Youth Canada

How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay - Part 1: Thinking Like a Scholarship Winner

8-09-2008 by Joshua Liu

How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay - Part 1: Thinking Like a Scholarship Winner

The following article is cross-posted from - a blog with entertainment and advice for budding physicians.

By the time I had graduated from high school in 2006, I had won over $200,000 in scholarships. In the end I decided to accept the TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership worth up to $60,000 over four years. In addition to that award, I was offered the Millennium National Scholarship, as well as the most prestigious scholarships from York University, Queen’s University, and the University of Western Ontario. All of these scholarships required applications and essays, and most of them also required interviews.

Before we delve into specifics about writing a great scholarship essay, it’s important that you understand the mindset of a winning scholarship student. The reason I was successful is largely due to my attitude and overall approach to the process.

It’s Not About Luck. It’s About Maximizing Your Chances

Most people would say that you need to be really lucky to win a major scholarship. So I guess you could say that I was extremely lucky to win so many. And it’s true, luck plays a role in winning scholarships – but it’s no different from the role luck plays everywhere else in life.

But it wasn’t just luck that allowed me to win as much as I did. It would be extremely unlikely for me to have been that successful on luck alone. It wasn’t coincidence that I was meeting the same students at a lot of my interviews. And it wasn’t chance that I know several students who won numerous major scholarships like I did.

And if you keep relying on the attitude that you need to be lucky to be successful, then you’re simply giving yourself an excuse from finding ways to improve your chances.

There is a Science to Writing a Winning Scholarship Essay

The reason a lot of the same students win many of the major Canadian scholarships is because these students have a solid approach to writing their essays for their applications. There are a lot of students with similar backgrounds, experiences and accomplishments, but the same students keep coming out on top.

So believe me, there is absolutely a science to it. And once you know this approach, you will maximize your chances of winning, and reduce the need for luck to get you there.

It’s All About Marketing

A common mistake I see among students applying for scholarships is that they just fill it out quickly without thought, and assume that if they deserve it, they’ll win. Unfortunately, this is not the case. And so the following is an extremely important concept that I believe is necessary to introduce right here:

The most deserving student doesn’t necessarily win. It’s the students who do best in the application process that win.

Let that sink in for a few seconds. If that doesn’t make sense, let me explain a bit further. The only information the scholarship judges have to go by is what you provide: the application (and perhaps an interview). That’s it. They don’t come into your life and follow you for a month and see what you do. They can’t see how passionate you are about the environment or how well you inspire your peers to get involved in the community. They only know whatever you tell them in your application.

You might be the most deserving student, but that doesn’t matter if you can’t sell yourself on paper.

It’s no different from companies that make products or services. If the product/service is not marketed well, no one will know about it, and no one will buy it. People only know what you tell them.

If you understand this, then you’re ready for the meat of this series. I’m going to show you my approach for writing a winning scholarship essay. If you have done some great things, I want to help you market yourself in a way that best impresses the judges.

Remember, how you write your essays is just as important as the content of your essays.

Following my approach won’t guarantee you anything, but I believe it will significantly enhance your chances.

JOSHUA LIU is currently a Biomedical Sciences student at York University. He is the founder of SMARTS: the Youth Science Foundation Canada's national youth science network, which connects over 300 young people and 200 schools today. He also currently sits on Shad International's Board of Directors. Joshua has spoken as a presenter, panelist, and keynote at numerous student conferences. He was named as one of Canada's "Top 20 Under 20" in 2005, and is a recipient of the TD Canada Trust Scholarship for Community Leadership.

For more articles like this one, check out Joshua's blog at

Image courtesy of user "Philo" at via Creative Commons License.