Articles, College

My Declassified Scholarship Survival Guide

Scholarships. You probably love them or hate them, but one thing is true for most everybody: we need them. Maybe you’re about to graduate high school and want to save some money. Maybe you’re in a financial situation that won’t allow you to attend college, a study abroad program, or anything else you might need financial aid for. As somebody who has been there multiple times and has won (and lost) quite a few awards, here are the tips I’ve learned over the years. 

Steps To Achieving The Perfect Scholarship Application:

  1. Know What Kind of Scholarship You’re Applying For. 

    1. A national level scholarship is going to be different from a university level scholarship. A national level scholarship is for any student studying in the United States, while a university level scholarship is for any student studying at a particular university. And these scholarships are going to differ from a scholarship to study abroad or to receive a research grant. 
    2. Distinguishing scholarships is important, because you need to know the general pool of applicants you’re up against. Not to make negative comparisons, but knowing what kind of people (and how many) are also applying can help you strategize ways to stand out from the crowd. 
  2. Start Early

    1. Figure out your deadline(s) and make a plan to start gathering research and writing as soon as possible. The more time you give yourself, the less stressed you’ll be, and the better your application will be. 

    1. Find every bit of information you can on the organization giving the scholarship. What are their values? What’s their mission statement (if it’s listed)? If they have a candidate profile, look it up and see what kind of person normally wins scholarships. Read bios of previous recipients. Overall, get a feel for what this scholarship really represents (beyond money for school) and how the organization wants to see their beliefs translated into a recipient. 
      1. For instance, if you’re applying for a Gilman Scholarship, you can read that they typically like candidates who have never traveled before, are curious about the world around them, and who want to use their study abroad experience to make a difference. If you’re applying for this award, you would know that you need to write about those elements, and fit as many of those criteria in order to be considered a potential recipient. 
  4. Write a List of How You Fit

    1. After you know what this scholarship is about and what kind of person they want to reward, figure out the things that make you an ideal choice. This includes every personality trait, personal experience, thing you’ve learned or researched in school, etc. Anything you consider relevant can go on this list. 
    2. Try to think outside of the box here. Remember when we were thinking about how many people are applying, what kinds of people apply, and who typically wins? Use that to brainstorm why you stand out from that general crowd.   Maybe most of the people applying have amazing grades in school (and you do too), but instead of only putting that down, figure out something to go along with it. Maybe you not only have an amazing GPA, but you also have tutored after school for the past two years. That makes you stand out (of course, that’s just an example, but the goal is 1) why you fit, and 2) why you go above and beyond).
    3. Focus on things you’ve already accomplished or have been doing for a while. This helps solidify your commitment. Of course, you can write about a project you’re in the process of completing, or a new activity you’ve just started. However, having at least a few months of an ongoing project or commitment (that’s relevant to the scholarship) says a lot about your dedication. That also goes for mentioning things you’ve already done, because it shows that you don’t just dream of accomplishing tasks, you actually finish what you start (which is highly commendable). 
  5. Figure Out Your Recommenders

    1. Who in your life can show how you fit the qualifications for this scholarship the best? Choose people who not only know you super well, but who can write well and who can verify the qualities you listed that fit what the scholarship the organization wants. 
    2. Do this early so that recommenders have plenty of time to write this for you. 
    3. Remind recommenders on a regular basis (especially as the deadline gets closer) if they take longer to finish. 
  6. Write a Rough Draft

    1. Whether your scholarship requires short answers, essays, or a combination of both, write your first draft using your list. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but get it down as neatly as possible. 
  7. Show the Rough Draft to Somebody Experienced

    1. Go to somebody who has worked with scholarship applicants before (especially applicants for the scholarship you’re writing for). This is usually going to be a school counselor. At my university, there’s a representative from an entire office dedicated to helping students get scholarships and fellowships, so see if your school has this too. This person could also be a teacher (preferably an English teacher who’s used to dealing with essays). A teacher could be helpful in teaching you to state your ideas more clearly. Or, you could go to both a counselor and a teacher. 
    2. Believe me, you’ll want another set of eyes on these essays (especially if they’re for a bigger reward), and they can help provide clarity and give you ideas. Don’t be afraid to show them your entire list you wrote, because they might see something there that they think could stand out more than what you originally thought. 

    1. Keep writing drafts and having your editor(s) look at them. You want them as close to perfect as you can get them. 
  9. Gather Everything and Hit Submit

    1. You’re done! You did it! 
    2. Even if you don’t get this one, save your essays and lists (and try to keep in good standing with your recommenders), because this might come in handy for another scholarship

Check out more college articles from GirlSpring contributors!


Skylar Summers is a senior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She's passionate about empowering women through storytelling, writing, and creating visual media. To learn more about Skylar, visit her Instagram page @skylarsummers20 and watch her short films on her website (linked on her Instagram page)!

More Posts - Website

You may also like

Leave a Reply