How To Draft A Strong Scholarship Essay?

Writing a scholarship essay can be intimidating. With so many things to do as a high school student—joining extracurriculars, maintaining a competitive average, volunteering—you want the first draft of the essays to be as effective as possible.

While the people on the scholarship committee are looking for someone special and reliable, they are also looking for a structured essay with cohesive writing and valuable experiences. Here are some of the elements that are found in most winning essays:

A compelling hook!  

First impressions are important! The committee receives hundreds of applications, so you want to guarantee yours stands out.

A hook is one or two sentences at the beginning of your essay that captures the reader's attention and makes them keep reading. It can be:

  1. A personal story: These can be experiences with important issues (e.g. mental health), personal identities or communities you identify with (e.g. ethnic groups), overcoming adversity or significant changes (e.g. moving), important life lessons you learned, or pivotal moments in your life. What’s your narrative and how does it compel your actions?
  2. A powerful statement: Communicate your values or beliefs to the reader! What is important to you? What do you stand for?
  3. Identifying a need: Starting with a need that you saw in your community is a great way to communicate why you became a leader or the person you are today. It also emphasizes the impact that you created. What issues or opportunities did you identify? What motivated you to address this issue?
  4. Identifying a need: Starting with a need that you saw in your community is a great way to communicate why you became a leader or the person you are today. It also emphasizes the impact that you created. What issues or opportunities did you identify? What motivated you to address this issue?

Example: Keneisha

As a Black, lesbian woman, respect of diversity is a value close to my heart. Despite my school housing one of the most diverse student populations in the district, I constantly heard stories from my peers about a lack of sensitivity from staff and fellow students around their ability, culture, gender identity, sexuality, and religion. To combat this, I initiated the planning of my school’s first annual Diversity Week.

Example: Braedon

When relocating to the small town of Port McNeill, I questioned my ability to make an impact in such an unfamiliar environment. Born a city kid, I dreaded moving to a remote, isolated location. However, I knew that through discomfort, I had the opportunity to step up and create change.

STAR Structure

In a scholarship essay, you will be asked to talk about your volunteering experiences and extracurriculars. To make your essay clear and effective, use the STAR structure!

S — Situation: The Situation is the place, time, and context. You want to take 1-2 sentences describing

  • where and where you volunteered
  • who you collaborated with (e.g. nonprofit organizations)
  • your motivation behind and goal for this project

Open your paragraph with this information so your readers will immediately understand what you’re discussing!

Ex. I wanted to change this reality for my school’s most vulnerable students, and so I took action with the Diversity Club—a group dedicated to providing a safe space for all students, with a focus on supporting diversity around ability, culture, gender identity, religion, and sexuality.

T — Task: Your Task is the role that you played in the experience. Were you the president of the club or a member of the student council? Your Task also covers the objective of your experience. What was your main responsibility? Here, the focus is on YOU instead of the project! Try to limit this section to one sentence.

Ex. In my role as President of the club, I quickly saw the potential to expand our reach in the school and lead the planning of our first Diversity Week.

A — Actions: Describe the critical steps you took to complete the goal or volunteer initiative. Focus on conveying how you demonstrated key skills, such as initiative, innovation, and leadership. Highlight all your hard work here!

Ex. I coordinated between community members and various support programs in my school to organize an assembly for our 1,700 students and staff. We additionally hosted daily events focused on engaging students through cultural food, historical trivia, and other awareness activities.

R — Result: Describe the specific outcomes you achieved! Use this opportunity to reflect on your initial goals and discuss the impact of your actions. You can also provide a self-reflection, mentioning what you learned from the experience.

Ex. The week concluded with a diversity pledge that gained over 150 signatures—a significant symbol of our community’s priority to do better. In its third iteration, this event has resulted in more inclusive perspectives acknowledged within our school and established us as a role model for other schools.

To make your experience more personal and impactful, identify the skills/qualities you developed! 

When you put all these sections together, you get a strong paragraph that powerfully conveys your leadership and impact!

