One of the most important parts of any scholarship application is the essay. Essays give you a chance to show off your writing skills, your thinking process, and your personality. The people reviewing the applications will often focus on the essay more than the rest of the application because they know that it’s the essay that gives them the most insight into the applicant.
How long should scholarship essays be?
Some scholarship applications may specify a word count for the essay, and this gives you a very good starting point. It’s important to understand that these word counts are not meant to be an exact target, but rather a general guideline.
If there’s a specified word count, it’s best to get your essay into the general range of it. So, if they ask for an essay that’s 500 words or less, you don’t need to worry about getting exactly 500 words. You also don’t want to go too far over 500 words, although you won’t be penalized if you go slightly over. A 700-word essay is a problem, but 520 words is fine.
Likewise, you don’t want to go too short. While the word count requirement will almost always say “X words or less,” if they set the upper limit at 500 words and you submit a 100-word essay, the reviewers probably won’t look very favorably on that. A 400-word essay would be fine, though.
Pay careful attention to the instructions, because while most scholarships will specify “X words or less,” some of them will omit the “or less.” Here again, you don’t need to worry about getting exactly that number- doing so is nearly impossible. But you’ll want to be very close. We’d say get to within 10 words over or under the specified number.
What if there’s no word count specified for the scholarship essay?
Not every scholarship application gives you a word count to aim for. Often you’ll only see the writing prompt. This can be nerve-wracking because now you have to guess how long of an essay you should write!
The most important thing you can do is simply to answer the prompt. This is your first priority and your primary concern. It won’t matter how long or well-written your essay is if you fail to actually answer the prompt you were given.
Also, be sure that all you’re doing is answering the prompt. Students try to add in things they think will impress the readers, or they simply let themselves get distracted as they write, and half the essay ends up being completely irrelevant.
You also need to be sure that you’re writing clearly. A common mistake is to try and show off your vocabularly, or to write in an extremely formal manner. Instead, focus on clearly communicating what you want to say. This means using as few words as possible without sacrificing meaning. And, please, put the Thesaurus away.
Finally, keep the essay short. The readers are going through hundreds of these things. Short essays that answer the prompt clearly are the ones that will stick out the most to them. In most cases, 500 words is a good length.