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Scholarship Application Strategies

Scholarship competitions receive applications from numerous deserving students each year. With so many students who deserve an award, there is certain criteria that judges use to select winners. While some may believe that the best applicant will be the one who wins, that is not always the case. Instead, it's often the applicant who does the best job of presenting his or her application who wins the scholarship money. The key to success lies in scholarship strategy and creating a successful approach to finding and applying for awards. We've compiled some advice on successful scholarship application strategies to help you improve your chances of winning scholarships.

Play to Your Strengths

Perhaps the most basic scholarship application strategy is to apply for scholarships you have the best chance of winning. While this seems obvious enough, figuring out what these scholarships are does require some thought and strategy. A good first step is to do a free scholarship search, such as the one available at Scholarships.com. By completing a profile that includes many of your personal strengths and interests, you can allow someone else to do the initial research for you when it comes to finding scholarships. You'll want to start early - if you begin to investigate scholarship options when you’re a junior in high school, you'll have a serious head start on the competition.

After you've finished your scholarship search, you can begin narrowing the list down to awards you think you have the best chance of winning. Perhaps you're an excellent writer, you've had a truly unique experience, or you are fascinated with the topic/subject matter of a particular scholarship competition. Whatever the reason, there are likely to be scholarships that stand out as awards for things in which you excel.

After deciding to which scholarships you'd like to apply, you should play to your strengths when constructing your scholarship application. Everything you put in your scholarship application should highlight your strengths as an applicant for that particular scholarship, including supplemental materials. For example, if you need a letter of recommendation, ask someone who knows you well and can boast your strengths. Typically, applicants will ask their teachers, coaches, mentors, and other key leaders in their lives, to write their recommendation letters - some scholarship providers specifically prohibit parent or relative recommendation letters, as those can be biased.

Write a Killer Essay

A large part of your time and energy will be devoted to writing scholarship essays. Many scholarship applications require at least one essay and many scholarship reviewers will rely on the essay when selecting a scholarship winner. Most providers are very specific in their length and format requirements; if you do not adhere to the guidelines, your essay will be disqualified. There are things you can do to write effective scholarship essays that save you time and highlight your strengths as an applicant.

Even if you don't consider yourself a particularly strong writer, you can write a scholarship-worthy essay if you put in the time and effort the task requires. By learning about your audience and what they want (i.e. reading about the scholarship contest's mission and reading previous years' winning essays), you can better tailor your scholarship application to the prompt. This will immediately set you apart from the students who didn't bother doing the preliminary research. Always be sure to read the rules and requirements thoroughly, as well as the essay questions. Answer each part of the question to the best of your ability, using examples, evidence, and supplemental material to strengthen your argument and position in the essay. Not all essays require research or thesis, so if it is more personal, be sure to use examples to further illustrate your ideas and experiences. Beyond that, following other basic guidelines for the scholarship application process and scholarship essay portion will keep you on track and help you create success in your scholarship search.

Pay Attention to the Details

The most useful, and often overlooked, scholarship application strategy is paying attention to details. From making note of scholarship application deadlines and getting organized to formatting essays, paying attention to details can make the difference between winning a scholarship and finding your essay at the top of the reject pile. Spelling and grammatical errors may automatically disqualify you, so if you want to double-check your work, have a friend, teacher, or parent edit your essay. Certain scholarships may even require a specific kind of bibliographic citation. Be sure to always follow the rules, no matter how tiny or arbitrary, and to observe appropriate scholarship application etiquette. Taking these steps will ensure that it's the substance of your scholarship application that stands out, not the errors in its presentation.

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Last Reviewed: February 2020