Admissions

3 Ways to Stand out When Applying for Scholarships

iStock

Wouldn’t it be great if snagging extra cash for college were as easy as asking nicely? Even those employing a little financial aid strategy may dread the feat of paying for college. In fact, since 2007, the top concern cited by parents and students in our College Hopes & Worries survey has either been the inability to afford a top-choice school or the level of debt they’ll accrue along the way. So naturally you’ll turn to scholarships for a little extra help.

With scholarships — as with any portion of your college application — you’ll want to put your best foot forward in order to stand out in an ever-increasing pool of students vying for the same money. Here are three ways to grab the attention of scholarship-awarding committees.


Be Honest, Not Modest 

In many cases, your regular college application at any given school will automatically be used to gauge your eligibility for any school-funded scholarships that are available. That’s often good because it requires almost no extra effort on your part— and we both know you don’t need any unnecessary work on your plate as it is! But on the other hand, it means you’ll also automatically be put up against every other qualified student who has applied to that school.

There’s no time to be modest against such competition. When listing your accomplishments, awards and activities on your application, don’t hold back! After all, schools select recipients with the goal of enticing high-caliber students to attend, so adding extra clubs, hobbies or activities to your application won’t hurt. That said, while you should list anything that might qualify you as that high-caliber student, you shouldn’t list experiences that were either fleeting blips on your high school résumé or items that aren’t of genuine interest to you.

Mine Your Interests

Speaking of genuine interests — what better way to score money for college than by utilizing a hobby you actually love doing? Say you’ve spent every afternoon since freshman year practicing the saxophone — you might just find a scholarship specifically for young saxophonists that requests an audition tape in lieu of an application essay. How would that be for a leg up on the other applicants? Anyone who doesn’t play the saxophone doesn’t stand a chance against you!

Don’t worry if this example doesn’t line up with your talents, musical or otherwise. There are scholarships out there for any number of skills you might have that other applicants don’t, and that’s not just talking about sports and academics. Make your search as personal as needed. And even if your search doesn’t yield any direct results, don’t fret! You can always work your hobbies or interests into your regular essays too (as long as the prompt allows, of course), or you can include them in your supplementary material!

Be Timely

While this may seem like a no-brainer, a surprising number of students can benefit from hearing it. Unlike the tricky timing of applications for financial aid, which can depend on all sorts of inter-woven deadlines, applying for scholarships should follow one flat directive: apply early and apply often.

Scholarship deadlines can range from a full year before the student starts college right up through college itself, and there’s no downside to getting the application in early. After all, if you knock your application out of the park and it’s one of the first the decision committee receives, you’ll be setting the bar that much higher for anyone else you’re going up against.

Other ways to get ahead on your college applications include crafting an unforgettable application essaygathering glowing recommendation letters and nailing your college interviews. For more tips on how to stand out when applying to colleges, and for information on how to choose target colleges in the first place, check out our College Admission 101.