Me After 10 Years Essay Scholarships

I’ll be honest: I hate writing scholarship essays.

I hated it back in high school, senior year, writing handfuls of essays for countless different organizations, only to lose out on most of them in the end. There were only two scholarships that I received my first semester of college: one from my high school student council for serving as treasury secretary for two years, and one for the children of employees from the company where my father works.

From personal experience, I can give you two pieces of advice:

Firstly, check to see if school organizations that you’re actively involved in have scholarship funds. You’re much more likely to receive money from an organization that knows you rather than an organization whose scholarship you technically qualify for because you went to two meetings that December of your sophomore year. That’s how I got the one from the student council.

On the other hand, I played softball for one season back when I was around twelve years old—needless to say, the girls’ softball league did not give me their award even though I wrote a darn good essay about that one time I got hit in the face and had to sit out our game with a bloody nose (it was character-building!).

Secondly, there are scholarship funds that give away money to every person who submits an essay (this was the way that the scholarship at my dad’s company worked). Now, there’s not a ton of funds that work this way, but they do exist, and you may have to do some digging to find them. If you do, just don’t be too lazy to write that essay.

Scholarships are like the lottery: you can’t win if you don’t play, as cliché as it sounds. But how do you “play” if, like me, you hate the idea of writing dozens of essays on different variations of the same prompt: “What are your education goals, and how will this money assist you in achieving them?”

You can recycle essays. What this means is that you can use the same essay that you submitted for one scholarship fund and submitted it to another (or three). If the prompts are similar enough, all you have to do is change up a few words to make sure it’s tailored to the proper audience. Tweak essays, mash up essays, and apply to scholarships you don’t even think you’ll get—what’s the worst that can happen?

Or you can find scholarship funds whose prompts don’t resemble typical scholarships at all. They don’t even have to be “scholarships,” per se. For example, last summer I submitted a 500-word short story to a contest offering $2,000, $1,000, and $500 as its top prizes. I didn’t win, but at least I threw my hat in the ring. If you’re having fun, or if you’re writing about topics you’re interested in, then the process won’t even seem like a quote-unquote “scholarship essay.”

Of course, there are even scholarships funds that don’t require an essay to win (I’m constantly getting emails about those no-essay scholarships from Fastweb!). Apply for these too.

Earning good grades at the college level can also earn you scholarships from your school. For example, I ended up overpaying my tuition bill this semester because they applied a scholarship to my account that I wasn’t even aware of—now I’m entitled to a refund. Scholarships like these are ones that you don’t even have to apply or appeal for (and appealing, or asking your school for more money, is another ballgame entirely).

As a college student, I have even less time now than I did in high school to be writing dozens of scholarship essays. That’s why I encourage you to find to a variety of different types of funds—which require different application formats and varying time commitments—and submit, submit, submit. Good luck!

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Believe it or not, scholarship committees generally ask the same types of questions and have similar applications.

That’s right! The scholarships you find are going to fit into specific themes which you must be able to identify in order to save your family time, frustration, stress, and most importantly – money.

The 16 themes below are designed for you to use as a reference until you can spot them on your own. Also, make sure you check out our Scholarship Fast Track videos, specifically the Application Accelerators Module, that outlines these scholarship essay themes and questions even more!

The Top 16 Scholarship Essay Themes

  • Career
  • Catch-All
  • Challenges
  • Champion
  • Change
  • Character
  • Classroom
  • College
  • Committee Composition
  • Community
  • Competition
  • Contribution
  • Control
  • Creative
  • Credentials
  • Culture

I’ve provided a definition as well as common scholarship question examples for each theme.

Real Talk:These questions are not made-up and, in fact, come from actual scholarship applications that are open to students at all levels. I hope that they serve you well in preparing for your upcoming applications.

Common Scholarship Questions and Essay Prompts

Scholarship Essay Theme: Career

The career theme is pretty self-explanatory. The committee wants to know any and everything relating to you or your student’s career goals.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • What do you want to do after you graduate from college?
  • Why did you select this career?
  • How will you change the field/industry?
  • Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Scholarship Essay Theme: Catch-All

This is a student’s life summary or autobiography which usually includes information about the past, present, and future. Some committees refer to it as a personal statement or brief bio. (Warning: Not all personal statements will be looking for a life summary. Make sure you read the application carefully.)

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • Please write a short autobiography including information about your family, work experience, community involvement, hobbies, spare time activities, and what you hope to do in the future.
  • Please include a short summary or personal statement describing your accomplishments and goals.
  • List any honors and awards you’ve received.
  • List your extra-curricular activities.

Scholarship Essay Theme: Challenges

Everyone loves a good underdog story. An essay theme that focuses on Challenges asks the student to identify a time when they were down or faced conflict. The committee wants to hear how instead of giving up, you rose to the occasion or at least learned what was necessary to achieve success.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • Write a short essay that describes areas in your life where you demonstrated leadership and overcame obstacles either through your school, social, or family life.
  • What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve ever faced? How did you handle it?

Scholarship Essay Theme: Champion

Why you? Out of all the available applicants, why should you or your student earn the scholarship?

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • Why do you need this scholarship?
  • Please list any additional comments you believe would be helpful in the committee’s decision.
  • In 100 words or less, tell why you would like to receive the XYZ scholarship.

