Crafting a winning scholarship application requires a strategic
approach. Scholarships are awards by organizations with a
specific goal in mind. Perhaps they want to encourage study
in a certain field or encourage participation in a particular
hobby. This means that for each scholarship you apply for
you need to present yourself as the perfect applicant for
the award by displaying how you meet the criteria. In each
application you may in fact present different aspects of you.
For a sports scholarship you may focus on your abilities
on the court and get your coach to write your recommendations.
For a science award you might focus on your winning science
project on earthworms and submit your results.
Whatever the scholarship, the key is to determine what values
and qualities the scholarship committee is looking for in
the winner and construct every facet of your application (essay,
recommendations, interview, etc.) to demonstrate how you meet
Give Them What They Want To Hear
Politicians are notorious for telling their constituents
what they want to hear. Good politicians never lie, but they
do put a flattering spin on their speeches depending on who
theyre addressing. We are not suggesting that you lie
on your applications-NEVER lie-but we are recommending
that you present yourself in the best possible way to appeal
to your audience. In short, never lie on an application, but
do employ a little spin.
To be able to spin effectively you need to know your audience.
To determine who your audience is, ask the following questions:
- What is the mission of the organization giving the scholarship?
- Who is reading your application?
- Who is your competition?
Go For The Gusto - Quickly
In movies, the most daredevil-ish car chase, the most harrowing
showdown between good and evil, and the most poignant romantic
revelations are usually saved until the end. While this works
for Hollywood, it does not for scholarship applications. Since
selection committees pore through so many applications and
often the space on the form is limited, you need to feature
your most impressive points first.
If you have listed four extracurricular activities, assume
that some judges wont even read beyond the first two.
This doesnt mean that all judges will be this lazy,
but there are always some who are. Therefore, its extremely
important for you to prioritize the information that you present,
and rank your accomplishments according to the following:
Fit with scholarship organizations goal. The
most important factor in prioritizing your achievements is
how they fit with the goal of the scholarship.
Scope. Prioritize your accomplishments by their scope,
or how much of an impact they have made.
Uniqueness. Since your application will be compared
to that of perhaps thousands of others, include accomplishments
that are uncommon.
Recentness. This is the least important criterion,
but if you get stuck, put the more recent achievements first.
Write To Impress
Delivery of your application is very important. You must
present your information in a compelling way.
Use Your Smarts. As you are completing your applications,
keep in mind that while you may be applying for a public service
scholarship you should also include at least a few academic
achievements. For example, it does not hurt to list in an
athletic scholarship that you also came in second place at
the science fair. This should not be the first thing you list
but it certainly should be included to show the committee
that you have brains in addition to brawn.
Leadership Is Always Better Than Membership. If youve
ever tried to motivate a group of peers to do anything without
taking the easy way outbriberyyou know that it
takes courage, intelligence, and creativity to be a leader.
Because of this, many scholarships give extra points to reward
leadership. Regardless of the subject, scholarship judges
want to know that the dollars will be awarded to someone who
will not only make a difference in the future but who will
also be a leader and motivate others to do so as well.
Extracurricular Activities & Hobbies. If the only
activity you did were study, your life would be severely lacking
in the neighborhood of excitement. Scholarship organizers
recognize this and thus the criteria for some scholarships
include extracurricular activities or hobbies. Scholarship
committees want to see evidence that you do more than read
textbooks and take exams. They want to know that you have
a variety of interests and that at least some of these transcend
Honors & Awards. Theres a reason why all
trophies are gold and gaudy: they shout to the world in a
deafening roar, Yes, this glittery gold miniature man
means I am the best! For applications that ask for your
honors and awards, impart some of that victorious roar and
attitude. In no way are we recommending that you ship your
golden statuettes off with your applications. We are suggesting
that you highlight honors and awards in a way that gets the
scholarship committee to pay attention to your application.
Make Sure The Pants Fit
Youd never buy a pair of pants without trying them
on to make sure they fit. Treat your applications the same
way. You have limited space in which to cram a lot of information.
You will need to do a lot of editing and may even have to
omit many of your accomplishments.
As you fill out the application, you may find that you are
trying to squeeze in too many details or that you have more
room and can expand on your most impressive achievements.
Dont forget to adjust font sizes and line spacing if
necessaryjust dont sacrifice readability. (i.e.,
Dont venture below 10 point fonts).
Final Application Tips
An official Mom canon from childhood is: If you dont
have anything nice to say, dont say it. While this is
a good lesson on self-restraint, it does not always hold true
for scholarship applications. In general, it is not a good
idea to leave any area blank. You dont need to fill
the entire space, but you should make an effort to list something
in every section. However, before you try to explain how the
handmade certificate that your mom presented you for being
Offspring of the Year qualifies as an award, recognize
that there are limits. If youve never held a job, then
dont list anything under work experience. If, however,
you painted your grandmothers house one summer and got
paid for it, consider listing it if you dont have any
Ask yourself if what you are including will strengthen or
weaken your application. Think like a judge. Is the information
relevant? Or, does it seem like a stretch? If you cannot convince
yourself that what you are listing is justified, then it will
certainly not go over well with the actual judges. Recall
Moms advice, leave it blank, and move on to the areas
where you have something great to say.
Crafting a winning application takes time. Make sure you
give yourself plenty of it. However, you also need to balance
quality with quantity. Because each scholarship is judged
on different criteria, it is not always easy to know if you
will win. With time as the limiting factor, apply to as many
scholarships that match your talents, goals, and achievements
as you can find.