How to Stand Out in the Scholarship Process

Like many other aspects of the transition from high school to university, applying for scholarships is another way it can be easy for students to become overwhelmed and easily discouraged. Unfortunately, many of us have the tendency to ignore anything which involves more thinking and paperwork that isn’t mandatory, despite our teacher’s and parent’s best efforts to install the importance of applying for scholarships into us. Although the attitude of, “why bother,” takes less time and effort than dedicating yourself to create an outstanding essay and application package, the possible reward for this small price is more than worth the risk. After all, the only way to eventually stand out is by taking the first steps to apply.

How To Stand Out? – Don’t Give Up

Before my English teacher directly handed me the information for an undergraduate scholarship worth $75,000, I had completely tuned out the idea of applying for such a prestigious award, thinking only unrealistic overachievers won scholarships of such value. I figured the only money I had a chance at winning was through the smaller local scholarships available through the school, which all involved a much easier application.  I asked how could I stand out on such a large stage. It wasn’t until after reading more about the incredible history and other opportunities that came with the financial aspect of this award that the idea of even having the chance to win eventually motivated me to apply.

Half way through my application, I reached a point of frustration trying to properly gather my ideas and words that made me decide it wasn’t worth the trouble and call it quits. After taking a long break from the process and getting encouragement and input from others (hence the importance of starting weeks before deadlines) I was able to push myself through the final steps and ended up receiving more than I could have ever hoped for! As it turns out, these scholarships aren’t only for the magical people you only read about, but for normal people like me as well!

Although there are so many factors which play into whether or not you receive different scholarships, I believe these are some of the major things I did right throughout the process. Anyone can follow these steps to better their chances of ending up with the same amazing opportunity!

Start Early

When most people think of starting the scholarship process early, they are probably picturing applying for scholarships during the beginning months of their grade twelve year; however, my definition of starting early begins the moment you enter high school. Of course this does not literally mean begin searching and writing for scholarships in grade nine (although this probably wouldn’t hurt) the idea of starting early involves beginning to build skills through extracurricular involvement and academics as early as possible. The lessons you take away from volunteer and extracurricular involvement are priceless, regardless of whether you are lucky enough to receive financial reward for your contributions.

Welcome a Challenge

While watching my older sister apply for scholarships long before my grade twelve year, I was fortunate enough see what characteristics are sought after in students, and what involvement is required in order to be considered. Judging from my own experience looking through many of her applications, I realized the importance of getting involved in as many areas in and out of school possible, while maintaining high academic standards.

Over the next years of high school, I began putting in extra effort to make significant contributions to each activity I was involved with, instead of merely showing up as another member of the group. The leadership skills it takes to share ideas, initiate a project, and follow through making sure each activity you are involved in becomes a success, is vital not only for appealing to scholarship interviewers, but for expanding yourself in all areas of life.

If you are someone who is uncomfortable with leadership roles, start small by forcing yourself to get involved with pre-existing groups. With time, making connections with people will feel less intimidating, and carrying out your ideas will become much easier. Perhaps you may feel it is too late and you no longer have the chance to be part of these activities, which is why we are lucky enough to get a fresh start in university! Getting involved in university campus is another rewarding way to contribute to your larger community, and also comes with potential to receive financial recognition.

How To Stand Out? Get Creative

Boasting about your achievements to a complete stranger can make someone feel very uncomfortable (including myself), which can easily come across to the judges reviewing your application. I recommend taking a different approach which not only highlights your accomplishments in a unique way, but also indirectly explains the kind of person you really are. Instead of listing off things you are proud of or excel at, elaborating on a simple activity you were a part of by explaining the impact it had on yourself, your community, or a certain individual, is more important than explaining exactly what things you have accomplished. Even if you feel like being involved with an activity was insignificant, look deeper until you realize where your motivation to join came from, how you evolved during the process, or how others may have benefited from it. With a passionate, heartfelt description of why these activities truly mean something to you, your story will stand apart from hundreds of other generic applications.

Be Yourself

Throughout my entire interview and application process, the only advice I received was, “be yourself.” This advice really aggravated me because it sounds so simple, yet is one of the hardest things to do when you are under such immense pressure. What does knowing who you are even mean, and who truly knows who they are anyway? People often think knowing who you are means being able to list off strengths and weaknesses, what motivates you, who you look up to, etc. (which by the way, were all questions I was expecting, but never got asked). Personally, I think the most effective way to show someone who you are is in the way you unique present yourself both on paper and in person. During my interviews half the time I felt like the judges weren’t even listening to what I was saying, but were preoccupied with little things like my hand gestures, if I was making eye contact, smiling at them, or was able to carry on a casual conversation. Keeping track of these things we almost never think about, especially when you are that nervous and trying to answer questions can be extremely difficult. Trying to rehearse answers is completely pointless, which is why I think it is important to pick a few small things you can do to come across vibrant, confident, and personable.

In the end, when you are competing against top students across the country, everyone is equally qualified and worthy which is why it is almost impossible for judges to make the, “right” decision. All accomplishments aside, I think their final decision comes down to seeing that special spark that makes them want to invest in your future.

What’s your best tip on how to stand out in large groups, whether it is resumes, interviews, or scholarship applications?

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How timely – I was just reading about the admissions process at my alma mater in our school’s magazine (Duke), and the dean of admissions was talking about how high-achieving students are a dime a dozen, but that “provocative” students are the ones that really win over admissions counselors. I’d imaging the scholarship process is looking for similarly “unique” students!

12 years ago

Too bad I didn’t read this 20 years ago. :).
Great info for those in need of a boost to go for it.

12 years ago
Reply to  Jai Catalano

Thanks Jai!

12 years ago

Yes, it’s kind of like in the movie “21” from what I can tell. There are a lot of smart people out there, but they want people that will make a difference. Or, in the case of your school, it helps if they are 6’8, and have a 30+ inch vertical leap ;) Go Blue Devils!

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