The application process for national scholarships can be lengthy and involved. Planning ahead and staying organized while making your application as distinctive as possible are key ingredients to producing a successful application. The following guidelines should assist you before, during, and after filing the written application.
- Identify—Identifying scholarships can be one of the most important parts of the successful scholarship search. A well-defined search can be invaluable. The best and cheapest way to run a scholarship search is to find a good, reliable scholarship search engine. This means finding scholarships that are best suited to who you are, both as a student and as a person. Two questions you should ask yourself: for whom are the scholarship selectors looking? Is the scholarship worth the time I will spend on it?
- Decide which scholarships are best suited to your academic interests, career goals, geographical preferences, and financial circumstances. If your chosen scholarships have application deadlines within two weeks of each other, pare down your choices to no more than three. You may not be able to prepare, with the required care, more than three application packets simultaneously.
- Eligibility—Check your eligibility. Be certain that you meet all the requirements. Each scholarship website provides a section on this issue.
- Application—Obtain the application as early as possible. Most can be downloaded from the website for that scholarship. Some may have to be obtained from the Honors Program office or the particular faculty advisor for that scholarship. For some (although this is rare) you will have to write to the organization to request an application. Make sure you get the application as soon as possible, print it out, and read it thoroughly. Make notes. Begin to derive a checklist from it.
- Deadlines—Highlight all application deadlines on all your calendars. Enter alerts in your calendar on the days one week and two weeks prior to the final deadline. Notice whether the final deadline is for postmark on or receipt of the application package. Most applications are online.
- Checklist—Develop a checklist of requirements for each scholarship and a timeline for satisfying them, i.e. by what date you will have completed the first draft of your essay; by what date you will have contacted faculty in your universities of choice, by what date you will have formulated a program of study, and so on. Honor your timeline.
- Test Scores—Check to see whether your scholarship requires standardized test scores for the GRE, MCAT, LSAT and if so whether on the "subject" as well as on the "general" test.
- References—Strong letters of recommendation are extremely important for most scholarships. Establish relationships with your professors as early as possible in your academic career. When it comes time to apply for a scholarship, notify your referee as early in the process as possible so that she or he has adequate time to prepare a substantial, balanced, and sincere letter. Learn more about obtaining letters of recommendation.
- Resume—The purpose of the curriculum vitae or resume is to provide an appealing, easily readable snapshot of your life to date. It must be neat, clear, inviting, and just long enough to cover the essentials in an economical, streamlined, and efficient manner. Learn more about resume writing.
- Personal Essay—Begin drafting your personal essay or essays (some scholarships require more than one essay). Identify those who will read your draft and provide critical feedback. The personal essay is arguably the most important component of your application package. This means that much of your time and thought needs to go into it. Learn more about writing the personal essay.
- Transcript—When an application requires a transcript, be sure to mail it well before the deadline. Check to see whether an official or unofficial transcript is required. If an official transcript is required, you can have this arranged through the Office of the Registrar. Again, make sure that plenty of time is allotted for the transcript to arrive in time. Ordering official transcripts, like letters of recommendation, requires some advanced planning.
- Photographs—Some applications require photographs of scholarship candidates. These should be wallet-sized head and shoulders shots of professional quality.
- Voice Mail—Make sure your voice mail message is polite and professional and asks callers to leave a message.
- Revise—Revise your essay or essays again and again. Ideally, you will have several weeks to revise the essay(s). Allow yourself some breaks between revisions so that you can look at it with fresh eyes. Ask for feedback from your professors, advisors, and friends. Read the essay aloud and see how it sounds. Make sure your prose style is economical and interesting. Use your spell checker. Learn more about the personal essay.
- Read—Carefully read through all of the information on how to apply. Make sure you understand the specific procedures for each application (they vary from one scholarship to another). Follow these instructions to the letter. You do not want your application disqualified because of technical error. Read all of the fine print.
- Typing—All application materials should be typed.
- Completing Forms—Answer every question or complete every blank that is relevant to you on the application form. Limit yourself to the space provided unless you are specifically invited to expand elsewhere. Avoid the congested effect - packing too much into a limited space. Don't offer more or other than what's requested. If instructions read, "If applicable," and the question is not applicable, do not write "N/A." Just leave it blank.
- Titles—Use academic titles in listing academic referees: "Professor" not "Dr." For faculty with senior administrative appointments, use "Dean" (even if actually an "associate dean"), "Provost," "Chancellor," etc. Do not write, "Professor Jane Smith, Ph.D." If asked for fax and email contact numbers for your referees, be sure to supply them, along with addresses and telephone numbers.
- Order—Order any lists (employment, publications, travel, activities, etc.) from the most to the least recent.
- Sign and Date—Sign and date the form. Be sure you understand what your signature agrees to.
- Sign Photos—Sign the back of all copies of photograph, if required (as by Rhodes), but preferably not with a ball-point pen, since the impression will show through on the other side.
