College Essays vs. Scholarship Essays: 4 Important Differences
Want to find another school’s essay guide?
We’ve written over 100 guides and collected real sample essays to help you write your college essays. Search your school below:
Applying to college is a huge amount of work. On top of that, you may be applying for scholarships to help ease the financial burden of your tuition and other expenses. Many scholarship applications require essays—and these are in addition to the essays you’re already writing for your college applications.
So, what’s the difference? Can you use the same essay or parts of it for both purposes? Read on to find out.
College essays help adcoms get a sense of students’ personalities. They want to see whether you’re a good fit with their institution and student body and what you will contribute. That’s why tone is so important—you need to convey that you’ll mesh well with the school and understand what that means. Find out more in What Is a College Personal Statement?.
Meanwhile, scholarship committees are looking for students who stand for the interests of the organization and will represent it well. These organizations often align with and support particular talents, industries, demographics, or causes, so the students to whom they award scholarships must embody these ideals as well. For example, there are scholarships for first-generation students, Hispanic/Latino students, and STEM scholars. Your essay must demonstrate that you believe in the mission the organization represents.
Many colleges use the Common or Coalition applications, and their prompts are often very broad. You’ll also have a choice of topic. Many colleges also have school-specific supplemental essays, whose topics can be a bit more narrow, such as asking you why you want to attend that particular school.
Scholarship prompts tend to be more specific and focused on the organization and its mission. For example, Digital Responsibility’s Don’t Text and Drive Scholarship asks you to complete the statement “I pledge to not text and drive because…” in 140 characters.
Since college essays are about you and how you’ll fit in at the school, you’ll need to do some brainstorming to generate broad ideas around which to center your statement. Check out Where to Begin: 3 Personal Essay Brainstorming Exercises for ideas.
For scholarship essays, you want to demonstrate that you agree with the company philosophy. That means you need to do some research to understand what that philosophy is and incorporate the organization’s ideals. Often, you can find out a lot by simply browsing the organization’s website and social media accounts and finding stories and examples of current and past projects.
College essays tend to be on the longer side. The Common App has a 650-word maximum for its main essay, while the Coalition Application allows 300-550 words.
Scholarship essays tend to be shorter, usually under 500 words. Sometimes the essays are even shorter still, as with the Don’t Text and Drive example. And, of course, some scholarships don’t require essays at all.
Both your college essays and scholarship essays should represent you and what you stand for. Even though scholarship essays are usually about a cause that the organization sponsoring the award supports, if you’re applying for it, you should believe in that cause as well. Of course, it goes without saying that you should be the one actually writing the essays as well.
Your essays need to be well-written. You should make use of rhetorical devices and other language tools, as well as follow grammatical rules. Make sure to read over all your essays and get second opinions.
College Essays and Scholarship Essays: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, both adcoms and scholarship committees want to get to know you through your writing. Taking care to understand the institution or organization and truly representing your authentic self will come through, so put in the effort. It really counts!
For more advice, check out How to Write an Impressive College Essay: A Step-by-Step Guide.
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.