Crafting Your Scholarship Application

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 will end up presenting a different aspect of yourself and your personality.

Students with a chance at athletic scholarships usually are involved with recruiters, so it could be enough to focus on the athletic abilities and get coaches involved with making phone calls and/or writing recommendations. However, for an academic or science award you might need to focus on presenting your winning research project to a scholarship board. This will require some effort to tailor your efforts to the awarding organization.

Whatever the scholarship, the key is to determine what values and qualities the scholarship committee wants. They are looking for specific traits in the scholarship winners. Once you have determined this, construct every facet of your application (essay, recommendations, interview, etc.) to demonstrate how you meet these objectives.

Tell Them What They Want To Hear… Honestly.
Politicians are notorious for telling their constituents what they want to hear, which can be a good or a bad thing! Good politicians do not lie, but they are skilled at putting a positive spin on their speeches, and tailoring it to the audience. We urge you to NEVER lie on an application, but take care to you present yourself and your work in the best possible way. Appeal to the interests of your audience, which will be the scholarship review board. Ask yourself the following questions about them:

  • What is the mission of the organization giving the scholarship?
  • Who is reading your application?
  • Who is your competition?
Go For The Gusto… Quickly
Selection committees pore through so many applications that you need to grab their attention immediately, or risk getting placed at the bottom of the pile. This can be challenging, because often the space on the form is limited. Therefore, you need to feature your most impressive points first.

If you have listed four extracurricular activities, assume that some judges won’t even read beyond the first two. This doesn’t mean that all judges will be this lazy, but there are always some who are. Therefore, it’s extremely important for you to prioritize the information that you present, and rank your accomplishments according to the following four criteria:

  1. Fit with scholarship organization’s goal. The most important factor in prioritizing your achievements is how they fit with the goal of the scholarship.
  2. Scope. Prioritize your accomplishments by their scope, or how much of an impact they have made. Be sure that you spell out, briefly, details about this impact.
  3. Uniqueness. Since your application will be compared to that of perhaps thousands of others, include accomplishments that are uncommon.
  4. Recentness. This is the least important criterion, but if you get stuck, put the more recent achievements first.
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 a leadership scholarship application that you also came in second place at the county science fair – it shows that you are a multi-faceted individual. Also, make sure that you write actively and compellingly about your experiences.

Leadership Is Always Better Than Membership
If you’ve ever tried to motivate a group of peers to do anything without taking the easy way out (bribery), then you 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. Take charge of some elements in your activities, and don’t hesitate to refer to it in your applications!

Extracurricular Activities and Hobbies
Scholarship organizations recognize the importance of a variety of activities, which is why so many scholarship applications include a section for extracurricular activities or hobbies. Award committees want to see evidence that you do more than read textbooks and take exams. Demonstrating a variety of interests – eve better if they are a little out of the ordinary! – shows that you can transcend studying, and that you are a well rounded person. Organizations love this kind of applicant…

Honors and Awards
Many applications will ask for a list of honors and awards, and this is a chance for you to throw modesty to the side and boast a bit! Be honest and don’t pad your resume, but also don’t overlook your awards. We always suggest that students highlight all of their honors and awards in a way that will get the scholarship committee to pay attention to your application.

Tailor Your Application To Fit
Scholarship applications offer 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 a bit of room and can expand on your most impressive achievements. Don’t forget to adjust font sizes and line spacing if necessary, and keep it readable. In general, don’t go smaller than a10 point font.

Filling The Application
In general, try not to leave any area of the scholarship application blank. You don’t need to fill the entire space, but try to list something in every section. Just remember not to stretch the truth, don’t lie, and make sure that any “awards” are somewhat relevant. If you’ve never held any kind of job, then you don’t need to list anything under work experience. Remember, however, that if you painted your grandmother’s house one summer and got paid for it, that type of experience could be listed.

Before you add any detail, take a moment to think like a scholarship reviewer. Is the information relevant? 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.

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 whether or not you will be selected for the scholarship. With time as the limiting factor, apply to as many scholarships as you can find that match up with your talents, goals, and achievements. Even the smallest scholarships look very impressive on a resume and curriculum vitae!

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