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Popular scholarship essay prompts (and how to stand out when you answer them)

Published April 22, 2024| minute read
Hadiya Iqbal

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    The scholarship search is an essential process for many college students who need financial aid for college. As you may know, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) offers aid in the form of grants, federal student loans, and work-study. However, students can maximize their aid by applying for scholarships offered by a variety of sources, including nonprofits and companies.

    Many scholarships require students to write an essay for the application, and while writing endless essays may seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be. If you’ve ever done a scholarship search or even started applying, you might be aware that many of the essay prompts on the applications are similar. Knowing the most popular prompts and how to stand out will help you prepare for the scholarship application process.

    What's a scholarship essay prompt?

    Scholarship boards review many applications every year, and your essay is one way for them to get to know you. An essay prompt is a question on the application requiring a short answer determined by the organization awarding the scholarship. Your response gives the board or awarding committee insight into who you are and why you may be deserving of the award.

    Not all scholarship applications have the same prompt. That being said, many are similar, and there are certainly popular prompts. Below are some common scholarship essay questions you might see as you’re applying.

    Popular scholarship essay prompts

    Knowing the common essay topics can help get you organized as you begin your scholarship search. Picking a few of these and creating outlines or rough drafts ahead of scholarship applications being released can help give you a head start.

    1. Tell us about yourself

    The “tell us about yourself” essay prompt is exactly what it sounds like — a way for the scholarship board to get insights into who you are, what you like to do, and why this scholarship will help you.

    This is a common question on many applications. You’ll likely see this question pop up as you apply for jobs, further your education, or join organizations in the future, too.

    How to make your answer stand out

    Keep your answer relatively short and include essential information that might wow the board, such as:

    • Your academic accomplishments and achievements
    • Community service and passion projects
    • What you hope to accomplish by furthering your education
    • How this scholarship fits into your goals

    It’s never easy to condense yourself into a few short paragraphs. So, stick to the information that's likely to make you stand out.

    2. What are your academic and professional goals?

    Thousands of scholarships are designed to help you achieve specific goals. For instance, if you’re going to school for computer programming to become a coder, there may be a specific scholarship for that career path, which is why this essay prompt comes up a lot.

    How to make your answer stand out

    Sit down and think about why you are choosing this career path and what you hope to accomplish throughout your career.

    When you think about your ideal future, what does that look like? What do you hope to accomplish by the time you graduate college? And where do you see yourself as you start your career? Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

    Include the answer to these questions and go big! You want to stand out and show your drive and determination — so don’t be afraid to include your biggest goals.

    3. How will this scholarship help you?

    Scholarships are designed to help students accomplish their higher education goals. But beyond that, many scholarship boards want to understand why their specific scholarship is the right fit for you.

    How to make your answer stand out

    With this prompt, you want to try and get as specific as possible. Thousands of scholarships are available, but you chose to apply for this one. Why?

    As you begin to answer, consider including the following:

    • What caught your attention about this scholarship?
    • Why do you believe you fit the awarding criteria for this scholarship?
    • How do you think this scholarship will help you accomplish your education and career goals?

    By researching the scholarship and understanding how it applies to you, you can show the board your interest and dedication when it comes to furthering your education.

    4. Why do you deserve this scholarship?

    It’s no secret that many students apply for scholarships each year, which is why determining who will be awarded one is a big job. Sometimes, hearing a student’s words about why they believe they deserve the funds can make all the difference. That’s why you’ll see this prompt pop up from time to time.

    How to make your answer stand out

    Don’t be shy about being honest. If you’ve gone above and beyond throughout your high school education to reach your goals, share that information in your essay. What have you accomplished? Better yet, what have you overcome to achieve those accomplishments?

    Share your journey in your essay and tell the reader why you believe that journey is deserving of the scholarship award.

    5. Who's been your biggest influence or inspiration?

    Many students are inspired to accomplish and achieve their goals because of someone who inspired them — whether that’s a teacher, parent, sibling, or mentor. Those who inspire you often say a lot about who you are and why you achieve the things you do.

    How to make your answer stand out

    People inspire us for all kinds of reasons, but scholarship committees want to understand why and what you’ve achieved due to that influence. Tell your story honestly, and don’t be afraid to showcase how this person inspired you to accomplish a goal you may not have otherwise.

    Final thoughts

    As we mentioned above, essay prompts can help decision-makers determine if you should receive a scholarship. While they may seem like something you can power through quickly, it’s important to spend time crafting answers that are compelling, honest, and insightful.

    You want to double and triple-check your work, even allowing someone you trust to read through it and provide feedback. Keep in mind this is an opportunity to help you pay for your college degree, and you should put your best foot forward.

    While essay prompts might seem overwhelming, with some preparation, time, and energy, you’ll find opportunities to help yourself stand out.