Winning a Scholarship: Tips for Making Sure Your Application Stands Out

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Winning a scholarship can be as competitive as gaining entrance to the college of your choice. While academic performance, extracurricular activities and character all matter, your success often boils down to discovering scholarships that fit your credentials and properly promoting your accomplishments.

These tips will help you prepare scholarship applications that get you noticed – and could get you some extra cash to help pay for school.

• Leverage relationships and seek nontraditional opportunities. There are a lot of scholarships out there, and the wider you cast your net, the greater your chances are of winning. In addition to traditional avenues such as your basic online search and checking the bulletin board outside the guidance counselor or financial aid office, reach out to your network. Ask family and friends about scholarships offered by the companies they work for and organizations they belong to. You may be surprised by all the organizations that offer assistance to deserving students.

Other unexpected sources of scholarship funds may include cultural or religious groups, civic and philanthropic groups in your community, and professional groups or businesses in the field you plan to study. Many banks also handle special trusts or funds with scholarship provisions.

• Showcase your passion, talent and potential. A compelling essay gives scholarship judges insight into what makes you special and unique. If you and another candidate are tied in objective criteria, such as grades, a well-written narrative can set you apart. Not all essays are the same, though; exercise caution to ensure that you are answering the question posed and demonstrating your knowledge of the sponsor, not just copying and pasting from another application.

The essay is your opportunity to let your personality shine through in ways your transcript can’t. Showcase your passions and motivations, and be sure to reference volunteer work, extracurricular activities, and other evidence that demonstrates your leadership skills.

• Prepare a checklist and gather materials ahead of time. Winning a scholarship often comes down to organization; you can’t win if you don’t complete the application by the deadline. Although each application will have its nuances, there are some standard details that nearly every scholarship requires. Gathering and assembling these materials ahead of time will make the tedious task of preparing each application easier, and it will help you avoid overlooking something important when a submission deadline is looming. Be sure to obtain extra copies of items such as transcripts that take time to process, and reach out early to request references and documents such as volunteer work affidavits.

With an organized approach, you could be on your way to winning scholarships that help ease your school debt and set you up for success.