How to Stand Out When Applying for Scholarships


Scholarships are a win-win: students can help reduce the costs associated with attending college while also adding to their resumes. As an added bonus, the vast array of different scholarship options out there means there is truly an opportunity for every student.

While the application process will vary depending on the scholarship you are pursuing, there are some tried and true tips that can help students stand out from the pack. Keep reading to learn more about what it takes to craft a compelling scholarship application.

Do Your Research and Be Selective

Much like the college application process itself, there are a plethora of scholarship opportunities available to every student. Instead of applying to the first few scholarships you see, take the time to research each option and select a manageable number for which to apply. Focusing on quality over quantity will enable you to give each application the time and attention needed in order to set yourself apart. Start by choosing three-to-five scholarships to apply for. Work on each application thoroughly, and add on several more if you find you have additional time.

As for which scholarships to choose, thoroughly review your options to identify the opportunities that best align with your needs and goals. If you’re looking for a starting point, consider researching opportunities that relate to your interests and passions. There are scholarships for every sport, artistic pursuit, and field of study, so don’t be afraid to get specific and search for options that are truly best-fits for you.

Prioritize Passions

The same interests and passions that help define you as a college applicant can also set you apart in your scholarship search. Scholarship judges look for students who are eager to learn more and deepen their expertise in a specific field through higher education. Focus on scholarships that directly relate to your interests, goals, personal achievements, and background. The most compelling applications are well-researched and relevant to the scholarship for which you are applying. Choosing scholarship opportunities that are truly relevant to you will not only make it easier to complete the application process, but will also make you stand out as an exceptionally qualified applicant.

It’s essential to tailor any essays to each opportunity and address the questions that are asked. Avoid cookie-cutter responses and make sure each sentence you write supports what you’re trying to demonstrate. Use research to back up your claims when applicable and make sure your long-term aspirations and ambitions are demonstrated throughout your application. Be sure to include specific examples that highlight your dedication to a certain craft or cause and your curiosity and desire to continue learning and growing.

Understand Your Audience

Depending on the scholarships you are applying for, different qualities or achievements may carry more or less weight. Many scholarships are nuanced and looking for students who can express a certain interest, passion or idea. Before penning your essay, gain a thorough understanding of the specific scholarship program and what it is designed to reward. Tailor your essay or application to that program and the values or qualities they have emphasized. A one-size-fits-all essay rarely cuts it.

Mind the Fine Print

The rules and regulations for application processes can differ significantly, depending on which scholarship a student is applying for. In order to be competitive throughout the application process, applicants need to make sure they are following proper protocol. This can include submitting applications by certain deadlines and providing all of the materials outlined in the opportunity. Some scholarships may ask for high school transcripts, essays, and letters of recommendation, so make sure you have everything you need.

Read all the details to ensure you’re eligible for the scholarship and have what you need to submit. Also, make sure to spend some time looking for various tools and resources that can help you in the process.

Don’t Leave it to the Last Minute

While specific timelines vary, many scholarships are open to high school juniors and seniors. Keep scholarships on your radar throughout high school; getting a jumpstart on applications will prevent you from working down to the wire. The summer before senior year can be an excellent opportunity to make significant progress on your scholarship applications. Starting them early will also ensure you will have ample time to focus on your college applications and help you avoid the stress of having to complete both at once. Set aside time on weekends or during school breaks to work on scholarships and stick to the schedule you create.

Keep Tabs on Deadlines

Between finishing standardized testing and getting ready to submit college applications, it can be easy to lose sight of a deadline. However, students who wish to be competitive for scholarships must follow their guidelines and submit their entries promptly. Planning ahead will also give you ample time to gather additional materials, like recommendation letters or a portfolio of work. Stay on top of every scholarship you’re interested in by jotting down deadlines in your planner or notebook. You can even set calendar reminders to let you know when a deadline is a few weeks away so that you have time to put the finishing touches on every submission. 

Get A Second Set of Eyes

To make sure you present yourself in the best light possible, re-read every element of your application before hitting submit. Don’t forget to proofread for grammar and punctuation errors; you should treat scholarship applications with the same level of care as college essays. Reading your work out loud can also help make sure your tone is consistent. Once you are confident in your essay draft, consider sending it to someone you trust for review and feedback. A second set of eyes can help you catch any careless mistakes you might have overlooked. Even the most well-written essays can benefit from editing by a peer, parent, teacher, or even a college counselor.

College Scholarship Resources

BigFuture Scholarship Search

The College Board’s BigFuture Scholarship Search resource includes more than 6,000 programs and over four billion dollars of aid money. Its personalization options help to ensure search results are relevant to specific applicants.

With over 3.7 million college scholarships and grants, provides applicants with a high number of opportunities. The website also has a scholarship directory for students who are eager to view as many options as possible.


This scholarship search resource also includes part-time job listings for students who want to gain work experience while on campus. Fastweb also creates lists and categories to make it easier for students to stay on top of their to-do lists.

Federal Student Aid

The US Department of Education’s Federal Student Aid website answers FAQs and has links to several different search tools.

While applying for college scholarships is a time commitment, it’s an excellent opportunity for you to earn some recognition for your interests, skills, and passions. Scholarships are also a fantastic way to hone your writing skills and reduce the cost of college tuition. If you are beginning your college search and looking for expert input, our team of admissions counselors can help guide you through every step of the process, including your scholarship applications! 

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