Short Scholarship Essay Prompts Ideas

The essay: It’s the most important part of your scholarship application, and it can be the hardest.

But, the essay shouldn’t keep you from applying. Take a look at some commonly asked essay questions and use them to prepare for your scholarship applications. Brainstorm ideas, do some research or create your own “stock” of scholarship essays.

Your Field of Specialization and Academic Plans

Some scholarship applications will ask you to write about your major or field of study.

These questions are used to determine how well you know your area of specialization and why you’re interested in it.

Samples:

• How will your study of _______ contribute to your immediate or long range career plans?
• Why do you want to be a _______?
• Explain the importance of (your major) in today’s society.
• What do you think the industry of _______ will be like in the next 10 years?
• What are the most important issues your field is facing today?

Current Events and Social Issues

To test your skills at problem-solving and check how up to date you are on current issues, many scholarship applications include questions about problems and issues facing society.

Samples:

• What do you consider to be the single most important societal problem? Why?
• If you had the authority to change your school in a positive way, what specific changes would you make?
• Pick a controversial problem on college campuses and suggest a solution.
• What do you see as the greatest threat to the environment today?

Personal Achievements

Scholarships exist to reward and encourage achievement. So you shouldn’t be surprised to find essay topics that ask you to brag a little.

Samples:

• Describe how you have demonstrated leadership ability both in and out of school.
• Discuss a special attribute or accomplishment that sets you apart.
• Describe your most meaningful achievements and how they relate to your field of study and your future goals.
• Why are you a good candidate to receive this award?

Background and Influences

Who you are is closely tied to where you’ve been and who you’ve known. To learn more about you, some scholarship committees will ask you to write about your background and major influences.

Samples:

• Pick an experience from your own life and explain how it has influenced your development.
• Who in your life has been your biggest influence and why?
• How has your family background affected the way you see the world?
• How has your education contributed to who you are today?

Future Plans and Goals

Scholarship sponsors look for applicants with vision and motivation, so they might ask about your goals and aspirations.

Samples:

• Briefly describe your long- and short-term goals.
• Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
• Why do you want to get a college education?

Financial Need

Many scholarship providers have a charitable goal: They want to provide money for students who are going to have trouble paying for college. In addition to asking for information about your financial situation, these committees may want a more detailed and personal account of your financial need.

Samples:

• From a financial standpoint, what impact would this scholarship have on your education?
• State any special personal or family circumstances affecting your need for financial assistance.
• How have you been financing your college education?

Random Topics

Some essay questions don’t seem directly related to your education, but committees use them to test your creativity and get a more well-rounded sense of your personality.

Samples:

• Choose a person or persons you admire and explain why.
• Choose a book or books and that have affected you deeply and explain why.

While you can’t predict every essay question, knowing some of the most common ones can give you a leg up on applications. Start brainstorming now, and you may find yourself a winner!

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Every year, companies, non-profits, charities, churches and clubs award about $6 billion in private scholarships to undergraduates.

But many students fail to apply because they get stumped by the essay requirements, while those that do decide to submit often recycle a familiar theme—”here’s why I need the money.” But everybody who’s applying needs money.

The more likely path to reward, judges say, is to demonstrate why you’ll be a good investment of their scholarship dollars. Three topics that can give you that edge:

1. What you love and why. Do you love your dog? Your church? Basketball? Your shoes? Great! There’s your topic! But scholarship providers want to know why you love something, not just that you do. An ability to analyze the whys and wherefores of your own likes and dislikes is an indication that you’ll do well in life. There’s nothing too mundane, as long as you’re passionate about it. Says Amy Murphy, who oversees 35 different scholarship programs worth more than $1.3 million through the Greater St. Louis Community Foundation: “One of the best essays that crossed my desk was about a student’s shoes—where they had been, what messes they had gotten into and out of, how they supported the student as troubles were averted and successes achieved.”

2. How you recovered from a mistake, challenge or disappointment. “We’re looking for qualities like persistence, determination, optimism and a maturity of decision making,” explains Oscar Sweeten-Lopez who runs the Dell Scholars Program, which awards 300 scholarships of up to $20,000 each year. “Since college life brings new challenges and adversities, students need to demonstrate self-determination to succeed.” So tell them about a time when you faced a challenge and carried on. Did you make a mistake? Write about what you did, how you took responsibility for your actions, and what you learned. Did you fail at something? What happened, and how did you recover from that? Were problems at home hurting your ability to succeed in school? What were they, and how did you handle them?

3. Your family history. “Many students limit their scholarship essays to what they want to study, their income level or their ethnicity, completely missing out on other opportunities,” says Kim Stezala, a scholarship coach. Instead, she suggests students ask relatives about military service, clubs they belong to, or causes they have been active in. What you learn can serve as a winning essay topic. Students who can show that they can think broadly, and see themselves as a part of a bigger history, are demonstrating critical thinking skills needed to succeed.

Amy Weinstein is an expert on private scholarships and directs the National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA).

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