OK, so you want to apply for scholarships. You spent time investigating scholarship directories, creating scholarship lists, and ensuring that you meet all of the eligibility criteria. But, now what? How do you ensure that your scholarship submission stands out when applying, especially if this is the 1st financial prize you’re pursuing?

There are definitely tips that you need to know to distinguish yourself from common applicants when you apply for scholarships. Below, you’ll find a list of the most important details and requirements of the scholarship process if you want to stand out when applying.

Most Important – Your Narrative

When writing your scholarship essay, the most important way to stand out is by constructing your narrative – your story – in a thoughtful and compelling manner. You may ask, what exactly is a narrative? Your narrative is what makes you unique. It’s a way of introducing yourself that is compelling and enjoyable to read. It also typically tells your reader something that is hard or impossible to gather from other parts of your application – such as your grades or résumé. Your narrative should be personal and it should exemplify why you’re a great candidate to win the scholarship prize. 

For example, if a scholarship committee asks a question like, “do you think you’ll succeed in college?” 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 an example: In 2022, my high school football team beat the odds. In the final quarter of the state 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 college.

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

Know Your Audience

Imagine that a scholarship is being given away to a college 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. Some scholarship providers will have members of their scholarship committee posted online. If so, you might want to see who these individuals are and maybe even take a look at any public social media profiles. This research may help you understand what they are passionate about and help you cater your application in a way that aligns with their interests.

Similarly, when you apply for scholarships, you should have a good sense of their mission or mandate. These are values that underscore why a scholarship opportunity is being given away. Wherever possible, you should show the scholarship committee that your values mesh well with those stated in the scholarship’s mandate. If you pay attention to these details, it will definitely help you sell yourself for a scholarship prize.

Tell the Committee Where You’re Going

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. You may want to outline what great ambitions you have during college life or how you plan to help others in your career.

It may also help you 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.

Be sure to use your judgement when outlining your plans for the scholarship money. Some prizes explicitly say that they want to help students graduate debt-free and not have to worry about college tuition, educational costs, and paying back private loans. If this is the case, you can outline that winning this scholarship will help you avoid financial aid and other college debt that you’ll have to pay back later. On the other hand, if a scholarship prize exists for the purposes of promoting student volunteering or community service, it may be better to note that this is how you plan to use the scholarship money.

Grades and References

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.

Your references will also help your scholarship application stand out. While not all scholarship competitions will ask you for reference letters, those that do will place a lot of importance in them. Keep in mind that, like your grades, reference letters take an investment of your time (this should be considered in the pros and cons of scholarships). 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. References who have only known you for a week or two can’t possibly speak about your stellar performance in academics or extracurricular activities as well as someone you’ve known for months or years. This is why it is important to build a rapport with potential references and ensure that they can write a strong letter of support. On this note, be sure to request letters of reference well before deadlines so that your referee isn’t too rushed. 

Be Courteous and Professional in Your Communications

At times, you’ll likely have to communicate with an individual from a scholarship provider. 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 being evaluated. Be sure to thank the committee for taking the time to consider your application. In the event that a scholarship provider reaches out to you, respond in a timely manner. Your communications can certainly help you stand out as a young, ambitious, college student worthy of a scholarship prize.

If you’re ready to start the scholarship process, here’s a summary of what you need to know to make your scholarship application stand out:


  1. Your narrative should be unique – it should be personable and passionate. It should also be enjoyable and compelling to read
  2. Know your audience and speak to the mission of the prize in your scholarship essay
  3. Tell the scholarship committee where you’re going with your education and career, and tell them about the impact that the scholarship opportunity will have on your life
  4. Good grades and strong references take time to build, but they can be a big part of making your scholarship application stand out
  5. Always be courteous and professional in your communications, and take a moment to thank the scholarship committee for considering your application