When you start applying for college scholarships, you may realize that everyone is completing the application process for the same reason: to win a scholarship that reduces the cost of college. Depending on the scholarship you’re applying for, you may be one out of hundreds of applicants. Many high school and college students are joining the scholarship search to find ways to pay for school that don’t involve taking out student loans. Since scholarships are essentially “free money” and there are many people who apply, you may be wondering, “what do scholarships look for?” Here are 10 tips that can help make you stand out from every other scholarship applicant.
1. Organize and prepare your materials
Organization is the key to filling out scholarship, financial aid, and even college applications. As you start applying for a scholarship – whether it’s an athletic, academic, or need-based scholarship – you will likely need to provide multiple documents for submission. Transcripts, letters of recommendation, and an essay are often required for any college scholarship award. Although you have until the deadline to submit your application, it’s best to avoid waiting until the last minute to complete it. Try creating a calendar with all your scholarship deadlines, and have a list of your volunteer involvement, extracurricular activities, and transcripts ready for when it's time to apply. Update your materials throughout the school year to ensure that everything is accurate for your applications.
2. Request letters of recommendation early
When requesting a letter of recommendation from a teacher, advisor, coach, boss, or peer, make an effort to ask the person at least four (4) weeks in advance. This will ensure that they have plenty of time to write the letter. To make the process easier on them, you'll want to give them a file with your personal information, activities, awards, leadership involvement, mistake-free resume, and information about the specific scholarship. Even if the scholarship doesn't require a letter of recommendation, you may have the option to attach extra relevant documents. A well-written letter of recommendation can boost your chances of making a good impression on the scholarship committee.
3. Pay attention to detail
When it comes to the search for scholarships, it pays to read the fine print. Scholarship applications can come with extensive criteria and unique requirements. Some instructions ask for a specific way to format your document titles or your essay itself. Other applications require a particular way to upload the required documents or have distinct deadlines. Paying attention to all the details can make or break whether your application remains in the running or lands itself on the top of the rejection pile. It’s a good idea to follow all of the requirements and maintain scholarship etiquette throughout the application and any correspondence.
4. Write an original essay each time
It may be tempting to copy and paste an essay you’ve written for a previous scholarship into future scholarship applications. However, it is important to write original content for each scholarship that requires an essay. While various scholarships may ask you to describe an experience or goal, each prompt can vary slightly. Even if you make tweaks here and there to existing essays, like updating your introduction, the scholarship judging committee will likely be able to tell that the essay was originally written with a different prompt in mind. Make sure you read the prompt multiple times to fully understand what it is asking. You’ll be on your way to writing an outstanding scholarship essay in no time.
5. Know your audience
If you want to make your essay more personable, you’ll need to know your audience. Make sure to research who is offering the scholarship, as it may be a foundation, religious group, brand, local business, financial aid office, or even an individual. Familiarize yourself with their mission, events, charities, donations, and any other additional information that may be helpful. Having this knowledge can help gear your essay towards that organization, which results in a more attractive piece. For example, if you are applying for a scholarship from an environmental group and are dedicated to recycling, you may explain how your passions align with being an environmental activist. You could take it one step further by relating your essay to the mission of the organization offering the scholarship.
6. Emphasize what makes you unique
Many scholarships are based on an applicant's uniqueness. There are even unique or weird scholarships that celebrate your individuality and don’t follow the traditional list of scholarship requirements. Whether the scholarship is traditional or unusual, putting your interests and perspectives on the page will help you create a memorable essay. Share the experiences and activities that make you you. Perhaps your dream career is to be a fashion designer for the top design firm in the world. You’ll likely share your experiences designing clothing and any fashion internships you’ve participated in. Heartwarming volunteer stories or entrepreneurial passions can help inch your application towards the top. Consider what you can say about yourself that most others would not be able to say about themselves, and run with it.
7. Show your personality and passions
When writing a scholarship essay during senior year, don’t be afraid to include your personality. You’ll want to make sure your essay is true to yourself and your passions. Because there are multiple, sometimes hundreds of applications, you should avoid speaking generally. Instead, share your stories, feelings, and personal experiences. Maybe you decided to take a part-time job in healthcare because you lost a parent to illness. You might write about how you started a writing club to workshop and critique each other’s pieces because you’re passionate about writing. Whatever the circumstance, each of these unique experiences have shaped you into the person you are today.
8. Present yourself professionally
Make sure you're paying attention to the tone communicated in your writing. Scholarship programs are no stranger to professionalism. Your writing should reflect your seriousness as a professional, but it should also be genuine. You shouldn’t go out of your way to sound overly sophisticated by using words that aren’t common in your vocabulary. The scholarship committee will be able to tell if the essay is stuffed with complex words, especially if some aren’t used correctly. Depending on the application questions or essay prompt, you may be able to get away with a humorous opening line to grab attention. However, make sure you avoid sarcasm, emojis, text abbreviations like LOL, or slang terms like "lit."
9. Proofread each submission
Proofreading is an essential aspect of writing your scholarship essay and preparing all other necessary documents. Make sure to correct any grammar and spelling errors, and double check that you have answered the prompt correctly. Try reading your essay aloud to see how it flows. This can help you catch grammatical errors or wordy sentences that you may have missed when reviewing in your head. It also helps to have someone else read through your essay to catch any missed mistakes. You don’t want to miss out on the chance to receive a scholarship due to poor grammar or missing punctuation.
10. Show your gratitude
Once you find a scholarship and fill out the necessary forms, there’s one final step for how to make your scholarship application stand out. Send a thank you note to the scholarship provider for their time and consideration. This doesn't need to be anything too formal, just the gesture itself can go a long way. Sending a personal thank you shows that you are appreciative of the chance to be considered. While you’re expressing your gratitude, don’t stop there. You should also send a thank you to those who wrote your letters of recommendation.
When it comes to paying for college, scholarships can provide a major contribution. Now that you’ve learned tips for scholarship applications, you’ll want to think about how you’ll make your application more appealing to a scholarship committee. Paying attention to detail, emphasizing your passions, and checking for mistakes are just a few scholarship tips you should familiarize yourself with. As you find scholarship opportunities, focus on what makes you stand out from the other scholarship applicants. Perfecting your scholarship application may be challenging, and it may take a few tries. However, it will all be worth it when you find out you were chosen as a winner.