Becoming a Top Scholarship Applicant

Higher education continues to be an expensive proposition. Between the projected rise in interest rates and the mounting student loan crisis, teachers, more than ever, are looking for ways to make their own education more affordable. As such, the competition for scholarship money is heating up! 

Thankfully, there are ways you can help your scholarship application stand out from the pile. By making a few deliberate choices in how you present yourself, you can become a top scholarship applicant and help defray the costs of your higher education.

Go After the Right Scholarships

Before filling out a single scholarship application, it is important to be sure you are chasing the right ones. Some scholarships have very strict requirements about applicants’ personal backgrounds or the degrees they are looking to pursue. Simply put, if you don’t fit the bill, you aren’t getting the scholarship.

That being said, the scholarships that are a perfect match for your personal qualifications are not going to seek you out. There is leg-work to be done!

Be on the lookout for opportunities being offered by local associations and organizations. At the same time, be proactively searching for national scholarships you might qualify for. Just as students should apply to multiple colleges, you should be assembling an array of scholarships to go after rather than putting all of your eggs into one basket.

Throughout this process, don’t get hung up on dollar amounts; if you find a scholarship you qualify for, the effort is usually worth it. Every dollar counts! Don’t lose sight of the fact that smaller scholarships usually mean smaller applicant pools and significantly less competition.

Follow Directions

This may seem like a no-brainer, but considering the fact that you are competing against other candidates for a monetary award, nothing will disqualify you faster than not giving the application evaluators what they are asking for.

Before you formally submit your application, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did you include all the required materials and documentation?
  • Will your materials arrive well before any cut-off or due date?
  • Is your contact information correct and appropriate (I’m looking at you, LilMissCutiePie442@aol.com)?
  • Did you stick to the essay’s topic and word count requirements?
  • Did you proofread all materials multiple times?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘no,’ solve the issue(s) before sending your materials for review.

Show Your Passion and Make It Relevant

Even if your scholarship application adheres to every guideline, is aesthetically perfect, and arrives on time, your written responses to questions and essay prompts may be what hold you back.

Ask any teacher who regularly grades student writing and they will tell you: the process can be tedious. Reading subtle variations on the same theme or topic over and over again can be mind-numbing.

As a scholarship applicant, you need to do what you can to make your responses and essay content both unique and engaging so that evaluators are drawn in by your writing rather than succumbing to boredom and tossing your application aside.

If you have a standard story or essay you are planning to submit with all of your applications, throw it out (the evaluators probably will anyway) and craft something fresh for each application. The most surefire way to separate yourself from the pack is by effectively bringing your story to light in a way that is appropriate for the scholarship you are seeking. Doing this well could be what gets you that much-needed scholarship money in the end!

Remember that you are trying to prove to strangers that furthering your education is a worthy investment that will benefit the greater good. Therefore, your written responses need to reflect your passion, your dedication, and the positive impact you make on those you serve.

When given the opportunity to share your experiences and motivations, don’t skim the surface with a few trite stories; dive into a meaningful example of how you have impacted others and then reflect upon how that experience, and others like it, have impacted you. Rather than simply telling the reader how passionate you are, make the reader feel this passion. If you can do this in a way that is relevant to scholarship-granting organization, you’re bound to be a top candidate.

There is no recipe or blueprint for crafting this kind of response; that’s what makes it both personal and powerful.

The same goes for your overall scholarship application. If you want to get out of the pile and into real consideration for monetary awards, there is no cookie-cutter way to do it. The best applicants will be those who apply for scholarships that match their qualifications, give application logistics proper attention, and bring their passion to the forefront in authentic ways that are connected to the scholarships they are seeking.

Sheldon Soper is a New Jersey middle school teacher with over a decade of classroom experience teaching students to read, write, and problem-solve across multiple grade levels. He holds teaching certifications in English, Social Studies, and Elementary Education as well as Bachelor's and Master's degrees in the field of education. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education, technology, and parenting focused websites. You can follow Sheldon on Twitter @SoperWritings.

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