Powerful volunteer examples

Arguably, the most difficult decision will be choosing what to write about. Make sure to pick your most relevant volunteer experience while answering the prompt. Your volunteer experience can be grouped into three categories:

  1. Initiator Roles: These are roles in which you start an initiative yourself. This could be creating a club or initiative. Prioritize describing this type of experience!
  2. Leader Roles: These are the roles in which you are the leader of a group, hold a title, and manage other members. For example volunteering as a coach, camp counsellor, or executive member of a student council. This should be your second priority.
  3. Member Roles: These roles are involvements in which you are part of an organization as a team member. Some examples of these roles include volunteering at a soup kitchen, a hospital info desk, or an animal shelter. Only include this type of activity if you have enough space.

Elevated diction

Your diction and tone say a lot about you! The words you choose for your writing will showcase your vocabulary, creativity, and even your personality. Here are four tips for you to follow:

  1. Choose adjectives with purpose and intent: Avoid words that are too vague or don’t convey much true meaning. Meaningless adjectives: bad, good, amazing, great. Useful adjectives: collaborative, educational, challenging, emotional.
  2. Try to avoid clichés and buzzwords: Try to avoid phrases like "I am passionate about..." "Do not judge a book by its cover" "against all odds" "as old as time," etc.
  3. Emphasize the significance of your actions. Instead of writing: "I helped make posters to advertise the event." Rephrase to: "I initiated a marketing campaign using posters."
  4. Avoid passive voice: Instead of "A marketing plan was created by my team to raise awareness." Say: "My team created a marketing plan to raise awareness."

Direct and concise writing

You want to be clear, compelling, and professional in your writing. Don’t repeat ideas or waste your word count on long descriptions! Here are some tips you can follow to be direct:

   1. Use active voice instead of passive: When the subject is the agent or doer of the action, the verb is in the active voice.

X The applications were sent yesterday by me
I sent the applications yesterday.


2. Avoid run-on sentences and sentence fragments. These types of mistakes usually happen when you DON’T
  • punctuate really long sentences,
  • add a coordinating conjunction (e.g., and, or, for), or
  • supply missing details.
Run-on sentence: 
X I love playing computer games I would play daily if I had the time.
I love playing computer games. I would play daily if I had the time.I love playing computer games, and I would play daily if I had the time.

Sentence fragment:

X My phone rang all morning. Then was silent for the rest of the day.
My phone rang all morning then was silent for the rest of the day.

Always make sure that your sentence has a subject, verb, and correct punctuations!

3. Try to take out unnecessary verbs to be more concise in your writing.

Ex. "(I decided I was going to start training) trained for the season.”

Connecting your impact

You want to communicate a high level of community impact in your essays to demonstrate why you are the best candidate for the scholarship. Understanding the unmet need you address through your volunteerism is key to conveying a meaningful impact.

What was your community missing? What problems were present there? What opportunities for growth did you recognize?

Describing how you identified an unmet need and took the initiative to provide a solution is an excellent way to highlight your character and leadership!

Each time you discuss your impact, mention your:

  1. Impact on others: How did you help your team? How did you impact the individuals involved in your initiative? How did your involvement impact their lives?
  2. Impact on your community: What will be the impact of your actions in the community? What is the long-term effect? How did you change the culture, atmosphere, or environment of your community?
  3. Impact on yourself: What practical skills did you learn (e.g. public speaking)? What life lessons did you learn (e.g. the importance of teamwork)? How will this experience impact your future?

You should also remember to include both quantitative and qualitative results to make your descriptions effective.

  • Quantitative results can be measured, like the amount of funds raised, the number of people in attendance, or the number of new members recruited.
  • Qualitative results cannot be measured, like a sense of community created, empowerment of others, skills you helped others gain.

A great way to keep track of your impact is to journal! Note down your reflections, personal stories, measurements of your impact, and any other ways you made a difference. Then, when you are ready to write a scholarship essay, you’ll have these notes to look back on!

Effectively conveying your impact through your writing demonstrates how powerful your volunteer work is to committees. This shows them your character and why you’re the right person for the scholarship/program!

STA(R)2

Applications are like buildings. STAR is the structure and STA(R)2 makes up the add-ons that are great but not necessary, like insulation. Some committees are engineers — they only care about the actual structural components. Other committees are real estate agents — they care about the underlying structure, but they're more concerned about what makes a home a home. These “real estate agents” are typically admission and scholarship program committees.

Check out our Powerful Essay Writing Toolkit for a quick walkthrough of how to use STA(R)2 to create an authentic and well-rounded application!