Thursday, November 20, 2008

Winning Scholarships

**Before reading this blog, I suggest you check out the previous posts on this topic:
Scholarships Equal Free Money
Finding Scholarships

So now that you know to which scholarships to apply, here's my final installment on how to make the application process stress-free and rewarding.

A typical scholarship application consists of the following: a logistics section (name, address, school, etc.), an activities/volunteer section, and an essays section. Of course, every scholarship will differ on application requirements.

Tip 1: If you've already done some college applications, then the activities section should be simple. Be sure to make special mention to activities that are relevant to the scholarship. For example, if the scholarship awards students based on the community service activities, then embellish your volunteer work rather than discuss debate club.

Tip 2: Recycle your essays. Scholarship committees (the people judging your application) won't know that you submitted a similar essay to them, other scholarships, or colleges. The essay topics more often than not are similar (see Essays - Choosing a Topic). Additionally, these essays will be your most polished ones, because you're constantly revising and reusing them. I used a version of my common app essay for four different scholarships that I won! This technique greatly reduces the amount of time needed to apply.

An important caveat: An essay topic you SHOULD NOT reuse, however, is the typical "Why do you deserve this scholarship?" question. Make these as personalized to the organization as possible. State character traits and cite experiences that would appeal to the committee.

Tip 3: Cater to the scholarship committee. Remember, these are real people reading your application. They LOVE to see students with an abundance of volunteer hours and substantial community service. In your essays, be sure to sound human. The people in these committees were not English majors at Harvard. Use natural language, but sound articulate; showcase your accomplishments, but remain modest.

Tip 4: The success to winning scholarships is volume. Apply to each and every scholarship you can, even if you're not fully qualified. Committee's don't get as many applications as one would think, and generally the more you apply to the better chance you have winning.

Tip 5: IMPORTANT: You don't have to have a 4.0 GPA, be the valedictorian of your class, or a nationally ranked athlete to win (although it doesn't hurt). You should however, have active participation in extracurricular activities and community service. Some scholarships, especially those in the community, love to see all students take initiative in their future.

Good luck in your applications! ~Sohan


  1. Hi Sohan,

    I am in my last year of high school, so I have began to narrow down my career choices and also I've been thinking about my college options. Oh, by the way I live in Mexico. That tiny (sarcasm)is my biggest concern. I am not as educated as perhaps many americans about how the admissions to colleges work. Here in Mexico, there are some nice universities like for example Tecnologico de Monterrey. There I've studied my high school (here we call it Preparatoria)and it's not bad, but I have greater expectations. I am the youngest in my family, I have two older brothers. They are both studying Industrial Engineering at Tecnologico de Monterrey.

    One of the main advantages that studying in the US is that there are more career options than in Mexico. As I mentioned before, I have began considering my career choices. I am thinkig of perhaps Chemical, Biomedical or Nuclear Engineering. I love math, science, chemistry and all of those kinf of subjects.

    I've read some of your prior discussions, and they all mention their scores at numerous tests. I have had really good grades all my life. Here in Mexico, we don't measure our grades with letters, instead we do it with a scale from 1 to 100. My average score would be around the 98 and 99.

    I love learning new languages. I am currently at my seconf year studying mandarin.

    One of my biggest concerns, is that everyone mentions community service. In elementary school, we had to complete 24 hours. Now, in high school we do like 15 hours per semester. I know that is nothing compared to what most americans do. I regret not doing more community service, especially because I love dogs and I know I could have done more for them.

    Mmm, I've played tennis for about 4 years but due to an injury I haven't practice it for about a year and a half. I am now fine.

    We'll that's kind of a summary of myself. Some of the questions that I have and I hope you could answer for me are:

    What tests do I have to take? the SAT'S?
    Also, I am aware that colleges are way more expensive in the US than in Mexico, so can my good grades help me get a merit scholarship?
    I've been thinking in practicing again tennis, because I was king of good, could tennis help me get a scholarship?
    When do you have to apply to colleges?
    I will love to study at Stanford, but perhaps that's too ambicious. Can you recommend some of the top ranked Engineering colleges?
    Do you think, I could get accepted?

    Thanks for taking your time.
    ake care.

  2. Sorry hahaha I think I ate some letters.

  3. Hey Paola,

    I'm glad you're pursuing engineering; it's one of the most respectable career paths in my unbiased (haha) opinion. Also, you're on the right path for seriously considering universities in the states. I know many international students who found substantially more career opportunities in the states than abroad.

    You sound really bright and motivated, so don't exclude yourself from Stanford just yet.

    Also, don't worry about your seeming lack of community service; it only helps to have more. I did much less than 15 hours / semester, but if you enjoy it, then you still have time this year to do more.

    Continue to pursue tennis if it's fun for you. Unless you're the best in your state or region or some significant subset of kids larger than your school, don't aim for a scholarship. You have a high grade point average and the motivation to learn new languages, so it sounds like academics are your strong suit. Also, at each school there are maybe twnety spots for tennis players each year, if that, while there are thousands of spots for acceptances based on academic merit.

    Sports scholarships are extremely difficult to get at good universities. You have a fair shot at scholarships based on academic merit if the school provides it. Also, some universities give financial aid to international students if you need it. Again, not all universities have the same policies.

    As far as the actual admissions process is concerned, you need to do research on each individual school. Universities in general have similar requirements, but each one is slightly different. If you have the financial means, I recommend applying to as many top tier universities as possible, as well as some middle tier and safety schools.

    I spoke to my roommate this summer who is from Peru for some advice on international admissions. Again, you need to check the actual college's site for specific admission requirements. You will need to take the SATs, and an English as a second language test, like the TOEFL.

    You also need to start looking at these applications and requirements now, because some of the standardized tests require lots of preparation. You also need to sign up in advance for some things.

    Different schools are the best at different fields of engineering. You can search google for the best chemical engineering schools. All around top quality engineering schools include Stanford, UC Berkeley, MIT, Caltech, Georgia Tech, Cornell University, Carnegie Melon, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, etc. Again, google is your friend here.

    I HIGHLY recommend checkout out the forums at College Confidential. There, you will find advice on absolutely everything by people who have more experience than I. For starters, the international forum will be helpful: I can spend hours perusing that site, and I wish I knew about it while applying to colleges. Also check out the College Admissions, SATs, and Ivy League forums.

    Please feel free to keep me updated and ask me for more details on anything.