Scholarship Tips and Tricks: What Do Committees Look For?

Individual scholarship committees all have their own criteria by which they select and grant the recipients of the award money. Although there is not one uniform rubric that committees follow, there are some general qualifying guidelines that committee members like to see when reviewing scholarship applications. If you plan on applying for scholarship money, you should take these into consideration:

Organization and Attention to Detail

Organization and Detail In Your Scholarship ApplicationWhile not necessarily a make-or-break factor, most committees are more inclined to choose an applicant who presents an aesthetically pleasing application. In the interest of layout consistency and readability by your audience, it is best to submit a typed essay, as opposed to a hand written one. It is also important to remember to mark all your documents with identifying information (i.e. name, application ID number) and carefully label, title, and number each submitted page of your application.


Show How Your Accomplishments Go Above and BeyondBeing in a club or organization—extra-curricular and/or academic—is always an admirable activity worth adding to your application, but you’ll impress the scholarship committee even more by achieving significant accomplishments and/or holding rank within that organization or club. For instance, being a member of the local Young Leaders Group is a laudable involvement; however, being a co-chair or event director of your branch further demonstrates commitment, leadership and success, all of which are qualities of a deserving scholarship recipient.

Development and Congruence

Demonstrate Self Improvement By Learning New ThingsThe ideal applicant should demonstrate personal growth and betterment in all relevant aspects of their life. Actionable steps that show an applicant’s desire to improve upon themselves (i.e. continued education, tutoring etc.) are encouraged. If the applicant is already in the highest position they can hold in one area (i.e. top of their class, president or head chair of a group/club/team etc.) they must maintain this position throughout the duration of their involvement. Also, demonstrating consistency in their dedication to certain associations is preferred (i.e. maintaining a committed participation to one or a few groups over a period of time versus a string of short stints at multiple organizations).

Moral Principle and Integrity

Volunteer at Food DriveThis “qualification” cannot be specifically measured in any one way but can be exemplified through certain actions by the applicant. These actions are the kind that go above and beyond the call of duty, simply for the sake of doing something beyond expectation or requirement, and not necessarily motivated by personal gain. This could include tutoring at the local elementary school, getting involved at the Boys and Girls club, volunteering at a soup kitchen, organizing a neighborhood food drive etc.

Ambition and Exemplary Standards

Show Ambition and High Standards Through Good Grades and Study HabitsThis is determined by an applicant’s success in their academic progress and coursework, as shown in grade point averages and standardized test results, as well as positive affirmation of this success through letters of recommendation written by significant and relevant figures in the applicant’s life. Determination and ambition can be further explained in the essay portion of the application, where the applicant can choose to detail specific aspirations they plan to achieve or share a personal story of triumphing over past hardships.

Distinction of Character and Self-Reliance

Show Scholarship Committees That You Have a Distinct CharacterApplicants can show committee members that they possess these characteristics in a few different areas. The applicant’s general stylistic approach to the application as a whole will be one indicator of their distinct individuality. The essay or cover letter portion of the application is also another great place to set yourself apart from the rest of the applicants. Here, you can give a voice to your application—get creative, comedic, spontaneous, whatever you like—and really give committee members an idea of your unique character beyond your GPA and the list of extracurricular activities you’ve included. Self-reliance can be exemplified by having held down a job all throughout school or by starting your own small business (i.e. setting up a shop on Etsy, running a freelance event photography company, offering your technological skills in the form of a computer help/support service).

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Don't miss other great posts from our Scholarship Tips and Tricks series:

Scholarship Tips and Tricks: How to Improve Your Chances

Scholarship Tips and Tricks: Scholarship Myths Explained

And be sure to check out these great scholarship resources too!

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Start Writing Your Award-Winning Scholarship Essay Today!

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About the Author: Mackenzie Maher

Mackenzie Maher graduated in 2010 from the University of California at Santa Barbara with a BA in Global Studies and a minor in Professional Writing, with an editing emphasis. Mackenzie’s diverse portfolio also includes writing, editing, photography, and documentary script writing on such subjects as travel, career, and finance. Next to writing, she is most passionate about world travel (she has visited 24 countries).

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