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Create Winning Scholarship Applications

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By: Gen and Kelly Tanabe
Founders of SuperCollege and authors of 13 books on college planning.

Gen and Kelly Tanabe can answer your question in Expert Advice.




Showcase your "smarts".

There's a reason why your parents wanted you to study and do well in school. In addition to the correlation between studying and success in college, almost all scholarships (even those that are athletic in nature) require some level of academic achievement. College is, after all, about learning (at least that's what you want your parents to believe).

As you are completing your applications, keep in mind that while you may be applying for a public service scholarship, you should also include at least a few academic achievements. For example, it does not hurt to list on an athletic scholarship form that you also came in second place at the science fair. This should not be the first thing you note, but it should be included somewhere to show the committee that you have brains in addition to brawn.




Remember that leadership is always better than membership.

If you've ever tried to motivate a group of peers to do anything without taking the easy way out—bribery—you know that it takes courage, intelligence and creativity to be a leader. Because of this, many scholarships give extra points to reward leadership. Scholarship judges want to know that their dollars will be awarded to someone who will not only make a difference in the future but who will also be a leader and motivate others to do the same. Think of it this way: If you were a successful businessperson trying to encourage entrepreneurship, wouldn't you want to give your money to a young person who is not only an entrepreneur but who also motivates others to become entrepreneurs? Scholarship providers believe the return on their investment will be higher when they put their money behind leaders rather than followers.

Remember that you don't need to be an elected officer to be a leader. Many students have organized special projects, led teams or helped run events. Even if you didn't have an official title, you can include these experiences. They are definitely examples of leadership.




Make the most of any honors and awards you've received.

There's a reason that all trophies are gold and gaudy. They shout to the world in a deafening roar, "Yes, this glittery gold miniature figure means I am the best!" For applications that ask for your honors and awards, impart some of that victorious roar and attitude. In no way are we recommending that you ship your golden statuettes off with your applications. We are saying that you should highlight honors and awards in a way that gets the scholarship committee to pay attention to your application. What makes an award impressive is scope. Not a minty mouthwash, scope in this case is the impact and influence of the award. You need to describe not only what you won but also what it means—its significance. After all, you worked hard for the award and earned every golden inch of it. Show the committee that they don't just hand these statuettes out to anybody.




Final Thoughts ...

A scholarship application is more than a piece of paper. In the eyes of the scholarship judges, it represents you. It may not be fair, but in many cases the application is the only thing that the judges will have to know who you are. The last thing you want to be is a dry list of academic and extracurricular achievements. You are a living, breathing person. Throughout the application, take every opportunity—no matter how small—to show the judges who you really are. Use descriptions and vocabulary that reveal your passion and commitment. Always remember that the application is a reflection of you.




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