Scholarship & Financial Aid

How to Enhance Your Scholarship Application

Candidates are often required to submit more than just educational documents to apply for a college scholarship successfully. In addition to providing mark sheets and certificates, an essay and a personal narrative also need to be submitted.

The following are the different components that form an integral part of the scholarship applications:

1. Personal Narrative

Personal narratives are usually based on specific questions. A narrative intended to obtain a scholarship can be an answer to a question specified by the organization you are applying for. For example, the students may be asked to share their career goals and their plans to obtain those goals. Sometimes some specific topics may be covered in questions like leadership qualities, community impact, social service, personal achievements, obstacle handling, situational achievements, etc. Ideally, you must read all the questions thoroughly and quote the relevant examples which the decision-making committee might be looking for.

The quality of your narrative can be a considerable part of the final decision-making process for college scholarships that require them. A personal narrative is your one chance to let the application reviewing committee or funding authority know why you deserve financial aid. It's like answering the "tell us about yourself" question asked during most interviews. Typically, most scholarship narratives will require you to write about your educational goals, why you opted for your major, experiences of your life which influenced your decisions, and what role you wish to play in the society once your career goal has been achieved. The answers to those aspects can play a significant role in the image your application creates on the reviewers. 

Think of it in this way – a personal narrative is like a ten minute face-to-face talk with the committee or funding authority explaining why you feel you should be the recipient of the funds they're offering. Bet you can't deny its importance now, can you? But putting all the information you want the committee to know in the appropriate words can be very challenging, even intimidating. 

How to Create a Persuasive Personal Narrative

Do not include information that you have already provided in other parts of your application. This is the time to provide some additional and unique information about you. In this personal narrative, you can help them understand what has brought you to this point in your life.

The following points will help you create a persuasive personal narrative:

  • An engaging start to your college scholarship essay may create a significant difference. You might include a statement or a quote relating to the course you intend to opt for. You can always link to it later in the main body of your text. This point shows your intention, more extensive knowledge, and aptitude towards the intended subject. This helps convince the judges to support you and look forward to investing in you.
  • A connection building with the review committee has an additional advantage. Therefore, while writing your narrative, you may showcase your hobbies and any volunteer actions you have taken in the past. You may also find it useful to mention situational experiences, for example, the struggle of overcoming hardship and succeeding despite the obstacles faced. You don't have to be cynical about it but portray that you have learned from the experience. The committee might find this relative.
  • You should ideally think the same way as the review board thinks. It is a great approach to raise all those questions in your head, which you believe a reviewer might have. Let's look at it this way; the rapport building effort you make with the jury also serves to set you apart from the other candidates. The ultimate goal of creating a natural link with the decision-makers is to let them know that you are highly interested in receiving the college scholarship.
  • Make an attempt to include plenty of personal stories in the narrative. For instance, if you have a passion for nursing, share stories about it. Talk about having a play hospital with stuffed animals during your childhood. Further, explain how you took care of kids that fell on the playground at school, and you walked them to the real nurse for a band-aid. Perhaps one of your parents or another family member suffered a lengthy illness. Share how such an experience fueled your desire to help others.
  • At the same time, you must share with them your plans for the future. Make it visible that you plan to succeed, regardless of what it takes. Explain that earning the scholarship can help you to achieve so much for yourself. Share a few goals you have for the future as well, like what you hope to accomplish in five years, where you see yourself in ten years, etc. The answers to such questions should be a true reflection of who you and who you hope to be.

In addition to what you say in your narrative, be cautious of how you say it. It should flow like you're having a conversation with someone. Write it so that it doesn't sound too mechanical. Avoid big words as they aren't going to be impressive at this stage of the game. Also, you don't need to project only a specific side or a particular image of yourself. Instead, be yourself. If you have cultural knowledge or colorful experiences, then do not shy away from discussing them. Do not tailor yourself to the reader but explore yourself and write about all that you know, all you are, and all you want to be.

