Youth Canada

How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay - Part 3: Writing the Essay

15-09-2008 by Joshua Liu

 How to Write a Winning Scholarship Essay - Part 3: Writing the Essay

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

At this point, you should know what you are going to write. That is, you should have completed the outline for your essay which includes all the information and ideas you want to get across to the scholarship judges: what you have achieved, the lessons you’ve learned, how you got started, etc.

In this article, I am going to walk you through some important concepts on how to put these ideas into the form of an essay in the best way possible. One thing I am NOT going to do is write the essay for you. If you came here expecting to see complete sample essays, then you’re in the wrong place. What I’m trying to do is teach you how to write your essay, and hopefully by the end of the article, you’ll realize why understanding these concepts is much more valuable than me simply giving you a template essay to use.

Don’t Write an Essay. Write Your Story.

Although we always use terms like “scholarship essays” or “essay answers”, realize that you’re not writing a formal essay for your history class. Think of your scholarship essay of more like a story. Your story.

Imagine you were writing a novel about yourself and your leadership/community experiences: what would you say? How would you say it?

There are a few reasons why you should write your scholarship essay as if you are telling a story, but the primary reason is because it helps you stand out. Scholarship judges must go through hundreds or thousands of application essays. Formal essays are not exciting by nature – but stories are. You want your scholarship judge, in the heap of a hundred boring formal essay answers, to be excited by something interesting for once: your story.

Think of your essay like a movie or a novel, where you are the hero in the story: a hero with a mission. Through your story, you want to convince the reader (the scholarship judge) to be on your side. It’s kind of like sports. Have you ever watched your favourite team compete in a championship game? How did you feel? What emotions went through you as you cheered for your team? That’s the feeling you want the judges to have about you.

By the end of the essay, you want the judge to be cheering for you, to want you to succeed. You want the judge to put down your application and think: “Wow, I need to meet this person!”

Write in the First Person

Writing in the first person for any application essay is an absolute must. This essay is about YOU. Use “I”, “me”, “myself”, etc. Do not write in the third person, because it is not as convincing and quite frankly, it doesn’t make much sense to be writing in the third person about yourself.

Transformation: The Before and After

As I have mentioned many times now, what you have achieved is just as important to the scholarship judges as what you have learned and how your experience has helped you develop as a person. That is, you want to tell a transformational story.

For example, before I got involved in some of my leadership experiences, I had low self esteem and had trouble getting to know people. I still have some of those issues from time to time (who doesn’t?), but there is no doubt that my leadership experiences helped me extend my comfort zone and take part in things that have helped me develop socially. I used to stutter sometimes when I spoke, but now I love to speak in front of hundreds. I mentioned all of this in all of my scholarship applications.

I fervently believe that sharing my before and after story played a significant role in my scholarship success.

Describe Your Moment of Inspiration Vividly

If there’s one thing you’re going to describe more in a story like manner than anything else in your essay, it’s your introduction: your story of what inspired you and how you got involved in the activity. This is what pulls the reader into your essay and makes them want to read the whole thing.

One of the best ways to do this is recall how you felt when you were inspired. What did that feel like? What thoughts were racing through your head? What did you do immediately after?

Compare and contrast the following two descriptions of the same inspirational moment:

“It all began one day at school when we watched a documentary on homelessness in the city. I was shocked by what I saw, and the documentary inspired me to start a youth group in my high school to investigate better ways of tackling homelessness.”


“I will never forget that day in civics class where my outlook on the world would change dramatically. As images of impoverished families and children flashed before my very eyes through a documentary on homelessness, I couldn’t help but feel saddened and upset. That experience moved me deeply and feelings of helplessness soon turned into a fiery passion to make a difference. I gathered a few of my friends who were also inspired, and we soon embarked on a journey to tackle homelessness.”

I don’t know about you, but I think the vivid images and feelings shared in the second description make it much more interesting and engaging than the first.

Write in an Active, Dynamic Manner

Remember, you want the judge to imagine your story as if it was unfolding before him or her. If you have the opportunity to choose more dynamic phrases or words, do so. “I charged into the room and a heated debate ensued” is much more active and dynamic than “I had a difficult meeting with the other person”.

Yes the facts are important, but never forget the cardinal rule of student applications: how you market yourself is just as important as the idea you’re trying to market!

Now Write!

You now have all the tools to write your essay, or rather, your story. Make it vivid, dynamic, and active. Share how you felt when you were inspired. Elaborate on how your experiences changed your life.

Once you have your first draft complete, you’re ready for the revision process.

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 "Olivia Bee" at via Creative Commons License.