Top 5 Tips for Strong Scholarship Applications

Outside of a brick residence hall in spring with blooming trees.

March 1 is major deadline for many scholarship applications (including at WOU), so this week can be a stressful time for lots of incoming freshmen–and returning students as well. Although there are plenty of scholarships geared to specific majors, backgrounds and schools, every college student should be able to ferret out a few that pertain to them and can help them fund their higher education. However, there is a bit of an art to winning a scholarship, so we’ve compiled these tips to help you maximize your experience.

Don’t try to force a fit

When narrowing down your scholarship options, don’t waste your time applying for those with requirements you don’t meet. For example, if the description says “preference for students studying nursing,” don’t apply if you are going to be a business major. Although “preference for” is not an absolute, there are likely dozens of applicants who are nursing majors, so your chances are not good anyway. Find the opportunities that your field of study, background and GPA/test scores fit exactly, and then make those details sing in the application.

Make a list of activities

Nearly every application is going to ask about your activities, awards, volunteer involvement, sports and leadership history. In order to ensure you don’t miss any, make a list of what you’ve been up to during high school. Include all the categories mentioned above as well as music involvement, religion-based activities (such as youth group counselor), honor society membership and whatever else you have done. Make sure to include the dates or years you participated in the action because longevity in an activity is more important than one-time occurrences.

Put some thought into it

Some scholarships require applicants to write an essay, submit a poem or answer a question with a personal story. Last week we offered the Top 5 Tips for Writing College Scholarship Application Essays, and the bottom line is that it should be obvious to application readers that you put a great deal of thought and personal reflection into the essay. Also, if the scholarship is tied to a person or field of study, focus on that aspect in your submission. For example, a scholarship sponsored by a construction company would be a good place to write an essay about the importance of ecofriendly buildings or the future of shared spaces.

Be honest about your experience

Some students will try to make their extracurricular activities and community involvement sound more extensive than they really were. Participating in your aunt’s Relay for Life team is application worthy, but don’t describe it as being a “volunteer coordinator,” even if you did assign the team to their time slots. It’s OK if you don’t have a lot of activities to brag about; just be sure those you do have are highlighted appropriately. Remember long-time involvement is better than one-day commitments.

Proofread your submissions

Even applications that don’t include an essay portion need to be proofread. Most scholarships will take off points for poor spelling and grammar, so get editing help from a friend or teacher if you need to. Sloppy applications with lowercase letters where capitals should be, unfilled fields or missing information may be immediately put in the “no” pile, and you don’t want that. Most applications are done online, but if you do happen to need a handwritten form, be sure your writing is legible.

Want to learn more about WOU scholarships? We’ve got scholarship listings for incoming students, videos about how to fill out the application online, information on scholarship scams, and much more on our scholarship website. Keep in mind that scholarships are competitive. The application for most scholarships available to incoming students is due March 1. 

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