Tips for writing good scholarship applications

Research and planning. Familiarize yourself with the scholarships, and especially the ones for which you best fit the criteria. Emma Dunk, who has spent more than 15 years in donor relations working on scholarship applications at Centennial College, advises that you first “research the process and take the time to lay the groundwork so that you are in the best possible position to apply”.

Apply to as many people as possible. Although you have to adapt each scholarship application, you can reuse a lot of the information, so it gets easier the more you do it.

Be clear, concise and authentic. “We get so many applications in a year, we’re looking for applications that really stand out,” says Marlene Valerio, scholarship officer in the Office of Advancement and Alumni at Humber College Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning. “We are looking for words, phrases and stories that are unique and a bit off the beaten path and express their true identity.”

Tell YOUR story. Rather than soundbites from Oprah, Gandhi or other notables, speak your own truth — and be honest, says Dunk. “We want to hear your ideas, your thoughts, your answers.” And be specific. “Talk about things like what you have to offer, why you decided to come to college or university, what the scholarship will mean to you, and how you can succeed with the scholarship,” Valerio suggests.

Give yourself plenty of time. “Writing a scholarship application takes time,” says Shaun Cavaliere, Associate Registrar of Student Financial Services at Metropolitan University of Toronto. “Rush submissions often result in incomplete applications, typos, and poorly structured essays, so start early!” Another reason to take your time is to make sure you don’t miss any supporting documents, adds Valerio. These documents — a cover letter, resume, reference letters, high school transcripts — may take longer to gather. “Submission of this documentation is essential, so allow for the extra time you need to collect these documents when applying.”

It’s not just academic. Not all scholarships are dependent on high grades, and it is essential to remember this when applying. “Strong applications are thoughtful and make connections between personal experiences, education, extracurricular activities, professional endeavors, and/or future goals,” says Cavaliere. “Many of our scholarships focus on community involvement, so it’s important to include information about the ways you get involved in the community,” adds Valerio. If you are currently a student, this would include clubs and associations in which you are involved within college or university.

Accentuate the positive. You can talk about the hardships and the adversity, but focus on what the scholarships will do for you, says Dunk. “Many others are facing challenges, but focus on how you would use this scholarship to enhance your opportunities.”

Choose the right references. “When it comes to reference letters, the strongest letters come from those who know the candidate and can comment on their education, extracurricular involvement, work, or a combination of these,” says Cavaliere. Additionally, Cavaliere reminds applicants to provide their references with scholarship information so that their letters can be tailored accordingly. And be sure to notify references first before sharing their contact information.

Be sure to apply. Unfortunately, many students don’t think they’ll pass, so they don’t even bother to apply. There are so many unclaimed scholarships and so much money left on the table, says Kristina Dyal, financial aid officer in the office of the registrar at Humber College. “Don’t think anyone else is more worthy than you,” Dunk says. “It’s a great return on investment if you apply and are rewarded with a scholarship for your effort and time.” And, if you applied in the first year but didn’t receive a scholarship, don’t give up. “Students get discouraged because they think they might not be accepted if they didn’t get a scholarship the first year. But it’s not, so you shouldn’t give up. Be sure to enter and submit scholarship applications every academic year,” says Valerio.

Do not leave anything to chance. Don’t stop at the scholarships offered by your university or college. “In our financial aid workshops, we explore other avenues of funding for students,” says Dyal. “For example, check what scholarships might be available through your work or that of your parents. There are many scholarship programs for employees.

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Scott R. Banks