Common Scholarship Essay Prompts and How to Make them Unique

Almost every scholarship application asks for applicants to submit an essay. In the end, they get thousands or hundreds of thousands of essays to read through which can make it difficult to catch their attention. The key to standing out is writing about a unique topic. But nailing down a unique topic can be easier than it sounds!

So, we’ve gathered a list of unique scholarship essay prompts and written out how you can put your spin on them. Let’s explore these common scholarship essay prompts below:

1. Describe Your Academic and/or Career Goals

These kinds of prompts are an opportunity to weave your story into your response. Start by explaining what field of study you chose and what inspired you to pursue it. For example, you could tell the story about:

  • A defining moment when you knew you wanted to pursue this career path.
  • A family legacy you want to carry on.
  • Your end goals, what kind of impact you want to make through your career, and how this scholarship will help you accomplish that.

In your conclusion, demonstrate how being awarded this scholarship will help you achieve these goals.

2. What is Your Primary Goal For Pursuing This Major?

If you are applying for a major-specific scholarship, they want to know why you are pursuing that field. Steer away from giving a generic answer by adding in your unique selling point—aka, the distinct moment or event that helped you decide on this career path.

Let’s say, for example, you want to pursue journalism. You could write about the moment you learned what journalists do, who your favorite journalist is, and why they inspired you to become one. Be specific on your reasons and don’t be afraid to make them personal. Personal attributes can help your essay stand out to those who are awarding scholarships.

3. How Have You Overcome Obstacles?

Life—academic and personal—is filled with obstacles. Scholarship committees are looking for a transformation when they prompt you with this type of question. Try to keep the obstacle simple and short while focusing on how you were able to overcome it. Also pinpoint what went wrong, as this demonstrates that you are willing to take responsibility for your actions when necessary. Discuss what you have learned from this obstacle, how you can prevent it in the future, and how this hardship has helped you become a better, more resilient person.

Other Scholarship Essay Topics

Social Issues:

Some of the most common scholarship essay prompts revolve around social issues and current events. You may be prompted to write about a societal problem, what makes it a problem, and how to fix it.

Or they might ask a specific question like, “Write an essay about how understanding the topics of physical, mental, and substance use health can help US teens make healthier decisions as they navigate adolescence and beyond. Include personal examples and explain why this is important to you.”

This type of question forces you to narrow in on one issue. Think about why this is important to you on a personal level. Be clear and concise in your answer, and propose an idea or two about how society can work toward improving the issue.

Personal Achievements

Scholarships may ask about leadership qualities, awards, or other accomplishments that relate to your future career or school goals. The number one piece of advice here is: Stay away from rehashing your high school transcripts, resume, or extracurricular activities. They’ve already seen those.

Instead, think over the past four years and the defining moments in your life. Did you stand out in a subject that you’re normally not good at? It’s recommended that you stay away from sports topics when it comes to leadership essays unless you feel your story is a truly unique experience. So many students focus on sports, so you may not stand out. Remember, catching the admissions team’s attention is the goal.


Another common scholarship essay prompt asks about your influences or your background. This could relate to your family, your biggest influence at school, or how your education or other experiences have directed you toward your life’s current trajectory.

You likely have a story you can easily incorporate into one of these prompts. Consider:

  • Moments in your life that have stood out to you.
  • Was there a real defining moment?
  • If it’s something that most high school students go through, try to think of another rite of passage.
  • Think about family, friends, volunteer work, jobs, and extracurricular activities.
  • What stands out or is important to your career goals?
  • Who has had the biggest influence on you—career-wise, academically, or morally?

A way to help your essay stand out is by making your response unique to your culture, where you grew up, or even your family dynamic. Does your city have any region-specific events or celebrations? Have you experienced unfortunate hardships that most people your age have not? Do you have family members from a different country, or have you had to move and adjust to a new place?

These responses show the admissions team that you can learn from life events and apply those lessons and skills to a new situation. Outside of academics, that is the kind of example and attitude colleges often look for.

We know, we know… application essays can feel overwhelming, and you may not be sure which college you really want to go to. Luckily, College Raptor has free tools that can personalize your college matches, acceptance odds, and potential financial aid for schools across the United States. We can even help you find free money for college! Check out our tools to find the right college for you.