4 Tips to Stand Out on College Scholarship Applications

4 Tips to Stand Out on College Scholarship Applications

Heading to college? You likely have one big question on your mind – how am I going to pay for it? If you’re like many students, the financial aid you receive from your college won’t cover the full cost of enrollment, and you may need to apply for scholarships to help cover the gap. But with this being the case for students, another question may arise – how do I make my scholarship application stand out?

For 25 years, we at PSECU have offered a company-sponsored scholarship program – the PSECU Scholarship – for graduating high school seniors.  While each sponsor may be looking for something slightly different, we’ve compiled some of our best tips below on what makes scholarship applications stand out to us in the hopes that it’ll help you on your own scholarship application path.

1. Provide clear, concise explanations.

In addition to gathering academic information, our scholarship application requires students to submit a list of their top 10 extracurricular activities and awards. Examples include school clubs participation, volunteer experiences, and jobs.

If you’re asked to complete a similar task, keep this in mind – while you’re very familiar with the clubs that you’re in, we as application reviewers aren’t. Be prepared to give a clear explanation of what the club does. For example, don’t just list Mini-THON and say you were a student leader. Tell us what that means. What is the mission of the organization? What concrete tasks were you responsible for?

When writing your explanation, also keep in mind that those of us reading the applications often have many to review in a short period of time. So, on top of being clear, it’s important that you’re concise. Rather than writing multiple detailed paragraphs about your involvement, think of it as an elevator pitch for your involvement in that club or organization and cut out any “fluff.”

2. Make it meaningful and authentic.

Another key component of our scholarship application, like many scholarship programs, is an essay. Regardless of the prompt, which may vary by year, our hope is to get a glimpse into who the applicant is as a person – something that’s impacted them, something that’s important to them, a learning experience that’s shaped them, etc.

One of the most common mistakes we see is applicants who have tried to search for an answer to the prompt online. We can usually tell this is the case when we repeatedly see the same statistic or quote used in the opening paragraph. This removes the personal feeling from the essay and makes it challenging to differentiate it from other submissions.

Another common mistake is weighing the essay down with statistics. While data is a powerful tool, including too much in lieu of personal experience can lose the impact on the reviewer. Instead of writing your essay like a research paper (unless you’ve been asked to do so), look for opportunities to weave these details throughout the personal story you’re trying to tell.

Of course, as with all things, there’s a necessary balance. While we want to hear about what made an experience or event meaningful to you, we also want you to be authentic. Try not to make sweeping emotional statements (i.e. “This was life changing,” without including why) or say what you think we want to hear (i.e. “Financial literacy is the most important thing to me,” without explaining the impact).

3. Don’t forget the basics.

No matter how well you balance data and emotion, or how clearly you explain your club participation, there are a few basic things you need to do for your scholarship application to stand out in the right ways.

  • Follow the prompts – One mistake we see often is students trying to reuse an essay they’ve written for a different college or scholarship application. While there’s nothing wrong with repurposing your own unique work, it takes some intentional effort to make it fit each application. Don’t just change the introduction or tack one new sentence onto the end. Ask yourself if what you’re submitting answers the question you’ve been asked, and if not, adjust it accordingly.
  • Check for typos – Perhaps the most important of the basic rules to follow is to check for grammar and spelling mistakes. Even the most beautifully written essay is blemished by an easily avoidable typo. Attention to these details is crucial and shows pride in the work you’re submitting.
  • Have someone else review your application – Before you click submit, ask a trusted family member, friend, or teacher to review your application. You can become blind to your own mistakes when you’ve stared at them for too long. Having a fresh set of eyes review your work can help catch errors and ensure your work is clear.

4. Watch for important deadlines.

Pay close attention to deadlines not only for the application itself, but also for any criteria you need to meet. For example, if an application is due at 12 p.m. ET (noon), that means that you don’t have the whole day to submit the application, so you’ll want to have it done before you begin school that day or in advance.

Additionally, make sure you meet any eligibility requirements prior to beginning the application process.

To learn more about the PSECU Scholarship and how you can apply, visit psecu.com/scholarships.

The content provided in this publication is for informational purposes only. Nothing stated is to be construed as financial or legal advice. Some products not offered by PSECU. PSECU does not endorse any third parties, including, but not limited to, referenced individuals, companies, organizations, products, blogs, or websites. PSECU does not warrant any advice provided by third parties. PSECU does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information provided by third parties. PSECU recommends that you seek the advice of a qualified financial, tax, legal, or other professional if you have questions.