2. Scholarship Essays

Many students cringe when filling out their college scholarship applications. They know that they're going to get to the point that requires them to write an essay. Also, most likely, you'll be given a different topic for each application you fill. It isn't like you can use the same essay for all of your applications.

However, follow the points below to help you write great scholarship essays:

  1. Know the audience. Understanding the objectives of the scholarship lets you speak directly to the organization's goals through your essay. And the best way to do this is to understand everything about the committee and their vision. You would want to become their ideal candidate, but at the same time, be careful not to overdo it. You should not compromise your personality to fit the mold. Instead, you need to analyze your strengths and weaknesses and use them to your advantage in becoming the ideal candidate.
  2. Understand the requirements of the essay. Understanding the requirements of the essay is crucial to performing well. If you don't follow them thoroughly, it could lead to the rejection of your college scholarship application. All your hard work and the time you spent on it could go to waste. For example, if it says your essay must be at least 800 words but not more than 2000, you need to stay within those boundaries
  3. Aim for a killer introduction. A good introduction that hooks the reader is critical to luring the audience in believing in your content. It should convince them to read on. One of the strategies to entice the reader is starting with an interesting question. Instead of providing a general overview of the topic, you would want to kick things off with a surprise element. It's a common notion that you may find the introduction section as the hardest part of the essay to complete. A good strategy that works is coming back to it after you have completed the essay. It may give you a new perspective on how to bring the audience in. Remember that if you can't capture their undivided attention from the start, they won't be motivated to complete reading.
  4. Incorporate a good structure. An enticing introduction completes only half the job. Your essay must incorporate a good structure. For an easy outline, first, you should organize your thoughts. It can be easy to get off track. Jot down some key points that you need to cover within your essay, so you don't forget any of them. Then you need to find the right words to transition from one of them to the next. The entire essay should flow smoothly rather than being choppy and scattered. Try to include examples too where you can, which will bring your essay to life.
  5. Include quality content backed by facts and opinions. You need to understand that the quality of the content is equally important. Throughout the essay, the quality of the material should be the prime focus, not the quantity. This means that a 2000-word essay won't hold more merit than one 800 words in length if it isn't captivating. 
  6. Maintain a positive tone. Make sure you maintain a consistently positive tone throughout the article. No one wants to read a depressing story that makes them feel bad. You would want to assert positive affirmations from your content, even if you are mentioning sad moments of your life. Instead of adopting a negative tone about such events, focus on how you were able to emerge stronger out of difficult times.
  7. Look for a happy ending. All's well when it ends well! The conclusion to your essay should be a recap of the question and the answers you have listed. Doing so makes for an excellent way to offer a summary of the information you have included. But beware of dreary conclusions and, instead, opt for an unusual and innovative approach. One great way to leave a lasting impact on your readers' minds is ending your essay with a question.
  8. Proofread and Revise. If you believe you got it right in your first attempt, you are mistaken. Unknowingly you might have made several mistakes that you can easily find out thorough proofreading. After you've completed a rough draft, put it aside for a few days. Then you can view it again and make revisions. It can take several reviews to get the perfect college scholarship essay that you are satisfied with. One great way to perfect your essay is by asking for help from others. You can request a few people you trust to be objective to evaluate it for you as well. It can be a friend or family member that can provide you a different perspective on your writing. Believe us, sometimes all you need is a different set of eyes for perfection.
  9. Refine your final draft. Once you've gone through several revisions and finalized on a draft that you're comfortable with, review it once more with an eye for spelling, structure, and grammar. You would want to stay within the word count if you are over it, and if needed, make sure you make edits that fulfill this critical requirement. If you're significantly under the word count, add a supporting paragraph to a section of your essay.

Also, remember that many scholarship essay topics over the years have shared the same topic. With many scholarships allowing individuals to choose a common topic, you can take much inspiration from your essays submitted with multiple applications.

