In this installment, we are going to examine some ways to rivet the scholarship committee’s attention and set yourself apart from the other applicants who have made it as far along in the process as you have. This is actually an easier process than you may think. Yet, I imagine a lot of applicants fall into the trap of over analysis and try to do or say what they believe the committee wants to hear rather than hewing to their own authenticity, which in a case of extremely circular reasoning (a la Raising Arizona) is what the committee really wants to hear.
Make Yourself Heard
I said it in the previous post, and I will say it again here: the name of the game is meshing your accomplishments, abilities and personality with the scholarship criteria. A typical mistake that applicants make is that they throw out everything they’ve got that makes them special and hopes the committee will sift through their laundry list to find something that fits the organization or the reason the scholarship is being offered. The thing is, though, that this is not the committee’s job. It’s your job. You must acknowledge the basic premises of the scholarship and the organization offering it in your application materials. Vomiting up everything you have or have done into a generic puddle of accomplishments does not set you apart and get you notice. It makes you just like everyone else.
Among the first things you want to address in your application materials and essay is an acknowledgement of the foundation, business or organization that is offering the scholarship and a statement of your belief in what they do. The likelihood of an organization giving a scholarship to a candidate who expresses viewpoints antithetical to its purpose or mission is extremely small. The National Rifle Association will not give a scholarship to an gun control activist; the Democratic National Committee is not handing out money to young Republicans; and Tall People International is not paying for short people’s tuition (or vice versa). That’s just the way it is. So, very early on in your essay and materials, let the committee know that you are aware of your audience, what they do and that you agree with them (even if you don’t; you’ll just have to be creative if you want their money).
One helpful way to think of it is that the recipients of scholarships become, essentially, spokespeople for the awarding organization — like Jared from Subway. The foundation will want to know that you are firmly on their bandwagon, waving their flag and heralding the good deeds of the business or organization. In fact, many scholarships are tailored to those students that the organization believes will have the most impact on behalf of the organization’s goals. The lucrative ($5,000 annually) National Potato Council scholarship is one such example. The award goes to a student who is doing work that “directly enhances the potato industry.” So, when you are working on the application, be sure that you pay attention to the stated purpose of the scholarship itself and address how you will help to fulfill that purpose.
Paying attention to these details will help move you forward in the process. Many applicants who do nothing but create a scholarship mill at the dining room table, mailing off generic applications with generic essays are putting in a lot of work and effort (but clearly not enough) for, essentially, nothing. Acknowledging the organization and the reason for its existence, and your belief in it, will help convince the scholarship committee that you are applying for reasons more noble than money (for love and advancement of the lowly potato, e.g.), even if you are solely motivated by lucre. Tailoring your application materials and essay toward the ultimate purpose of the scholarship itself will help to demonstrate to the committee that you will be an excellent addition to the organization’s “team” — one who will be an exemplary representative of its purposes and goals and will help the group expand its impact in the world.
Once you’ve managed to sell the organization on itself, and on the fact that you know who they are, what they believe in and what their scholarship is all about, you can set to convincing them that you are the unique person that they want to give the scholarship to. In the final post of this series, we’ll talk about how to do just that.