Scholarship Essay Brainstorming Tips

Scholarship essays vary dramatically in subject. However, most of them require a recounting of personal experience. The most important aspect of your scholarship essay is the subject matter. You should expect to devote about 1-2 weeks simply to brainstorming ideas. To begin brainstorming subject ideas consider the following points. From brainstorming, you may find a subject you had not considered at first.

  • What are your major accomplishments, and why do you consider them accomplishments? Do not limit yourself to accomplishments you have been formally recognized for since the most interesting essays often are based on accomplishments that may have been trite at the time but become crucial when placed in the context of your life. This is especially true if the scholarship committee receives a list of your credentials anyway.
  • Does any attribute, quality, or skill distinguish you from everyone else? How did you develop this attribute?
  • Consider your favorite books, movies, works of art, etc. Have these influenced your life in a meaningful way? Why are they your favorites?
  • What was the most difficult time in your life, and why? How did your perspective on life change as a result of the difficulty?
  • Have you ever struggled mightily for something and succeeded? What made you successful?
  • Have you ever struggled mightily for something and failed? How did you respond?
  • Of everything in the world, what would you most like to be doing right now? Where would you most like to be? Who, of everyone living and dead, would you most like to be with? These questions should help you realize what you love most.
  • Have you experienced a moment of epiphany, as if your eyes were opened to something you were previously blind to?
  • What is your strongest, most unwavering personality trait? Do you maintain strong beliefs or adhere to a philosophy? How would your friends characterize you? What would they write about if they were writing your scholarship essay for you?
  • What have you done outside of the classroom that demonstrates qualities sought after by universities? Of these, which means the most to you?
  • What are your most important extracurricular or community activities? What made you join these activities? What made you continue to contribute to them?
  • What are your dreams of the future? When you look back on your life in thirty years, what would it take for you to consider your life successful? What people, things, and accomplishments do you need? How does this particular scholarship fit into your plans for the future?

Personal Statement Essay Tips

A personal statement provides the reader with a more personal overview of who you are.  For example, it can include information about your background, challenges you have overcome, accomplishments, and future goals.

In addition to a resume and letters of recommendation, scholarship applications often require additional information about yourself, your future goals, or your thoughts on a certain issue.  This information can be requested in the form of a cover letter, personal statement, essay, or answering specific questions listed on the scholarship application. 

Another way to use a personal statement is to give it to a reference along with a resume.  These two pieces of information are very helpful for the reference to organize their thoughts about you for your letter of recommendation. 

The following is a general checklist to help you organize a draft of your personal statement.  It is recommended that you write at least one paragraph for each of these points.  Using this checklist will help you create an overall summary of who you are and your goals.  You will customize your personal statement based on the job or scholarship criteria using sections of the summary that are applicable.

Part 1: Background, Character, Strengths

  • Personal background - where your family came from, ethnic background (only mention this if it is applicable to the scholarship you are applying for).
  • Challenges you have overcome i.e., academic obstacles, personal circumstances, financial challenges.
  • Strengths - academic, skills, talents, positive character traits.
  • Describe yourself using 2 to 3 words and why you chose those particular characteristics.

Part 2:  Experience & Involvement

  • Jobs, extracurricular activities, community service/volunteer work, clubs, leadership positions

Part 3:  Accomplishments

  • Grades (if 3.0 or higher), advanced/honors classes, positive job performance, awards, other special recognition, etc.

Part 4:  Future Plans

  • College major - Why did you choose this major? How do you plan to use it?
  • Career goals - Why are you interested in this career?

Part 5:  Closing

  • In one or two sentences, describe yourself in terms of your ability/potential to measure up to the requirements of scholarship that you are applying for.
  • Explain why you need the scholarship?  Describe your financial challenges.
  • Thank the reader in advance for considering you for the scholarship.