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Many think that it’s grades or extracurricular activities that win scholarships. I disagree.

Don’t get me wrong. A strong GPA and a great student profile always helps and never hurts. But, there are many students with strong academic scores who don’t win scholarships.

On the other hand, there are many students with average profiles who win big scholarship money.

As a scholarship mentor, I’ve worked with a diverse range of students. What I’ve learned is fascinating.

From my perspective, there are only a few key things that separate scholarship winners from others. One of the most obvious traits is belief. 

Winning scholarships is very possible, but it’s rarely very easy.

But, without question, students that sincerely believe they can win, often do. That’s because belief precedes the other things that will make you or your student successful.

There are so many reasons why this is true.

Belief Leads to Action

Recently, I was working one-on-one with a student – let’s call him David. He hadn’t ever applied for a scholarship. David felt intimidated and uncertain about his chances of winning.

“Where have you looked for scholarships?” I asked.

“Ummm, a few places,” David replied.

I could tell that David was dodging the question. But, here’s what I said next:

“David, I think you’re a serious contender for certain types of scholarships.”

“Really?!?” David replied enthusiastically. Following this one point, David perked up and his entire demeanor toward scholarships changed.

In the weeks that followed, David relentlessly pursued scholarship opportunities. Within three months, David won multiple scholarships worth thousands of dollars.

So, what changed?

The answer is that David believed in himself. His belief led him to action.

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Belief Promotes Persistence

David didn’t win every scholarship he found. While researching awards, he found opportunities that he was eligible to apply for. However, I explained to David that easy-to-find scholarships are likely to be very competitive. If they’re easy to find, that means many other students have discovered them, too.

Taking this advice seriously, David went the extra mile. He spent a bit of extra time finding scholarships that were less discoverable. In this process, he found a prize that he ended up winning. And, best of all, the prize was renewable, which meant he’d get funding for multiple years (provided he met certain conditions).

In this case, David’s belief promoted persistence. Belief pushed him to search more. It pushed him to keep going.     

As you can see, belief was, and is, a necessary quality to win.

Beliefs Also Lead to Inaction

What’s also obvious in the above example is that a lack of belief promotes inaction.

I don’t think I’ve met anyone in my life who actually believed something was impossible, but went for it anyway. Even in cases where people pursue something with dismal odds, they themselves belief in the possibility of success.

As mentioned, the scholarship journey isn’t necessarily easy. So, if you or your student believes winning is impossible, it probably will be.

Rejection will validate and paralyze. Not finding the right scholarship and/or applying and not winning will probably reinforce the idea that you or your student just can’t do it. This is when most students quit, believing that a scholarship isn’t in the cards.

If you or your student believe that winning a scholarship isn’t possible, know that it’s just not true. But believing it may make it true.

A Scholarship Superpower: Belief and Learning from Rejection

Belief also helps with an unfortunate part of the scholarship application process: rejection. In fact, belief helps students learn from rejection, which is a scholarship superpower.

It is belief in the face of rejection that allows a student to say something like: “I may not have won this time, but I can improve my application to be a stronger contender for the next one.”

Put simply, that’s a winning attitude. It’s what the most successful students do.

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3 Tips to Turn Rejection into a Growth Opportunity

If you or your student submit a scholarship application that is not successful, it’s not the end of the world … or that uncommon. Use this experience as a growth opportunity. Learn from it. Get better. Keep your eye on the big picture. Just because this one didn’t work out, that doesn’t mean all scholarship applications will end in rejection.

Here’s how to make the most of this situation. These tips start from a place where a belief in winning is imaginable.

  1. If possible, get feedback. A student can always ask a scholarship committee what they thought of an application. It takes a degree of confidence to hear constructive feedback. However, constructive feedback is … well … constructive!
  2. In addition to feedback, ask yourself or your student how the next application can be improved. Take time to evaluate what went wrong and only keep things in your application that put you on the right track.
  3. Keep going and don’t let rejection influence self-worth. Ultimately, there are a wide range of reasons why a scholarship committee may choose one student over another, so try not to take it personally. If it’s not this scholarship, there are plenty more out there. In fact, there are several good reasons to apply for multiple scholarships. So keep going!

Believing You Can Win a Scholarship PLUS Habit Equals Success

Believing in the possibility of winning a scholarship is an important part of the scholarship equation.

However, good habits give you or your student the time and space to bring everything together.

Belief alone won’t win a scholarship. But, belief plus good habits? That’s a recipe for success.

I know it’s cliché, but having a plan matters.

Frankly, this looks different for every high school, undergraduate, and graduate student. It depends on goals, need, and ambition.

Is your or your student’s goal to win a certain amount of money? To graduate college or university debt-free? Something else?

Whatever your personal or family goal is, put it on paper. Schedule it. Then earn it.

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Key Takeaway: Successful Humans Lead With Belief

Here’s what I know to be the case. If you believe you can win a scholarship, you’ll find a way.

Yes, obstacles may arise, but belief pushes one to overcome them.

Maybe you or your student don’t know where to find scholarships, how to create a great application, or maybe there are scholarship myths holding you back.

The reality is that successful human beings lead with belief. Whether in scholarships, education, business, or any other aspect of life, believing in a future-oriented goal makes it much more likely to become reality.

Good luck! And, as the famous song goes, “Don’t Stop Believin’”!

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