asked about and you should be prepared to answer

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    Frequently asked questions about common scholarship essay prompts

    What are most scholarship essays about?

    Most scholarship essays are interested in what you plan to do with the money or how it will benefit your education and goals. The organization awarding the money wants to know that their money will be well spent on students who care to use their money wisely. So, like most of the questions above asked, be prepared to talk about your future plans and goals and how you plan to use the money.

    What should you avoid in a scholarship essay?

    There are more do’s and don’ts than we can cover right here, so let’s just talk about two things very quickly. Don’t have an attitude that conveys that you don’t care about the scholarship. Nothing will put off an award committee more than knowing that an applicant doesn’t really care. Secondly, make sure your essay is in your own words. In other words, don’t use long quotes from other people or talk about someone else’s ideas. Avoid going over facts about the organization that you are applying for an award from. It’s okay to mention these things briefly, but you should allow for your authentic voice shine through.  

    What is the structure of a scholarship essay?

    In most cases, the structure of a scholarship essay is no different than that of a normal essay, following the intro, body and conclusion structure. However, that format can change slightly depending on the amount of space you have and the prompt you are given. Consider reading specifically about how to write a 250 word essay and how to write a 500 word essay to get a better idea of how to structure your essays when you are limited by word count.

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