Scholarship application and books on a table. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Millions of dollars in scholarship money is available to college students every year, and among the thousands of scholarships, you’re sure to find at least a few that are a great fit for you. That’s the good news. The rest of the story is that these scholarships may be hard to track down and the competition can often be quite fierce.
Let’s say you’ve conducted your search and successfully identified several scholarships for which you plan to apply. You are likely one candidate among many, so what can you do to make your application stand out in order to secure those much needed funds for your college education? Consider a handful of practical tips:
Apply Early to Your Schools of Choice
You can’t really apply for scholarships before you know where you are going, so it’s important that your timeline begins with your college search. The college or graduate school admission process takes time, meaning you need to allow yourself several months to search and apply for the schools of your choice. Once you have been accepted to a school or program, you will then be in a position to start looking for scholarships, still with plenty of time left before the deadlines.
A good guideline is to start applying to schools at least a year before you plan to enroll. This should give you enough time to look for scholarships without rushing and allow you to submit quality applications.
Write a Strong Application Essay
You can expect that an essay will be part of almost all scholarship applications; therefore, plan to commit a significant amount of time and energy in crafting your strongest possible piece of writing. Make sure you are absolutely clear on the essay rules, such as word count and structure, and, most importantly, get a handle on exactly what the essay question is asking of you. Check the scholarship website to determine whether it provides examples of previous winning essays, then study them to learn what they have in common in terms of tone, approach and how they tackled the subject matter.
The review team or judges will be reading many essays on the same topic. The key for you is to write your piece from a perspective that will make the reviewers sit up and take notice. Look for ways to put a new spin on an old topic, but keep it focused, clear and, of course, free of any errors.
Secure Solid Letters of Recommendation
As is the case with essays, the scholarship panel will probably be reading a pile of letters of recommendation, many of them rather generic and formulaic, possibly written by a high school teacher who agrees to provide dozens of such recommendations every year. These types of letters won’t get you very far.
Early in the application process, determine which adults in your life – teachers, coaches, employers, etc. – know you best and can write a supportive, detailed and honest letter about why you are worthy of a scholarship. You need to give the letter writers lots of lead time if you want a quality recommendation. Sometimes, the writer will ask whether there is anything specific he or she should include in the letter, so be ready to offer suggestions that will give the writer a framework.
Showcase Your Strengths Creatively
In seeking scholarships, as with other competitive endeavors, your best bet is to figure out what will make you shine brighter than everyone else while still following the guidelines of the application process. Obviously, it’s imperative to pay attention to the details and meet the deadlines.
In short, it’s all about anticipating what other scholarship applicants might be doing, then doing it differently and showcasing what makes you special. What are the qualities and abilities you have cultivated over the years that will demonstrate to others that you are worthy of this scholarship?
The combination of a carefully completed application, a winning essay and excellent references should put you well on the road to landing just the right scholarship.