Student Must-Haves for Scholarship Success

How to express what makes you unique and convince the organization you're the right recipient.

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What materials should high school students focus on for scholarship success? How do most scholarship organizations get to know their applicants? Scholarship organizations have the tough job of deciding whom to bestow financial aid upon. NerdScholar recently did a Scholarship Study in which 5,865 verified private scholarships were analyzed. With this data, NerdScholar looked into what materials scholarship organizations requested the most:

1. Transcript. The most requested item is the transcript. More than anything, since these scholarships are meant to make education more affordable, most scholarship organizations want to verify their candidate is a good student.

2. Essays. This is the next best thing to actually interviewing students for scholarship organizations. Here is where scholarship organizations really get to see what students think. Often these essays inquire about goals for the future, what students would do with the reward money, general personal statements, or questions on a topic relating to the organization.

3. Letters of reference. Probably one of the strongest indicators of character is not what the students say about themselves but what their role models say about them. As such, letters of reference are another way of getting to know a student, but through someone else’s eyes. A community leader or teacher vouching for a student means someone of strong standing in the community is willing to put their reputation on the line for this student.

Tips for students:

Based on the three most-requested items, here are some tips:

1. Break through the first hurdle: grades. Before all else, because transcripts are the No. 1 most-requested item, students should apply themselves early on in the classroom. Grades aren’t everything, but they certainly play a role in how scholarship organizations choose their winners. Keep in mind: If freshman year was a bit rough, it’s OK; seeing grades improve shows a willingness to try hard and that you’ve put in a lot of effort into learning from your mistakes.

2. Commit yourself to an activity. Essays can be difficult—especially the ones requested by scholarship organizations. They require often introspection and citation of real-life examples that reinforce your perspective. If all you’ve done is bury your nose in a book and sit in front of a TV, you won’t have many experiences to build off of. What are you interested? Join a club at school and get involved in extracurricular activities.

3. Get to know those higher up. It is not manipulative to target teachers or counselors and build a relationship with them; a letter of recommendation is only a side benefit to how these people can support your growth. These leaders are invaluable to have on your team because they can provide mentorship and opinions as you make critical decisions about your future. This may be a difficult task for the shyer students, but remember your teachers, counselors and community leaders are there to help. You just have to take the first step and get to know them—or, rather allow them to get to know you.

March awards the highest amount of financial aid, with over $3.5 million on the table for students. The time is now to polish those essays and letters of recommendation. The goal of a scholarship application is for the organization to get an accurate picture of who you are and why you’re the right recipient. These organizations want to get to know you as an individual. Remember to express what you believe makes you unique, and ask for letters of recommendation from others who know you are unique. Best of luck and ready, set, apply!

Rachel Ny is a strategy analyst for the Education and Financial Literacy team for NerdScholar, a personal finance website with a scholarship search tool that has scholarships for Hispanics, scholarships for women and more.