There are chances that you might be able to reuse your essays with some tweaks in the construction. For example, consider the following two topics:

  1. Describe an experience that led to significant personal growth.
  2. Discuss an instance when you had to overcome an obstacle.

Since personal growth often inflicts with an instance of overcoming obstacles, with specific tweaks, you can easily have the same essay for both topics.

3. Powerful Letters of Recommendations

If a letter of recommendation from a guidance counselor accompanies your scholarship application, it holds more preference over applications without such recommendations. Such letters can often make the difference between who gets awarded and who gets left out.

If you’re planning to apply for a scholarship sometime soon, you might want to ask your counselor at school to write such a letter. And if you’re unsure of how to go about it, this article is here to help. Here, we will delve deeper into the tips and tricks to develop compelling letters of recommendation targeted to achieve college scholarships.

Let’s get started.

Purpose of Recommendation Letters in Scholarship Applications

Few colleges and universities specifically ask for a letter of recommendation to be accompanied by the college scholarship application. And although others may not, it is always advisable to attach at least one such letter in your application. Providing the letter might be the fastest way for your application to land up in the approval pile. 

Usually, teachers, parents, colleagues, clients, or other significant people in the student’s life, write a recommendation letter. The letter can create a high impact on winning a scholarship. Thus, the person who writes such a letter must invest a lot of time and effort into creating it.

The letter often proves to be a testament to the student’s achievements. Many times, it serves to be a reflection of the student as a multi-dimensional personality. It also aids as a complement and describes who the student is and why he/she deserves the award. So the ideal motive of a recommendation letter is to vouch for the aptitude, attitude, achievements, goals, and skills of the student.

Key Points to Remember for a Recommendation Letter

  1. Be proactive. The first and foremost point to remember is that you don’t want to wait until the last minute to get your hands on the letters of recommendation. You have to ask people to complete them on time, but it should be completely convenient. When you think about a letter of recommendation, you must find the right people to complete them for you. You should ideally ask at least five people. Most college scholarship applications have guidelines for a minimum of three letters, but you must be resourceful in case you need more. People you can refer to can include a boss, co-worker, friend, teacher, or Church member. You should request for the favor from a variety of individuals with whom you hold great relationships.
  2. Express the reason for the letter. When you ask someone to complete a letter of recommendation for you, express why you need one. Most people will be more than happy and interested in helping you with your college scholarship applications. You need to make sure that you set your expectations, in the beginning, to get the desired letters from them. A personal interview, one-to-one discussion, a complete list of guidelines, and a lot of patience is required for great results.
  3. Main parts of the letter. Several simple templates may be available for the letter of recommendation. Usually, such templates include a salutation and introduction explaining the relationship between recommender and the student, followed by the body of the letter, which explains the reason why the student is applying for the scholarship. Post this, there should be a summary reiterating the main points, and finally, each letter should be closed with the recommender’s full name and contact information. The letter should be typed and signed. If the person creating the letter doesn’t type, you can offer to do it for them. Deciding on a deadline for them to complete is also essential.
  4. Accuracy. When you get the completed letters of recommendation, make sure you take the time to read over them. You should take care of typing or grammar mistakes in them if any. Should you find such problems, ask the creator to update the letter. They might not feel bad or have any problem to rectify as they realize the value these letters have for your ability to get money for your education.
  5. Creativity. Another point to consider is the themes in your application. Sometimes themes make the letter more appealing and hence stand a chance to impress the committee members. Themes can be related to the chosen subjects. For example, a letter written for business studies related to the scholarship can be more impressive if it has highlights like your interests in the business environment and the people related to business.
  6. Avoid Lack of relevancy. Sometimes, recommendation letters can take a shape that depicts no relevancy of the student to his/her goals of achieving financial aid. Do not indulge in such a mistake. Ensure that your goals and strengths are relevant to what you have applied for, or else, you may lose your chance. Your focus should be on matching pursuits. As specified earlier, unrealistic goals and achievements have no value at all.

