Common Scholarship Essay Prompts and How to Make them Unique

Almost every scholarship application will ask you for an essay. The thing is, they’re asking everyone else too so, in the end, they get thousands or hundreds of thousands of essays to go through. The key to getting noticed is standing out and not writing about the same topic as someone else. Here are a few scholarship essay prompts and how you can approach them to be unique.

Social Issues

One topic scholarships often pick for their applicants revolves around social issues and current events. They may ask you to write about society’s biggest problem, why, and how to fix it. Or they might ask if you could change your community, high school, or college in a positive way, what steps would you take? Another popular question asks you to tackle a controversial topic, either around the world or at your school, and bring up a solution.

The problem with making these unique is that students who are applying grew up with many of the same issues as you, they’ve read the same news, or seen the same social media posts. In Portland, Oregon, for example, when asked to write about “society’s biggest problem” many often write about homelessness, which is a big problem in the city, but so many students are tackling it that it’s not unique. In this case, if you feel you have a truly unique solution to homelessness, it may be one you want to write.

This type of question forces you to narrow in. What’s something that’s a problem that most people don’t focus on, but still matters to you? Brainstorming is your best friend in this case. Try reading a bit more news articles that aren’t on the front page and see if a topic strikes you. Think about what’s important to you on a personal level. It could be bullying, dogfighting, overpopulation in the shelters, or any other number of subjects.

Personal Achievements

For personal achievements, the scholarship asks about leadership qualities, academic or other accomplishments, and accomplishments that relate to your future career or school goals. The number one 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? Talk about your struggle and how you came out on top. It’s recommended that you stay away from sports topics when it comes to leadership essays unless you feel your story is absolutely unique because so many students focus on this that it really rarely ever stands out.


Another topic that often comes up asks about your influences or your personal background. This could relate to your family, your biggest influence at school, or how your education or other experiences have directed you towards your life’s current trajectory.

Consider the 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?

Brainstorming is one of the best tools when it comes to writing your essay. Cross out topics that you feel are overdone or are big in the news, unless you feel that you have something truly unique to say about it. Don’t write about the first thing that comes to mind. It’s okay to come back to that idea, but make sure you’re brainstorming a few other subjects before choosing.

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