Preparing Competitive Scholarship Applications

You want to give your scholarship application the polish and impact that can attract funding. Here are some ideas for increasing your odds of success.

Scholarship Basics

Guidelines on the application process

How to stand out from the crowd

Tips for writing good personal statements and scholarship essays

Fill at least two-thirds of the available word count.  If you don’t, you’re missing the opportunity to build the strongest possible case for your candidacy and to leave a vivid impression.

Work from your life. Draw on your personal life and experiences to pick authentic, pertinent examples, anecdotes, and feelings that you can discuss with specificity and passion.

Write like you talk. Don’t judge or censor your writing until you have a completed draft. Having a distinctive “voice” is a huge plus.

Be who you are. If you want to stand out, be who you are. Don’t just say what you think someone wants to hear; answer outside the box.

Know what makes you different. How do you think you are special, unusual, or distinctive as a person or student? Try to make sure that these qualities come through in the application—but show, don’t tell.

Don't be afraid to toot your own horn. You need to tell reviewers exactly why they should give you a lot of money.

Engage with stories. Telling the story of a pertinent personal experience is a great way to start an essay or interview question response. Powerful images and ideas make answers memorable and unique.

Tell the truth, then tell the moral of the story. It can be an effective technique to recount a personal story or anecdote that does not show you in the very best light, IF you use it as a springboard into showing something important you have learned, or how and why your ideals or goals have changed. (a once-per-application strategy, probably)

Maintain a sharp focus. Have precise responses to each question. Don’t try to share every passion, accomplishment, ambition, or social concern. Avoid repetition of experiences. Keep your answers and stories rich, but succinct.


Funding Tips  (for grants and fellowships) from NAU doctoral student and DOE Graduate Fellow Lucy Mullin

Harry S. Truman Scholarship: Advice and Guidance for Candidates, especially Advice for Preparing Your Personal Statement

Definition of a Personal Statement by Mary Hale Tolar

Advice for applying for graduate science fellowships: NSF, NDSEG, and Hertz by Philip Guo

National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship: Useful Tips for Applying

Advice for applying to UK scholarships

Scholarship Search Engines