4. Talent Presentation

These days many colleges and universities are allowing students to exhibit their talent and creativity through presentations. An individual's talent can be a personal skill, specialized art, or any other practical skill. Some people are aware of their abilities and can use them in their studies when they get to college. Hence, many talent-based scholarships exist to provide financial aid to students with unique skills.

Subjects like Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics are streams that invite students to show off their aptitude through projects of their choice. And when it comes to displaying talent, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a little self-promotion. You just need a little ingenuity and careful thought to help get yourself noticed. But what is the probability of you getting highlighted among others like you?  

Though it is a tough question to answer, it isn't impossible. You have to convince the selection panel that what you're showcasing through your talent is expansive. Along with the application process, you have to be calm, confident, and compassionate, leaving behind arrogance and conceit.

What you can do to ensure your talents get their due attention

So, if you're wondering how to ensure the talents you've mentioned in your application get noticed, here are a few things you can do:

  1. Express your strengths. The first and foremost strategy is to evaluate and use your strength as a ladder. While you apply for an academic scholarship program, you first need to concentrate on your academic achievements. At the same time, you have to exhibit your other strengths as well. Almost all the scholarship committees wish to know your robustness and firmness in different situations. So, you have to express these in the best way you can.  Notably, the students seeking scholarships in art, graphic designing, music, etc. have to be more careful while building a portfolio to submit to their application. You have to, ideally, shine with your work.
  2. List your experiences. Many deciding committees and talent acquisition groups look forward to pupils who have been involved in social events and activities in the past. Institutions concentrate on accolades and academics simultaneously these days. The existence of competition among colleges and universities to recruit the intellectually gifted has been widely recognized. The ultimate goal behind such selection criteria is to transform students to have complete personalities. After all, the students who get selected for scholarships might represent the institution in the outside world.  
  3. Draw attention to your name through your relevant work. You have to be very specific while showcasing your work. It is necessary to keep your integrity on top by flaunting your work in the real world. For example, a poet might not want to advertise any unpublished poem written by him/her. He/she would instead refer to the published ones to prove trustworthiness. The integrity of your projects has to be followed in all the streams. So, it is always advisable to let the decision-makers know the availability of your chosen talent. It will ultimately draw the attention of sponsors towards your application as the relationship between the tendering of aid and talent concentration is exceptionally strong. It is effortless to create such references in the era of technology. You can refer to many websites, either paid programs or unpaid ones, which can register your art and projects and even promote them for your application.
  4. Include recommendations. It is irrefutable to say that recommendations are one of the most significant constituents of scholarship applications. An application may get a real boost with the help of such letters. The committee involved in the decision-making process will undoubtedly look forward to your glowing recommendations. Therefore, provide them a complete list to choose from.
  5. Relevancy factor. Another point to remember is that your project should be relevant enough. Students sometimes prepare projects that depict no relevancy to their goals of achieving financial aid. Do not indulge in such a mistake. Ensure that your goals and strengths are relevant to what you have applied for. Unrealistic goals and achievements have no value at all.
  6. Keep it simple. If you do not keep it simple, there is a possibility that representatives will put your application down straight away. Ensure the simplicity of your talent project. It attracts attention and doesn't divert them from looking into what you can do. Some students take professional help to create their profiles and auditions, but they land into the not-so-good situation. That's because professionals put in commercial duplicity in the portfolios, and colleges do not wish for that. They hunt for new expertise.

Final Word

Several common mistakes might hamper your chances of living your college dream. Having the right knowledge and planning in advance will increase your chances of getting the right financial aid and save you from endless paperwork that might never bring you success. With the information that we have mentioned above, you can educate yourself better to tackle the obstacles that you might face. You can feel confident about your application and content. You should also feel sure that not many people in your competition might have spent enough time on these points, consequently increasing your chances with the desired funding.