Scholarship Application Tips from Dr. Susan Thurman

Friday, October 16, 2015
Yale University Landscape Universities Schools

NSHSS Scholarship Director, Dr. Susan Thurman, offers up some helpful tips for students applying for scholarships. These tips are relevant to students applying for any scholarship, whether one of our NSHSS scholarships, one of our NSHSS Foundation scholarships, or a scholarship through another organization.

Most scholarship applications involve three parts, a resume, an essay, and recommendation letters. Dr. Thurman offers tips on tackling all three of these components. The most important tip to remember throughout the Scholarship application process, and also the college application process, is to PROOFREAD everything!

Preparing your Resume

Create a list of all your accomplishments starting with the most recent ones. Try to keep your resume to one page.

CONTACT INFORMATION: Be sure your contact information is up to date, with address, telephone, email and current school.

ACADEMICS: Begin with academics: GPA, academic awards, Dean’s list, math bowl champion, etc.

LEADERSHIP ACTIVITIES: Officer positions in clubs and organizations, leadership conferences, captain of athletic teams, etc.  Leadership doesn’t have to mean being the head of a club.  Actions, not titles, make leaders.

EXTRA-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES: Music, sports, clubs/organizations, hobbies, academic camps, employment, internships, etc.

COMMUNITY SERVICE: Include volunteer activities, including dates

REFERENCES: Include a line that says, References available upon request. If you do wish to include references, be sure to ask for permission from your references and make sure that you have the correct spelling and contact information.
Note: In most cases do not include activities and awards prior to high school (unless you have achieved something truly remarkable, such as winning the National Geography Bee, or founding a charity at a young age).


Preparing your Scholarship Essay

FOLLOW DIRECTIONS: Abide by the essay’s guidelines. If an essay has a maximum of 500 words, writing 1,000 words will not give you an edge over other applicants.

STICK TO THE TOPIC: Don’t try to force an essay you have previously used into a topic that doesn’t fit.

BE SPECIFIC: Include plenty of details; don’t generalize.

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY: If you plan to write about your extracurricular experiences, it is better to have thrown yourself into all opportunities afforded to members in 1-2 clubs or organizations than to have merely been listed as a member in 3-4 clubs or organizations.

READ ALOUD: Reading your essay aloud helps you determine how your essay will read to its reviewers.

SEEK 2ND AND 3RD OPINIONS: Share your essay with your parent or guardian. Then, run it by a friend or a mentor for a more objective opinion without familial bias.

BE CREATIVE: Don’t bore the scholarship committee. Imagine if you were reviewing hundreds of essays, what would make YOUR essay stand out from the rest. Feel free to use quotes, historical and current event references, or even pop culture references. Be YOU! 

How to ask for Recommendation Letters


  • Find an educator with whom you can discuss your extracurricular activities, college aspirations, other classes, etc.
  • Provide your recommender with all of the information they will need to prepare and submit your recommendation.
  • Read the application requirements carefully – an application may have a limit of one recommendation, may allow more than one, or may require more than one.
  • Make sure to give your educator friendly reminders weeks before your scholarship deadline.
  • Give thanks! Surprise them with a hand-written thank you card (not an email or social media post!).
  • Maintain communication.


  • Ask for a recommendation at the last minute. 
  • List someone as a recommender or reference without their knowledge.
  • Skimp on the information they need to prepare and submit the recommendation.
  • Take it personally if the educator is not able to prepare a recommendation for you.

NSHSS Scholarships

NSHSS offers members rewarding scholarships and opportunities for high school, college and beyond.
Visit for scholarship descriptions, details and deadlines.

Apply for scholarships in your member dashboard.

Keep your email address updated in your member profile to continue to receive scholarship information.

See more National Society of High School Scholars scholarships through the NSHSS Foundation.