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Six months to success: how to become a better scholarship candidate

Students rarely receive feedback about why they were eliminated from a scholarship competition. This is a shame because I see so many candidates who are close, but then another candidate rises to the top and edges them out. If I could personally coach these students, I would ask them to invest in themselves for six-months to become a better scholarship candidate. Here is the pledge I would ask them to take:

As a hopeful scholarship candidate, I pledge:

  • To improve my grade point average and increase it to the next quarter-point increment. For example, if you have a 2.93, you should try to achieve a 3.0; and if you have a 3.19, you should try to achieve a 3.25. Why? Because eligibility thresholds for scholarships are often based on a minimum grade point average and those minimums are usually set at quarter-points: 2.5, 2.75, 3.0, 3.25, 3.5, etc. If you can make it to the next level, then more scholarship opportunities are available.
  • To stop wasting my time searching aimlessly for scholarships on the Internet and to subscribe to at least two free scholarship search engines. Why? Because there are companies that provide high-quality databases with free matching services, such as Scholarships.com or Fastweb.com, based on your student profile and using them will save you time. Another reason is that you can see what types of information are expected across multiple applications. It’s much more efficient than surfing the ‘net hoping you will find something.
  • To network with professionals in my chosen career or future career, formally and informally. Why? Informally, you should build your social network in your chosen field because not every opportunity is listed in the scholarship search engines and much information is still shared by word-of-mouth. Formally, you should join student groups or student chapters of professional associations, locally or nationally, so you are connected to the mechanisms through which many scholarship opportunities are funded, announced and awarded. Also, if scholarship judges look at your activities, they will see that you are serious about making an impact in your industry and that your activities are aligned with your career goals. As an added bonus, you can start to build relationships with people who may be able to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf, alert you when new opportunities arise, or help you find an internship or job in the field.
  • To get involved in my community, campus or cause-related organization, as a member, volunteer or leader. Why? Because scholarship providers are charitable organizations and they increasingly expect scholarship candidates to contribute their time and talent through service learning, volunteering or taking leadership roles.  If you don’t do this, you should know that most of your competition does, and it is viewed favorably. To be clear, not every provider requires this or asks about it, but you don’t want a weakness in this area to hold you back when you are being compared to the competition.
  • To only submit my best work and never accept less from myself when submitting applications. Why? Because too many students are submitting mediocre work.  They don’t follow the directions, don’t proofread, skip sections of the application, forget to send required attachments and send other unnecessary materials. If you follow the directions, proofread three times, complete the entire application, fully answer the questions that are asked of you, and send all, but only, the required materials—you will stand out! You need to be the best that you can be.  I share this quote with all of my scholarship-seeking students:  “Invest in the best or no one else will.” – Kim Stezala, The Scholarship Lady

As you make this pledge, I realize that you are probably juggling family, school, work, and other commitments, but top scholarship candidates have found a way to do this through good time management, and you can too