The Power of Embracing Authenticity in Your Scholarship Application

Few weeks ago,  I was in an interview with two scholarship winners and they went on about how being authentic in their application for scholarships made them win at least one of of the hundreds that they had applied for. This was a revealing interview but also one that was all too obvious because what was being said is what every student… smart student should already know.

To say that something is authentic is to say that it is what it professes to be, or what it is reputed to be, in origin or authorship. The evaluation of scholarship applications may seem to be unknown. Frankly, that’s true to a certain extent, not because there’s a conspiracy of secrecy, but because the judging process varies widely on the school or organization’s goals in giving the award, time frame for rendering decisions and so on. Different variations aside, in judging a scholarship application, a lot of attention is given to the originality of all the candidate’s qualities.

What the judging process looks like

Scholarship funds receive more applications than they can possibly fully consider. Imagine a scholarship in need of one (1) candidate receiving 10,000s’ of scholarship applications! Therefore, the first step in the judging process is to obviously eliminate as many applications as possible with visible errors. This strategy reduces the application volume to a more manageable size.

Incomplete applications are the first to go. A scholarship official will probably scrutinise your application making sure all blanks on the form are filled in and no spelling errors. Any applications that don’t meet these initial screens will be rejected immediately. Just think, you spent hours perfecting that essay, days getting signatures, approvals and gathering letters of recommendation, more hours assembling the documents, attaching them to the application in the correct order, and it gets thrown out because of one word omission or commission.

The first phase is often painful but fast. If your scholarship application makes it to the second phase,  it becomes more painful. Now your application will be compared to others.

If academic achievement is important, evaluators may compare GPAs and forget about the set cut-off mark to use for this stage.  For example, if the scholarship eligibility criteria listed a GPA of 3.0 or better to qualify and there are plenty of good candidates with a GPA of 3.6 or better, the otherwise good candidate with a GPA of 3.4 may be scratched.

Note, however, that many scholarships do not rely heavily on GPAs as their criteria.

In the final round, a bunch of applications will look identical. 70 to 75% of the applications will look like they simply followed protocol. Those applicants are easily removed. The judges more often than not look for the applications that give them a headlight glimpse into a real person who has real feelings and real problems that he or she has overcome.

So who is the Wizard?

This is the question the scholarship award judges will be asking themselves as they review your application. Your job is to introduce yourself as someone who is deserving of the scholarships they will award. So exactly who is behind the shiny red cape?

There is not one way to write your scholarship application. If you gather together all the scholarship applications that ever won a prize, you would find it hard to identify what made them the same. Each would show a distinctive style employed by the author; a unique insight into his or her past, present and future aspirations.

This uniqueness is key, and is the first point to remember when you pick up your pen to write, or your keyboard to type. Make your scholarship application essay exclusive to you, personalize it, delve deep into your passion and drive to study your subject, and create a response that could only ever relate to you. It is this individuality that stands out, and that’s exactly what catches a judge’s eye and defines a winner.

For example, if only ‘leadership’; ‘innovation’ and ‘impacting communities’ can be used in every essay, everyone will be a winner. However, there are synonyms of these words and much more assertive words that can be used in your scholarship essay to make it unique.

The following questions ask you to think about yourself in relation to the rest of the world and to understand how you relate, and particularly, what’s special about you. These questions should allow you do a little soul searching and discover how to present yourself before the main scholarship application.

  • How would you describe yourself?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • How would your parents describe you?
  • How would your teachers describe you?
  • What two or three extracurricular activities make you come  alive and why?
  • What are the three most important events that have taken place in your life and why?
  • What personal accomplishment makes you the most proud?
  • What are your three greatest strengths?
  • What three areas of your life need the most improvement?
  • What is your philosophy of life?
  • Why do you want to go to college?
  • How do you hope to be different when you graduate college?
  • Describe yourself. What do you want to be doing ten years from now?
  • What has been your most interesting class in high school? Why was it interesting to you?
  • What are the three worst mistakes you have made in your life? Are you any different now because of those mistakes?
  • What are the three biggest obstacles you have overcome in your life?
  • What person has been influential in your life? Why?
  • Everyone is special. What makes you special?

Hopefully, from these questions, you are able to create a deeply meaningful description of a person (you) with many strengths, who has seen and managed obstacles, and who has hopes and ambitions that can flourish if given the opportunity of having free education.

The message here is to be authentic.  That message is to demonstrate that you are a remarkable person that the judges can relate to and feel confident will be worthy of their award. That’s just the sort of person who should receive a scholarship.

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