Scholarship Essay Theme: Change

This is one I’m starting to see more and more of in the scholarship world. Committees are interested in the opinions, thoughts, and ideas of applicants. With topics like legislation, population control, and the environment, committees want to see analytical and critical thinking skills.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • What do you think we should do about gun control in this country?
  • How would you handle texting and driving?
  • Create an innovative solution to reduce waste.

Scholarship Essay Theme: Character

As Defined by Merriam-Webster, “Character is the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves.” Essentially, it’s what makes you who you are.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • Describe a time in your life that has shaped who you are as a person.
  • This is what I believe in…
  • How do you define success?
  • What traits do you possess that will enhance your education or future career?

Scholarship Essay Theme: Classroom

Academics, teaching methods, assignments, and anything that pertains to student learning fall under this category.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • How has technology impacted student learning?
  • If you could design a college curriculum, what would it be?
  • Do you believe that standardized testing has helped or hindered student learning?

Scholarship Essay Theme: College

This is one of the most common scholarship essay themes. The premise: Why do you want to go to college?

You’ll often see this theme attached to others as an additional question or a required component of the application.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • Why do you want to go to college?
  • What do you expect to gain from earning a college degree?
  • What are your educational goals?

Is this helping you? Are you beginning to see how this can save you a lot of time? If so, let me know in the comments below, Tweet Me @ScholarshipTalk, or just share the following message and I’ll know you see the benefits of organizing your scholarships based on themes. 🤓


Scholarship Essay Theme: Committee Composition

I’m sure you’ve seen some of the eccentric scholarships out there that challenge you to write about your favorite ice cream, talk about using their product, or design a logo for their company. These scholarships tend to be unique or inspired by the sponsoring organization.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • Create a greeting card and be featured in our upcoming holiday card collection.
  • Design a mascot for our company.
  • Write an essay about how lights and fixtures could impact your mood.
  • Develop an innovative video to end smoking.

Scholarship Essay Theme: Community

This is also a popular scholarship theme. Instead of looking at a student’s GPA, test scores, or major, the community essay theme focuses on community service, community initiatives, and community improvement.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • Describe a meaningful volunteer experience?
  • Make thank-you cards for military service members.
  • Share a project you developed to change your community.

Scholarship Essay Theme: Competition

A common theme for athletes, band members, dancers, or those involved in groups/organizations is the Competition scholarship essay. It highlights participation and its associated benefits.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a good student on the field, in the classroom, and in the community?
  • Define what it means to be a good teammate?
  • Describe a moment of sportsmanship.

Scholarship Essay Theme: Contribution

Again, this is another scholarship essay theme that you may see added to another scholarship question or application. The committee wants to know about you or your student’s contribution to society at various levels.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • How will you make a difference in our world?
  • How have you made a difference in your community?
  • What do you think our country should do to foster unity?

Scholarship Essay Theme: Control

Control, i.e. leadership, oftentimes stands alone as a scholarship theme because of the many questions that can be asked. From being a leader to follower and everything in between, the committee is seeking answers regarding group interaction, the organization of people, or participation within a group setting.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • What does leadership mean to you?
  • Explain a family, social or school situation, in which your leadership made the difference. What was accomplished?

Scholarship Essay Theme: Creative

I’m starting to see a rise in Creative scholarship essays as well. You may notice some similarities with the Committee Composition theme because these scholarships are usually committee-driven and created.

The committee will provide a question, but give you freedom in depicting or representing the theme or category they’ve selected.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • Write a short story of 2,000 words or less.
  • Create a video of 2-minutes or less to encourage young people to stop texting and driving.
  • Submit a photograph depicting the word “family”.

Scholarship Essay Theme: Credentials

As defined by Merriam-Webster, “Credentials are a qualification, achievement, personal quality, or aspect of a person’s background, typically when used to indicate that they are suitable for something.”

These scholarships will require specific credentials to apply or may use the credential within application questions.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • To apply for this scholarship, you must be a female student majoring in a male-dominated industry. Please tell us why you selected this career?
  • Applicants must be a member of the LGBTQI community. Describe a volunteering activity you conducted for your community.
  • Students must be a dependent of an active military member or veteran. Why do you need this scholarship?
  • Students applying for this scholarship must be undergraduate students entering their first semester. What study habits do you think are imperative to freshmen student success?

Scholarship Essay Theme: Culture

Cultures can be comprised of many different components. From college communities to hometown traditions, the Culture theme is based on the defining characteristics of a student’s environment.

Common Scholarship Questions:

  • Tell the committee why you decided to attend college out-of-state?
  • What does your university’s tradition and pride represent?
  • Submit a piece of artwork that captures your town.

Save a Ton of Time by Using These Themes

Scholarship applications may have one or several themes present. Focus on identifying your possible scholarship themes.

Labeling scholarships by themes and working on them at the same time allows the student to divide and conquer. If your family can get good at identifying themes, you’ll immediately save hours of time on applications.

As I start to see new themes emerge, I’ll be sure to add them to the list. For now, this should keep you pretty busy as you continue to find and apply for scholarships.

Feature Image Artwork Credit: iStockPhoto/tostphoto

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