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It’s likely that most scholarship competitions will receive multiple applicants. So, how do you stand out in your scholarship application? How do you ensure that among many students applying for a scholarship, you leave the best impression on the scholarship committee

Below, we’ll answer these questions. Above all else, we’ll provide tips to help you create a memorable essay that wins. If you consider these 5 expert insights alone, it’s possible for you to elevate your scholarship applications from bland to clear stand out. That’s a big win that can help you win big!  

College and University scholarships for high school students, undergraduate students, and graduate students.

What You Have Control Over in a Scholarship Application:         Your Scholarship Essay vs. Other Application Components

Below, we’re going to focus on your scholarship essay. That’s because it’s one of the application components that you have the most amount of control over. 

Before submitting a scholarship application, you can write, change, proofread, and edit your essay as much as you want. On top of this, it’s one of the most important items that scholarship judges will assess. So, with that said, let’s cover 5 things that you can focus on to make your application appealing to a scholarship committee

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The Most Important Thing That Makes You Unique – Your Authentic Story

When writing your scholarship essay, the most important thing you can do to stand out is offer a real authentic story of who you are. There’s nothing more interesting than a good story that’s told in a compelling way.

Storytelling is a powerful tool because it grabs the attention of your audience. It makes your reader want to know what happened to you. It also allows for you to share a lot of information about who you are in a short amount of space. 

How to Communicate Through Storytelling

For example, if a scholarship committee asks a question like, “do you think you’ll succeed in university?”, merely highlighting that you’re a good student who is organized may not be enough to distinguish you from the pack. Remember, it’s likely that other students will have good grades too, so it’s important to show what makes you unique.

Here’s how storytelling can help. Check out this introduction:

In 2023, my high school football team beat the odds. In the final quarter of the regional championship, I gave my team a compelling motivational speech that was credited for inspiring an unlikely comeback. I told my teammates to look past the fact that we were losing and to keep the ultimate goal of winning in mind. It is this attitude of perseverance that I know will make me successful in university.

You can see in the introduction of this killer essay that the student makes you believe in them. Their story pulls you in and makes you root for their success. This is a great way to make your applications stand out.

Let’s consider other things that make you stand out when applying for scholarship awards. 

Know Your Audience: Write Your Scholarship Essay to Someone

Imagine that a scholarship is being given away to a college or university student who has demonstrated strong leadership skills. In your application, however, you note that you should be given the prize because you have a perfect GPA. Do you see a disconnect here?

It is important to know your audience, to understand what they are looking for, and to reflect this research in your scholarship application.

Tell the Scholarship Committee Where You’re Going & How This Scholarship Will Help You Get There

A lot of applications tend to focus on past activities. It’s understandable. If you’ve won an academic prize or founded your school’s first coding club, you’ll want to share these successes with those offering the scholarship.

However, most scholarships are not only investing in what you’ve done, they are investing in where you’re going. So, one important way to stand out in a scholarship application is to tell the scholarship committee where you’re going after you graduate college or university.

It may also help to share how much the scholarship money means to you or how you plan to use it. For example, if winning a scholarship prize will allow you to quit your part-time job and help your community through volunteer service, say so. This is a noble cause and will likely resonate well with a scholarship committee.

Grades and Letters of Recommendation

While it’s a myth that you need an A+ or perfect GPA to win a college scholarship, good grades always help. If it’s strong, your grade point average can be used to differentiate yourself from other scholarship candidates – especially in merit-based scholarship competitions.

Good grades communicate something positive about you; work ethic, good communication, organization, goal setting, ambition, etc. And, the best thing is that your grades communicate all of this without you having to say it. Most observers will look at stellar grades and know that it takes sacrifice to earn them.

This is a good thing, but not essential when applying for types of scholarships that are not solely based on grades.

Letters of recommendation also help your scholarship application stand out. While not all scholarship competitions will ask you for recommendation letters, those that do will place a lot of value in them. Keep this in mind when asking for a letter of recommendation. In order for someone to write a supportive letter on your behalf, they have to know you, see the work you’re doing, and most importantly, believe in you.

Be Courteous and Professional in Your Communications: Always Proofread!

At times, you’ll likely have to communicate with an individual from a scholarship provider. In these cases, you should conduct yourself with a courteous and professional demeanor, irrespective of whether your communication is to simply submit an application through e-mail or to ask a question about the prize.

Always use appropriate language (and double check grammar!), even in emails, and remember that you’re always being evaluated. For example:

Hey scholarship committee, i am sending u my app. Pls let me kno if i won the scholarship. Thx!

How does this sound to you? Is this what a serious contender for a $1,000 prize looks like? You can be the judge of that!

Lastly, while it won’t help your chances of winning a scholarship, here’s some food for thought. If you do win an award, it’s good practice so send a sincere note of thanks. Sending a personal thank you shows a scholarship provider that they made the right choice by choosing you. 

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Summary: 5 Ways to Make Your Scholarship Application Stand Out

Now that you’re ready to make your essay stand out in the scholarship process, it’s time to start applying! With the above lessons in mind, it’s a good idea to apply to as many scholarships as possible. 

Here’s a brief summary on how you can stand out in your scholarship applications:

  1. Tell a great story in your scholarship essay – it should be personable and compelling to read
  2. Know your audience and speak to the mission of the scholarship opportunity
  3. Tell the scholarship committee where you’re going with your education and career and highlight the impact that winning the scholarship will have on your life
  4. Ask for letters of recommendation early and ensure your references are very supportive of you
  5. Always be courteous and professional in your communications and, where possible, thank the scholarship provider for their time

Christopher Grafos, Ph.D., is the founder and chief scholarship mentor at BridgesEDU Scholarships.

He’s a first-generation university graduate whose life was transformed by education and winning scholarships. 

Scholarships help students financially, but they also help advance a student’s career. It’s his life’s work to champion this message and share the secrets to finding and winning scholarships. 

Read more about Christopher’s journey here