“Should versus Need”: How to Respond to Scholarship Essays


I should eat the kale salad, but I need the chocolate brownie!”

Copyright 2015 Roxanne Ocampo

Many scholarship organizations ask students to respond to these prompts, “Why do you deserve to win this scholarship?” or “Why should you win our scholarship?” and “Why do you need this scholarship?”  Aside from the obvious, “Uh, because I need money to fund my education?” there really is a strategy here.  Follow Quetzal Mama’s 3 quick and easy steps to successfully nail this essay.

Step #1:  Understand the difference between “Should” and “Need.”  The difference is easily discernable when you consider the question:  why should you go to college versus why do you need to go to college? You should go to college for obvious reasons like earning a degree, qualifying for a job, or increasing your income.  But “need” is that voice that screams inside of you – that pushes you to stay up until 1:00am studying – that compels you to take rigorous courses for the sake of challenging yourself, and drives you to put in 150% of your time and energy.  Need feeds your soul.  Need is also what makes you happiest.  Think of it this way, “I should eat the kale salad, but I need the chocolate brownie!”  Here are definitions to distinguish should versus need:

“Should” relates to merit based qualifications.  This is what you ought to do, or should have done.  This will include your GPA, class rank, academic distinction (like AP Nat’l Scholar, National Hispanic Scholar, etc.).  These are basically tasks you should have accomplished in order to qualify for scholarships.  In your “should” column, list all of the criteria that you meet or exceed.

“Need,” relates to your passion.  This is what you must do or are compelled to do.  Need is about what compels and drives you every day, to reach your goals.  If your life goal is to become a neurosurgeon, then you “need” to win this scholarship to advance you toward achieving your dreams.  If you are the first in your family to attend college, then you need this scholarship to ensure you pave the road for your siblings and future generations.  If you overcame significant hurdles in high school to become a competitive college candidate, then you need this scholarship to help you overcome future academic hurdles.  Obviously, “need” may also be a financial imperative in order to offset your student or family contribution.  You should include specific financial hurdles that would not be disclosed or obvious from your FAFSA.  For example:  Did you have to work throughout high school?  Did your family incur uncovered medical expenses or other losses?  Does your family send funds to family members in another country as primary support?  Tip:  Always list financial need as your number 3 “need” reason (not 1 or 2).  See Step #3 “Rule of Threes.”

Step #2:  Separate “Should” versus “Need.”  Get a piece of paper and put a line down the middle.  Add column headers “should” and “need.”  To guide your “should” list, grab the scholarship guidelines and examine the criteria listed.  Start writing!  In the “need” column, list every compelling reason that fueled you through four years of high school and led to where you are today.  Be creative.  This can be anything from representing your family or community, to pursuing a non-traditional career.  There are no right or wrong “need” responses.  Your goal is to articulate your “need” responses in a way that conveys passion, dedication, and clear vision.

Step #3:  Structure and Prioritize.  First, you’ll want to open with an interesting “hook.”  The easy way to nail the introductory paragraph is to tell a story, use a quote, or ask a question.  Second, the “Should” paragraphs will be listed before the “Need” paragraphs.  Lastly, when you are listing your “should” and “need” paragraphs, make sure to follow the Rule of Three in essays.


That’s it!  Follow these 3 steps and you will increase your odds of winning scholarships!  If you'd like more tips on how to nail essays, use my toolkit here:


Posted January 27th, 2015 by Quetzal Mama



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