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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

How To Write a Statement of Purpose for Scholarships


When you're applying to college, you are inundated with forms to fill out, deadlines to keep straight, and too many personal statements to write. It's easy to get overwhelmed, and you might even find yourself thinking, "Is anyone even going to read this?" Everyone wonders this at some point along their application journey, but don't convince yourself that your statement of purpose doesn't matter, because it does. Your statement of purpose gives the scholarship committee a behind-the-scenes view of who you are and why they should give you money for your higher education.

What is a statement of purpose?

A statement of purpose (SOP) is your opportunity to differentiate yourself from the competition. There are many different kinds of scholarships available for higher education, such as academic, athletic, community, faith-based, and need-based scholarships. Specific aspects of your statement of purpose will vary based on the kind of scholarship you're applying for, so in this post we're going to focus on the SOP essentials for all scholarships.

Stick to the prompt

Most scholarships will give you a prompt or assign a topic for you to address in your statement of purpose, so make sure you actually follow the prompt and stay on topic. The assigned topic will most likely relate to the type of scholarship, so if it is an athletic scholarship the prompt might ask you what sort of life lessons you've learned from playing sports. In other instances, the topic will be selected to give reviewers an idea of your decision-making skills, your integrity, your academic merit, or your ability to overcome adversity.

Be unique

No one else on earth has lived your life, so find ways to incorporate your unique experiences or unique ideas that will help you stand out among the applicants. Avoid clichés or cheesy statements—the scholarship committee has seen them all before, so writing in clichés will make you seem as generic as everyone else.

Embrace the power of storytelling

To write an effective statement of purpose, connect with your readers through the power of storytelling. Humans have shared important information through storytelling for thousands of years, and it is effective because when you tell a compelling story, you forge a connection with your listeners (or readers) by showing them aspects of your life that they recognize and relate to.

Show, don't tell

Since you are writing a story in this essay, try to adhere to the number one rule of effective writing: show, don't tell. Even experienced writers occasionally forget to apply this simple concept, so you can really make yourself stand out if you adhere to it.

Many people mistakenly believe that they just need to announce their qualities to scholarship committees with statements like, "I am conscientious and I always follow through until I complete a task." While the statement might be true, it doesn't help you stand out from other applicants. Also, you have not provided any concrete examples to show the committee that you actually possess these qualities. For all they know, you might just be telling them the qualities that you aspire to possess someday. A more effective—and more compelling—way to convey this information to the committee is to paint a mental picture by describing a situation in which you showed these qualities.

For example, "As part of the crew for my high school's spring play, I designed and built scenery that transformed the stage into a haunted forest. When we discovered that we didn't have the resources to make trees that we could quickly whisk onto the stage between scenes, some other crew members just wanted to give up and let the audience imagine a forest. However, I felt sure that we could create lightweight standing trees mounted on wheels. I experimented with the materials we had on set for two weeks until I finally found a solution. I created a dense forest out of pool noodles and broomsticks that I painted and attached to wheeled platforms. I even created a mechanism to link multiple platforms together so one crew member could pull six trees on stage at once. In audience reviews of the play, many audience members commented on the lifelike quality of the trees and stated that the trees made them feel like they were immersed deep in a forest."

Can you see the difference between simply telling the scholarship committee that you follow a task through until it's finished and showing them by describing a real-life scenario in which those attributes helped you succeed?

Identify the qualities you want to highlight

If you're clueless about what aspects of yourself you want to highlight in your scholarship statement of purpose, check out College Essay Guy's list of values. College Essay Guy's value list includes features such as authenticity, healthy boundaries, accountability, and a plethora of other options, so everyone should be able to find some qualities that resonate. College Essay Guy recommends that you Select the 10 values you connect with most. Of those 10, choose 5. Then your top 3. Then #1.

Now that you've identified what personal qualities you will focus on in your statement of purpose, let's discuss how you will structure your SOP to show the committee that you possess this quality.


The scholarship committee will be reviewing hundreds of applications, so it's important that you start your SOP with a strong opening. Try to hook readers right from the opening sentence, so they feel compelled to keep reading. One of the best ways to do this is to open your statement of purpose with an anecdote from your life that relates to the prompt and demonstrates attributes that the scholarship committee values. As demonstrated in the crew member example above, the anecdote you share in your SOP doesn't have to be an earth-shattering or life-defining moment; the most important thing is that you offer a snapshot of your life that shows the qualities that you want to highlight.

Create a graph of your life

If the perfect anecdote doesn't pop into your mind right away, take a moment to brainstorm and make a list of important or pivotal moments in your life. Now consider if you made any decisions that drastically affected the trajectory of your life. You can even create a graph of your life and plot the high and low points so you can get a clear vision of which time periods in your life might be most fruitful turning points.

Plotting your life out on a graph might also help you start to see a storyline or recurring patterns or issues that you've overcome. As you review the graph of your life, consider which segments align with the scholarship prompt, and choose the best one. If you have multiple possibilities, write an SOP introduction using each anecdote. During your writing process, it will become clear which anecdote is the most valuable for this scholarship.

Provide your educational background

After you've finished writing your introduction, the next section of your statement of purpose should address your academic background, extracurricular activities, service hours, and industry experience, if applicable. Keep in mind that you need to keep the scholarship committee interested in your application, so use the show, don't tell method whenever possible. Instead of simply listing your academic highlights, find ways to show your integrity and intelligence as you introduce this information.

Explain your chosen field of study

Stick with the storytelling framework as you explain your chosen field of study. Hopefully by this point in the SOP, you have painted a clear picture of who you are and how you function, so it should be seamless to connect the attributes you've highlighted above with your chosen major.

Identify your career goals after university

It's okay if you are not certain about what kind of career you will seek after you finish your undergraduate or graduate degree. The scholarship committee is not going to ask for their money back if you end up in a different career than the one you envisioned in this application. However, if you want to earn a scholarship, you will have to identify tangible career goals.

Additional possibilities

Some scholarships ask applicants to explain how this scholarship will help you achieve your personal and academic goals. If your essay prompt asks this question, make sure to answer it in a positive manner.

Bring your conclusion full circle

To really dazzle the scholarship committee, close your SOP by connecting back to the narrative anecdote you shared in the introduction. Doing so will neatly conclude the narrative you've created within this masterpiece.

Ask for feedback

Before you submit your final statement of purpose, read it aloud to yourself or use the "read aloud" function on your computer. Reading aloud, or listening to someone else reading your essay aloud, is a great way to find typos, missed words, and mistakes. Ask a few trusted loved ones to read your statement of purpose, and listen to their feedback.

Applying for scholarships can be time consuming and overwhelming, but this guide will simplify the process so you can create your best statement of purpose yet.

Header image by Mnirat.

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