What You Must Do For Successful Scholarship Applications

General Success Tips for Scholarship Applicants

The number of applicants seeking some form of financial aid on the international level has witnessed a steep increase in the last few years. For any scholarship opening that is called, scholarship grantors and providers receive hundreds of thousands, and in many cases millions, of applications.

In view of huge cost implications for both grantors and applicants, formal interviews or personal discussions become 'near-impossible'. With this one all-important fact in mind, it becomes extremely important that your application MUST STAND OUT from the mammoth crowd in an exceptional way to get selected for the next stage of the scholarship selection process.

In addition to a previous article on Tips for Study Overseas, we now provide a deeper insight into how to apply successfully for the various, but extremely limited, scholarships available.

A). First and Foremost - Be careful but proactive!

Watch out for scholarship scams
Students and parents are defrauded by scholarship scams every year. The golden rule is 'Never pay for a scholarship search.' There is never a good reason to pay for a scholarship search. The information you will need is ALWAYS available for free.

Get complete scholarship information
Each scholarship has its own application procedure. It is important to read the materials carefully and to understand what information is requested. Make sure you get as much information about the scholarship as possible.

If necessary, write, call or e-mail the provider to ensure you have full details of application procedures and what will be expected of the applicants. If scholarship entails a particular project, find out the full objectives and intended methodology of the project. If it is funded by a private enterprise, gather as much information as you can about the company, its philosophy and its goals. You can never have too much information.

Make sure you are eligible
Apply only for those scholarships for which you are eligible. It is highly doubtful that you will be awarded if you are not eligible for a scholarship. Check thoroughly to ensure that you are actually eligible for the scholarship before you embark on the application process.

It is pointless to submit an application, no matter how perfect it may be, for a scholarship for which you are ineligible. Check for any gender, age, nationality, indigenous or other special group restrictions on applications and only apply if you definitely match the eligibility criteria. If in doubt, check first.

B). Core facts before and during scholarship applications

People who will judge your application do not know you.
They will just get a bunch of dates and numbers and little personal information. Even grades might be difficult to judge if they do not know how yours compare to those of students in their local education system. Therefore, try to make as much of the more “personal” information as possible including your academic transcripts (but quality counts more, not quantity!).

Take time to write about “research experience” and “scientific interests.
Provide adequate reasoning as to why you want to study a particular course and state your motivation in your own words. Marketing yourself is the key for a successful application.

Watch it...do not overdo it!
It is interesting to see applications from potential Nobel-prize candidates wishing to start a Masters/PhD thesis, but not even big leaders will buy this. After all, people don’t expect you to know everything before you have even started your PhD. What most group leaders are looking for are smart and open young people who show some enthusiasm for science and research or any other area you are applying for scholarships.

Support applications with scores of standard internationally valid exams
This is especially true if you are applying from a country whose diverse educational system might not be very familiar to group leaders (e.g. China, India, Africa, etc).

Though this may NOT be mandatory in all cases, we encourage you to support your candidature with scores of internationally recognized and valid exams (for example, GRE for aptitude and TOEFL or IELTS for English). Again, this is NOT mandatory in all cases.

C). Prepare resume / CV

Some scholarship applications ask for your resume or CV. If you worked previously list your experiences, but do not sweat if you do not have much (or any!) work experience - many students don’t. If you do have, use it to point out awards and honors you’ve received, community service you’ve been involved with, and activities you’ve participated in.

Activities and Honors
List all relevant activities and honors, but be selective. If you have more activities than can fit in the space provided do not include the ones that are not significant; the two days you spent last year on a community clean-up day, for instance may not be significant.

What do the grantors want?
This is extremely important! What do the scholarship grantors require in an applicant?

Read the eligibility and criteria for selection carefully to understand what the reviewers are looking for. For instance, unlike the Nigerian Presidential Special Scholarship Scheme (PRESSID) which mostly looks for applicants who “have obtained First Class Honours degree from any recognized and approved university”; the Canadian International Leader of Tomorrow (ILOT) Scholarships seek applicants who not only demonstrate "exceptional level of academic achievement" but also show “superior extracurricular achievement and leadership ability,” so for this latter scholarship include your volunteer and community service activities, emphasizing those in which you took a leadership role. In the former, these are NOT important.

Most importantly, your activities should represent your varied talents and passions outside the class room. The reviewers are trying to get a sense of who you are and what you believe in. Make sure your activities reflect that.

Carefully choose your referees.
Make sure the referee/s know/s you well enough (e.g. from undergraduate work in his lab, multiple lectures, seminars, etc.) to give an opinion about you and write something on your behalf. This may be better than trying to get a letter from a “big fish” who might have seen your face but does not know much about you and thus does not need to have an interest in providing you with a good reference.