- Assemble—Assemble the components of your application in the order given in the instructions. Do not use staples, clips, plastic covers, or binders unless otherwise instructed.
What the essay should accomplish
The personal statement is one of the most critical components of the application. Why is this the case? Well, imagine yourself as one of the people sifting through hundreds fabulous applications –all with high GPA's, stellar community service, glowing letters of recommendation, and excellent internship or lab experience–and having to choose a small number of recipients from a large pool. It's like being in a candy store, or rather a gourmet chocolate shop; everything looks good and choosing is difficult. How would you choose? The personal statement is the place where you have a chance to add a distinguishing ingredient that makes your application one that cannot be refused. Here is where you make your individual mark by weaving your personal experiences with your professional aspirations.
The more you can picture yourself as a reader and not simply a writer of your essay, the more successful your essay will be. Below are some guidelines for writing the personal essay.
The anecdotal beginning
The personal essay should not simply regurgitate information already contained in the transcripts, resume, etc. It should present a picture of you as an individual. The best way to grab a reader's attention is with a personal story. You might begin with a defining moment from your past, a pivotal occasion, a revelatory experience, or an encounter that shaped or changed you and informed the direction you have taken.
Your academic objectives
Your personal anecdote should lead easily and logically into a description of your academic and professional objectives. In this description, you should define both the individual significance of your proposed work and its potential contribution to human well-being. Frame your project in terms of the current concerns within the discipline. How does your planned study or research extend or expand or enrich the field? How might it change understanding in the field? How will it address current limitations or repair current deficiencies or open new doors in the field? How does it reach beyond the field to affect the culture at large? Why is it important to do what you propose to do? And why is it important that you do it? Your plan of study should be detailed enough to demonstrate your serious investigation of the question but not so technical and specialized as to become boring.
Provide compelling academic reasons for your choice of institution and program.
It is useful to know something about the faculty you plan on studying with and their research interests. The strongest scholarship applications frequently cite encouraging correspondence from faculty in the program where you plan on studying.
The account of your qualifications should go beyond the data given on your resume. It might include, for example, evidence of any research skills or employment training relevant to your anticipated graduate studies. Advanced language skills, governmental internships, tutoring, editorial experience, emergency-room volunteerism, "shadowing" professionals, publishing and writing, travel, and similar activities may have distinctively formed you to pursue your chosen educational and professional paths. Make the most of these.
Your character, values, and work
As a whole, your essay should provide a clear sense of your human character. Your personal anecdotes, your objectives, and your qualifications should present a seamless picture of a unique individual with particular aspirations, values, as well as the talent to carry out these aspirations and values. Providing these seamless connections, however, is no easy task. This is why so much of your time should be spent on revision. Polish your essay as if it were a jewel. You need it to shine as brightly and deeply as possible.
Revise, Revise, Revise
Has this been emphasized enough? Important in the revision process is outside input. Do not be shy about asking professors, mentors, and friends for critical analysis of your draft. While the essay must be written by you - it is, after all, your essay - outside readers will provide important insight. Think about who you ask to read your draft. Make sure this person is interested in and capable of giving you valuable critical feedback, and not merely in praising you or shooting you down.
When revising your essay ask yourself and have your readers ask the following questions:
- Is the author someone I'd like to chat with?
- Does she understand where she's been and know where she's going?
- Do her plans make sense? Do they make sense for her?
- If I had the money, would I fund a scholarship to support these plans?
Title this document "Curriculum Vitae" (italicized as a foreign language phrase) or "Resume for [your name]."
Your school postal address should appear in the upper left hand corner of page 1; your permanent home address opposite in the upper right corner; include telephone numbers with area codes in both entries. Add your email address following your school address.
Set margins at 1". Use a standard, readable font (preferably Times New Roman), 12 point. Do not embellish with high-tech artwork or typography, or over-use bold or italics. Section headings may be in bold. Never combine bold, italics, and underlining.
Arrange your resume by categories, in descending order of importance to your audience. List entries in chronological order or in order of importance. Briefly describe activities that are not self-explanatory. Here is a possible order for a scholarship competition:
- Academic honors
- Research and publications (if any)
- Professional experience (including internships)
- Extra-curricular activities
- Community and volunteer service
- Language skills
- Special technical skills
- Athletic achievements
- Personal interests
Indicate any leadership roles, as appropriate, under these categories: evaluators are more interested in evidence of leadership than in memberships. Your activities should represent your varied talents and passions outside the classroom. Selectors want to get a sense of who you are and what you believe in. List all significant activities and honors, but be selective. The selectors are looking for sustained commitment (rather than two hours spent on a community clean-up). Be completely honest. If you list that you speak fluent French, for example, you’ll want to be able to converse with an interviewer in French.
The resume is not the place to feature your modesty, but screening committees recognize padding when they see it: straightforward description without self-promotion or false humility is ideal. Keep the resume to no more than two pages, if possible.
For further assistance with your resume, contact Career Services.
