How To Win Scholarships - Part 3, Best Practices

So far, we’ve looked closely at how to get organized to apply for scholarships and how to find scholarships, but what about actually winning them? You’ll definitely need to put your best foot forward when competing against other students for college money, otherwise, all of your efforts will be a waste of time.


You’ll notice that a lot of the ingredients to a good scholarship application are the same as the ingredients that go into a good college application, so if you’ve already completed your college apps, you’ll have a head start.


Your Schedule


If you haven’t done so already, make a standing appointment with yourself or someone who has agreed to help you with your applications and put it on the calendar. Consistent effort is needed for a successful scholarship plan. This may be a regular hour long appointment every Sunday afternoon at 2pm, or something else that fits your schedule.


Your Past


Your resume should be a good synopsis of your past. You want it to paint a picture of who you are and how hard you work. Don’t get caught up in having specific awards, activities, extracurriculars or jobs on there, but what is included should make you look like a person any scholarship committee would be proud to support. Namely, you want it to show that you:


  • Are industrious with your time

  • Have leadership qualities

  • Care about others

  • Demonstrate passion for something


You can be creative in supporting these arguments.


An industrious person may:

  • Participate in official and/or unofficial extracurricular activities

  • Work for pay or volunteer

  • Help out around the house or at school

  • Organize or participate in demonstrations

  • Research topics of interest

  • Pursue hobbies

  • Visit the sick or elderly


Someone can show leadership qualities by:

  • Being a club, school or community leader

  • Starting a new club or organization

  • Starting a new subcommittee within a larger club or organization

  • Raising money for a good cause

  • Taking charge at home when parents are away

  • Keeping other students on track while working on a group project

  • Being the captain of a team

  • Training new employees at work

  • Tutoring


Concern for others is demonstrated through:

  • Volunteering for an organization

  • Documented acts of kindness done privately

  • Organizing a group to help others or provide a service

  • Being a member of a service organization

  • Going above and beyond in consideration of those in your own family or circle of friends


Demonstrate passion by:

  • Participating in multiple activities around the same theme

  • Taking the initiative to start something new or going above and beyond normal participation in an activity or project

  • Working on your own time outside of school, club or organization

  • Showing in depth knowledge on your topic


The above are only a few examples of ways to show good qualities on your resume. You certainly don’t need to do everything listed, and you may very well be able to demonstrate these qualities in much different ways than I have suggested here. The point is that every person is unique. The key is to clearly tell your unique story by what you have done in the past.


Your Academics


This will be demonstrated through your transcript, GPA, test scores and class rank. If your academic record is not what you consider to be stellar, you can still get scholarships with a compelling explanation.


How To Handle A Less Than Perfect Academic Record


If your grades were lower in the past but have improved - Explain why your grades were lower, what you did to improve them, what you learned in the process and how you intend to keep them up going forward.


If your grades dipped in the middle - Explain circumstances that caused the dip, how you worked to fix things, what you have learned and how you will handle difficult circumstances in the future to insure that your grades do not suffer.


If your grades are good but your test scores are no (or vice versa) - Explain why one aspect of your academic performance is different from the other, what your specific challenges are and how you plan to mitigate those challenges in college to make sure you are successful in the future.


Your Essay


Many scholarships require an essay or personal statement. As a matter of fact, many of them will ask for the SAME essay. A common topic is “How will attending college help you meet your career goals?” or something similar to that. It’s worthwhile to take your time, plan out what you want to say, have someone edit it for you, and read it aloud to make sure it is well written and makes sense. This is the perfect opportunity for you to use all of the writing skills you’ve been learning since the 3rd grade.


I’m no expert, so take a look at this article for essay writing basics to get started. In most cases, you’ll probably want to end up with something like the following:


-Opening Paragraph

- Catchy antidote or sentence to introduce your theme

- Three things that support your theme

-Paragraph One

- Supporting point 1

-Explanation and/or background on supporting point 1

-Paragraph Two

- Supporting point 2

- Explanation and/or background on supporting point 2

-Paragraph Three

- Supporting point 3

- Explanation and/or background on supporting point 3

-Closing paragraph

- Restatement that supporting points 1, 2 and 3 do, indeed, support your theme

- Catchy statement to close out your theme


Be sure to answer the question or respond clearly to the essay topic and make sure you are within the word count limit.


Your Presentation


Whether the submission is to be returned on paper or electronically, be sure that all of the requested components are in the same order as they appear on the scholarship requirement list. Everything should be very neat and tidy. Read the instructions when you are done compiling your information to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything.


Your Follow-up


When you receive notification that you have won a scholarship, be sure to thank the scholarship committee. Also, record the name and address of someone on the committee or the sponsoring organization in your spreadsheet. When you actually receive the funds or see that the university has received the funds, send a thank you note to that person, handwritten if possible.


Make sure to also note on your spreadsheet whether or not the scholarship is renewable and the process for renewing it. Don’t forget to also set a calendar reminder to actually follow through with the renewal when the time comes.


If it seems like a lot - it’s because it is! But, don’t worry, it certainly gets easier with repetition. Before you know it, you’ll be churning out exemplary scholarship applications with speed.