Let’s pretend that you have found a scholarship prize that you want to apply for. The application instructions say that you must include a personal statement as part of your submission package. However, there is minimal information about what should be included in the statement. With such little direction, how do you decide how to frame your personal statement? Should you speak about what a great student you are? Should you highlight your debate skills? Should you focus on your community service? Ultimately, what does the scholarship committee want to see? These are all great questions.

Put simply, every scholarship committee wants to award candidates whose stories fit with their scholarship’s mandate. They want to invest in a compelling student who reflects the values that their scholarship opportunity was designed to promote. For example, a scholarship centered on leadership will likely reward students who have done what leaders do: inspire others, take risks, solve problems, take the unconventional road, etc. However, it’s not enough to just list when you did these sorts of things in your statement. Scholarship committees are looking for a little more.

So, let’s cover the major items that scholarship committees look for.   

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, be memorable by being different.

For example, let’s imagine a scholarship opportunity that 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 or perhaps a desire to avoid huge private students loans or student financial aid. 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 With the Mission of the Scholarship

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

A scholarship’s mandate can be the purpose that a prize is trying to serve or it can be related to why the scholarship was founded/created. For example, a scholarship may exist to reward students who volunteer. You may say that 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 and 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 highlight your potential.

Scholarship committees aren’t just investing in what you’ve done, but they are investing in who you will become. Here’s the thing though, a lot of personal statements ask about the past and in trying to give as many details about extracurriculars and grades from the recent years, students neglect to tell scholarship committees what their ambitions are. If your career goals line up with the scholarship’s mission, this is an even greater reason to share your future plans with a scholarship committee.

Grades and Extracurricular Activities

When you apply for scholarships, your chances getting selected are enhanced by strong academic performance and extracurricular activities because they exude qualities that scholarship committees look for. While you don’t necessarily need these items to win a scholarship, they always help. Strong academics and things like leadership skills allow you to impress the committee without taking up too much space in your personal statement – these items will be apparent in your transcript and résumé.

Keep in mind that there are countless college scholarships out there – something you’ll soon realize after doing scholarship searches. While some scholarships look for students who have shown leadership ability, others exist exclusively to help students with the cost of college. The point here is that when you compare scholarships you may find that some suit your profile better than others. Whether you have a stellar GPA and extracurricular profile or not, you should still find and apply for scholarship opportunities.  

Attention to Details

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

Scholarship committee members will reward students who have clearly taken time to ensure that all components of an application are completed with precision. There are a few things you can do to ensure that your application doesn’t give the impression that you started it last minute. Of course, the first thing you can do is start early and give yourself time to construct all necessary components of your application. Second, 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. Third, be creative and show the scholarship committee that you’ve really spent time thinking about your application. For example, try to think about how others might answer a scholarship prompt and then say something unique, creative, and different. Scholarship committees will likely read tens or hundreds of applications, so the more memorable you are, the better!

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 would be wise to take a moment to examine any public profiles they have. It may be the case that their social media accounts can give you some important insights about what they are passionate about and what their interests are. This is key to knowing your audience and it can help you shape your scholarship application in ways that speak to scholarship committee members (those who will be deciding who wins the scholarship money).

Overall, knowing who will be reading your scholarship applications and understanding how to communicate with them in your personal statement is an asset. Here’s a brief summary of what scholarship committees look for:

  • Scholarship providers want to know your story. Be unique in constructing your scholarship essays and take care in crafting the tone and message.
  • Scholarship committees want to know that you fit with a scholarship’s mission. Take a moment to read and understand why a scholarship is being given away and show the scholarship committee that you will be a great ambassador of the scholarship prize.
  • Scholarship providers will assess your grades and extracurricular profile. A strong track record in these areas is always an asset. However, even if your academic and extracurricular performance isn’t anything to brag about, you should still apply because there are tons of scholarships for students that you may be able to win.
  • Scholarship committees want to know what you’ve done, but it’s also important to highlight where you’re going. Emphasize your potential to show committee members that they are investing in your future ambitions, too.
  • Always pay attention to details. Scholarship committees will want to see that you’ve taken great care to construct your application and that it doesn’t come across as unpolished and rushed.
  • Always know your audience. Wherever possible, take a moment to learn who scholarship committee members are and what interests they may have. Social media can help you learn the types of interests and advocacy that scholarship committee members are engaged in. This can help you craft your application in a way that resonates with those who decide on what student will win a scholarship.