D). The ideal letter of recommendation

Your letters of recommendations should come from teachers or academic advisors who are familiar not only with your academic abilities, but with your personal interests and background and how those relate to your ability to carry out the program of study you wish to pursue. If the teacher or academic advisor is familiar with your extracurricular activities and leadership abilities, he/she should also incorporate that into the letter.

The letters should address the qualifications sought. Recommenders should address only those elements of your application on which they can comment on confidently.

How to ask for a letter of recommendation
Start early. Discuss your plans with your recommenders now, before the application is even available. Let them know what you would like to study and why you want to apply for the scholarship. These discussions can help you clarify your goals and plans as well.

As soon as you have the application forms (applications for incoming freshmen scholarships are usually available on the websites of individual schools or other scholarship awarding body), schedule a meeting with your recommender.

Give your recommender a written description of the scholarship and a copy of your personal statement and proposed academic program. You may also want to provide a copy of your transcript and an autobiography or resume highlighting activities and honors. You should also give your recommenders appropriately addressed envelopes with postage, if necessary.

Be sure to also give them plenty of time to write the letter, do not wait until the last minute.

You may also want to remind the recommender that they should include your FULL NAME with middle initial. You would be surprised on how many include only the first name of the student within the body of the letter.

E). The personal statement / statement of purpose

The Statement of Purpose (often called “letter of intent” or “application essay” by various educational institutions) is one of the most important components of your application process. This document provides the admissions committee with information that allows them to become more acquainted with who you are, what you want to study at graduate school and why, experiences you have had in the field, and what you plan on doing with the degree once you have mastered it. A statement of Purpose also serves as a writing sample and interview.

The following section is an excerpt from the Yale University Undergraduate career Services’ publication entitled Applying for Fellowships:
“The personal statement presents an opportunity for you to speak about yourself. Your essay should show that you have ideas and opinions, are able to think logically, and can express yourself clearly, with economy and elegance.

Clear writing is the result of clear thinking. The first and most important task is to decide what you want to say. This is a short essay. You must be highly selective. Consider carefully what you wish to impress upon the reader. Remember the nature of your audience. It is composed of people who are probably as intelligent as you are, well educated, and vastly experienced in this work. Do not try to fool or second guess your reader; you will seem silly if you do. Do not write in a cute, coy, or gimmicky style: selection committees have heard it all already. Do show that you have thought deeply and broadly about what you have learned in your academic career and what you hope to learn next.

When you have written a first draft, start the work of refining, simplifying, and polishing. Do you say exactly what you mean? Is any section, sentence, or word superfluous, ambiguous, or awkward?

Are your verbs strong and active? Have you removed unneeded qualifiers? Are you sure that each accomplishment and interest you mention supports one of your main ideas? Do not apologize. Do not misrepresent yourself. You are writing as an adult who wishes to join the community of scholars and other professionals. You must write as a peer and potential member of such a community.

Correctness and style are vital. Neatness counts. Check and check again your spelling, the agreement of verbs and persons, syntax. Your thoroughness demonstrates that you have learned and mastered this art and that your future teachers and colleagues will not be troubled with sloppy thinking or writing.

Ask several individuals whose judgment you respect to read and criticize a draft of your essay. Possible reviewers include faculty members, writing tutors, and friends who can assess how well your essay represents you.”

F). Transcripts

If the application requires a transcript from all the schools you have attended, request this information as soon and as early as possible. Whether you e-mail, fax, or call in your requests, mail a letter as a backup.

Some schools charge a nominal fee for official transcripts. After a few weeks have passed, call the schools to ensure that the transcripts have been sent to the proper address. If by chance you have to hand-deliver a transcript, do not tamper with the seal - this may render the transcript invalid.

G). Proof-read your application carefully

Use your computer’s spelling and grammar check features. Let someone else (a parent, teacher, or friend) read and evaluate your application, another set of eyes always helps.

H). Finally, on that your dream scholarship...

With the current 'sea' of applications currently witnessed with each scholarship call, no scholarship can be gotten by any applicant who simply and lackadaisically submits an application lightly. The stakes are simply too high for that.

If you've taken your time, and following the steps above, painstakingly gone through every important detail to apply to that dream scholarship of yours, then chances are you stand a very high possibility of being awarded it successfully. Goodluck in your pursuits.

Article written and published on Study & Scholarships 10th June, 2009.
Rewritten 25th October 2013. All rights reserved. Do not copy.

Related: Other Scholarship Tips for International Students


  1. thanks men it was very help full

  2. Regular scholarship applicants who have consistently failed to get any real scholarship awarded them over time should read this.
    This article should have been more properly labelled "How to Win the Scholarship of Your Dream" or "The Secret to Successful Scholarship Applications"

    1. Hey @Kool T,

      Nice of you to bring that to our attention. About the topic you sent me an email about, we're working on it and would soon publish.

      Thanks, very greatly appreciate all your constructive corrections, input and help on the site.

      With warm regards. Cheers!