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Below, we’ll help you unlock the secrets of what scholarship committees look for in applicants. 

If you’re interested in using scholarships and grants to help pay for college or university, this is information you must know.

Whether a scholarship has few or many applicants, understanding the wish list of every scholarship committee will give you a huge advantage over other students. So, let’s examine how a scholarship committee approaches the selection process and what you can do to stand out in applications

To Win, You Must Deliver the Qualities Scholarship Committees Look For

When you’re applying for scholarships, there are a couple of things to keep in mind.

The first one is that the committee will read your personal essay in addition to countless others.

This means that’s it’s not enough to merely meet the eligibility requirements of a scholarship award. To win, you must deliver a point that is well-thought-out and on message – you have to stand out from the crowd. 

So, let’s cover what that means.

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Your Essay, Your Story

The most important thing scholarship committee members look for is your story. Everyone has one, but it’s the presentation style (and flare) that matters most.

No matter how typical you may think you are, everyone has an interesting story; everyone is made up of various angles and textures, and scholarship committees want to know these things about you.

Your story has to be positioned in a way that highlights your uniqueness, which can be as simple as not saying what everyone else is likely to say. In other words, don’t be afraid to be different.

For example, let’s imagine a scholarship opportunity is given away to students who qualify for financial aid. What do you think most applicants would say? They would likely focus on the cost of college/university or perhaps a desire to avoid huge amounts of student debt.

In this case, you may want to be different and highlight how a scholarship could give you an opportunity to work less as a student and innovate in your chosen field of study. This essay writing tip might be a fresh way of tackling an application and offering qualities scholarship committees look for.

Fit Your Scholarship Application with the Mission of the Scholarship

Every scholarship has a mission or mandate. However, the degree to which scholarship providers make this known varies. Whether it’s promoted or not, scholarship committees like students who reflect the values or mission of the scholarship. So, how do you figure out what a scholarship’s mandate is or what type of scholarship you’re applying for?

A scholarship’s mandate may be the purpose that a prize is trying to serve or it might be related to why the scholarship was founded/created. For example, a scholarship may exist to reward students who volunteer. Perhaps this scholarship’s mandate is to advocate for community service.

On the other hand, another scholarship may exist to honor the work and career of a prominent scientist who recently retired. The prize’s mandate may be to reward innovative science students. As you can see, different prizes exist for different reasons. Consequently, scholarship committees will look for students who can be great ambassadors of any given scholarship prize.

In light of this, always ensure that you read, understand, and position yourself well in relation to a scholarship’s mission/mandate.

Your Potential

In addition to highlighting aspects of your student profile and résumé in your application, you should also use your scholarship essay to show scholarship committee members where you’re going. In particular, you’ll want to showcase your potential.

Scholarship committees don’t just invest in what you’ve done, they also invest in who you will become.

When writing personal statements, students often give as many details as possible about extracurriculars and recent grades, but they neglect to tell scholarship committees about their future ambitions.

This is where you can go above and beyond. If your career goals line up with the scholarship’s mission, then sharing your future ambitions is bound to impress the committee looking over your statement.

Grades and Extracurricular Activities

When you apply for scholarships, your chances of getting selected are enhanced by strong academic performance and extracurricular activities. 

Academic potential is a big asset when you apply for a scholarship. Especially in cases where you’re competing against hundreds or thousands of students.  

But, if you don’t have good grades or many extracurricular activities, don’t let this shake your confidence. Instead, you can focus on finding scholarships that are not merit based to improve your chances of winning. Whether you have a stellar GPA or not, you should still find and apply for scholarship opportunities.  

Letters of Recommendation

When required, strong letters of recommendation can also go a long way to make you stand out. This is why it’s important to ask mentors, teachers, or coaches who you have a history with. Additionally, you’ll want to ask mentors who you know will be very supportive of you. Keep in mind, just because someone says “yes” to writing a letter of recommendation, it doesn’t mean that they will write a strong one

Attention to Details: Proofread and Polish!

It’s a sign of maturity, professionalism, and strong communication skills when a student submits a scholarship application that isn’t riddled with grammatical mistakes and careless spelling errors.

Scholarship committee members reward students who complete applications with precision. So, always ensure that you proofread your work so that scholarship committees aren’t catching missing words, letters, or poor grammar while reading your scholarship essay and other application materials. 

Are Scholarship Committee Members Known?

For any application, it’s important to know your audience. When assessing what to write in a personal statement or scholarship essay, you should always ask yourself: who will be reading this submission? Are members of the scholarship committee publicly posted?

When scholarship committee members are known/made publicly available, it’s wise to take a moment to examine their profiles. It may be the case that their social media accounts give you some important insights about their passions and interests. This is key to knowing your audience and it can help you shape your scholarship application in ways that speak to scholarship committee members (i.e., those who will be deciding who wins the scholarship money).

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Summary: Ways to Stand Out in Scholarship Applications

Overall, knowing your scholarship application audience and understanding how to communicate with them in your personal statement is an asset. Here’s a brief summary of how you can deliver what scholarship committees are looking for and succeed in crafting stellar applications:

  • Deliver your story and be different. The more unique, the better.
  • Research a scholarship’s mandate and show a committee how you reflect it. 
  • Where possible, showcase strong grades. 
  • Ensure that your mentors are very supportive with letters of recommendation.
  • Outline your future academic goals and/or career path. 
  • Edit, edit, edit! Good grammar and spelling are necessary. 
  • Research scholarship committee members (if known) so you can effectively communicate with your audience!

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