Letters should come from professors who are familiar not only with your academic abilities, but also with your personal interests and background, and how those relate to your potential success. Approach letter writers as soon as possible. Remember that professors and other instructors are quite busy and will need some time, usually a few weeks, to work on a good letter of recommendation. When you are approaching the recommender, discuss your plans and let them know what you hope to study and why you want to apply. These discussions may help you clarify your plans and will help reestablish your relationships with your recommenders. Provide them with a written description of the scholarship and copies of your personal statement, proposed academic program, transcripts and activities/honors list. Hand this material to them personally; do not leave it in their mailboxes.
Ideally, you'll have a letter from a full professor, known in his or her field, who knows you well. Students often ask if letters from graduate assistants are appropriate. The general consensus seems to be that letters from people who know you are more valuable than letters from well-known people who do not know you. The best strategy, however, is to cultivate relations with professors early on in your academic career. A mixture of letters from well-known and less well-known professionals would work better (depending on how many letters are required for the application). Non-academic letters should discuss your volunteer and/or leadership experience. Do not use letters from relatives or family friends.
Recommenders should address only those elements of your application on which they can comment confidently. Effective letters of recommendation are detailed, specific, and contextualize your achievements. It is helpful if the recommender can attest to the appropriateness of your proposed program or suitability to the award.
Supply your referee with a copy of your resume. Let them know where can be reached for answers to their questions. Direct them to websites with information on the scholarships for which you are applying. If these scholarships provide forms for referees, be sure that your referees have copies or know how to access them on the web. Know, and inform your referees in writing whether the completed reference letters are to be sent to you or to the scholarship foundation. Be sure that they understand whether the letter must be sent with a signature across the envelope seal. Above all, let them know the deadlines for submission. When requesting a recommendation, supply your referee with a stamped, self-addressed envelope if the letter is to be mailed. If it is not, supply a plain white, business-sized envelope of good quality paper. Remember to fill in those parts of the reference form that ask for your input; do not expect your referee to fill in this information about the candidate.
Approach letter-writers as soon as possible. Remember that professors and other instructors are quite busy and will need some time, usually a few weeks, to work on a good letter of recommendation. When you are approaching the recommender, discuss your plans and let them know what you hope to study and why you want to apply. These discussions may help you clarify your plans and will help reestablish your relationships with your recommenders. Provide them with a written description of the scholarship and copies of your personal statement, proposed academic program, transcripts and activities/honors list.
As stated before on this website, the application process for national scholarships is an involved process. Oftentimes, national scholarship competitions will require at least one face-to-face interview between the candidate and the selection committee. Getting an interview is a big step and a big deal. Not all applicants are invited to an interview. So if you get an interview, this means that your application has made it through the initial round of deliberations and is now part of a smaller pool of applicants. This is great! But while the competition pool is smaller, it is also stiffer. More preparation will be needed.
If you get an interview, you should know that it is a great honor, and you should be more excited and proud than stressed. But you will also need to "train" for the experience. An Honors Program staff member in Resource Center will help you prepare for the interview. Be sure to get in touch with us as soon as you find out so that, together, we can get you ready. Below you will find some brief guidelines to get you started for the interview preparation.
The interviewing committee will be interested in your capacity to engage in stimulating intellectual dialogue that reveals your capacity to reflect on a variety of topics and situations. The committee wants to see your mind working and experience a unique and active intellectual curiosity, whether it be about your topic of study, the country you propose to visit, or current world political affairs. Study your personal essay and be prepared to elaborate on what you've written in that essay. Try to anticipate what kinds of questions you might be asked on the basis of your personal statement. Know your current events and be prepared to talk about national and international affairs. The committee will not be interested in what view you hold, but they will want to get a sense of you as an informed, engaged person. Your views should be considered, measured, and well-thought-out. If you have applied for a study-abroad grant and claim to have proficiency in a language, be prepared to demonstrate that proficiency. You may also be asked more general questions such as, "Who was Cecil Rhodes?" "What are you currently reading?" or "Why have you chosen to study chemistry at Stamford (and not, for example, MIT)?" Do your best to anticipate what kinds of questions you might be asked.
Your attitude should be positive and polite, although you should not feel the need to temper your convictions and passion for your studies and life goals. Your responses to questions should be relatively brief: six to ten well-shaped sentences. If you find yourself drifting off into a tangent, stop yourself, let the committee know that you could elaborate further on the point later, and get back on track. You want to keep the committee interested and your goal is to answer the question both substantively and directly. If you are interrupted by an interviewer -- do not be thrown. Listen and respond calmly. Interruptions can be good indicators of how you conduct yourself in a high-level conversation, which is ultimately what the interview is modeled after.
Dress and Punctuality
Wear understated, professional dress and make sure you arrive with plenty of time to spare. Upon arrival, find a bathroom and check your appearance in a mirror. Every little detail counts and you do not want anything to detract from your talents and accomplishments.