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College Essay Vs Scholarship Essay Differences

The college admissions process requires not only test scores and a high GPA but also essays…lots of essays. The most common ones you’ll write are for college admissions boards and scholarship committees. When writing them, keep in mind that they have different audiences and purposes to serve.

Keep these college essay vs scholarship essay differences in mind when drafting them during your junior and senior years.

Before worrying about essays, don’t forget about the SAT and ACT. Check out our available SAT prep and ACT prep courses today.

college essay vs scholarship essay

Overall Purpose

First, you have to understand the bottom line of each essay’s purpose for admissions.

College essays need to do the following:

  • Convey a clear sense of your personality
  • Demonstrate how you will mesh well with the school and campus
  • Discuss what you can and will contribute to them

Meanwhile, scholarship committees are searching for students that can represent the organization giving out the money itself. Often, these organizations define themselves by specific factors like:

  • Demographics
  • Specific Talents
  • Industries
  • Social Causes

So it’s important that your essay clearly aligns you with what the organization stands for, and how you can represent their ideals further with financial help.

Essay Prompt

No surprise, the prompts for each essay type will be different.

Plenty of schools use either the Common Application or Coalition Application, each of which provides their own college essay prompts. Their prompts tend to be fairly broad; plus, you’ll be able to choose your own topic to write about usually.

Also, many schools will require specific supplemental essays that revolve around them more, so be aware of both types. Scholarship essays though come right back to focusing on the specific organization’s mission and goals.

Their prompts will force you to address a topic that is specific to their existence. As long as you do your research beforehand, you should be ok.

Basic Approach

The basic approach for both types are somewhat similar, but still, have differences.

College essays want:

  • To get an idea of who you are
  • How you will fit at the school itself

Brainstorm ideas about how to reflect on your personality and accomplishments, as well as what you bring to the table once on campus. The more convergence you can find between the two, the better off you should be. For scholarship essays, basically, show how you agree with the organization’s philosophy and can represent it.

Do your research on the organization itself by checking out:

  • Their official website
  • Social media accounts
  • Any news articles or press releases

Show that you understand where they’re coming from and how you can contribute to moving their mission forward.


There tends to be a clear difference in lengths for each essay type, so be aware now.

College essays, on average, tend to be longer. For example, the Common Application set a 650-word maximum for the main essay. The Coalition Application is a little easier with a 300-550 word limit.

To be safe, work on drafting a Common Application-length essay and then have a couple of versions edited down from that for other applications. It’s always easier to overwrite and edit down than to write too little and struggle after.

Scholarship essays though tend to be shorter, with a maximum word count of fewer than 500 words. Also, you may end up applying to scholarships that don’t require essays at all, so make sure to check the requirements first when applying.

For more information and tips, check out Prep Expert.

Todd Marcus

Written by Todd Marcus

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