Dr. Susan Thurman, former NSHSS Scholarship Director, provides essential tips for students applying for scholarships. Her advice covers the three key components of most applications: resume, essay, and recommendation letters. A crucial reminder for both scholarship and college applications is to meticulously proofread all documents.
Preparing Scholarship Essays
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 written into a topic that doesn’t match.
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.
Quality over quantity
Focus on depth, not breadth. Immerse yourself in 1-2 clubs or organizations, rather than joining multiple superficially.
Include plenty of details; don’t generalize.
Stand out from the crowd! Don't bore the scholarship committee. Be unique, use quotes, references, and be yourself.
Preparing your resume
Be sure your contact information is up to date, with address, telephone, email and current school.
Begin with academics: GPA, academic awards, Dean’s list, math bowl champion, etc.
Include volunteer activities. Don't forget to list dates of service activities.
Music, sports, clubs/organizations, hobbies, academic camps, employment, internships, etc.
Make it memorable! Be yourself, use quotes, references, and stand out from the crowd. References available upon request, with permission obtained beforehand.
Keep in mind
Highlight high school achievements. Exclude pre-high school activities unless they're exceptional (e.g., National Geography Bee win, early charity founding).
Leadership is about actions, not titles. It's not just holding club officer positions or being a team captain. True leaders demonstrate their abilities through their actions.
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.