This page provides advice on advance preparation in your scholarship hunt.
Some scholarships have prerequisites that require advanced
preparation. This can range from getting good grades in school and on
college entrance examinations, to building an impressive resume, to
completing a project or report.
This page is part of the section on maximizing your chances of
winning a merit scholarship.
- Well-rounded background. Colleges do not necessarily
want a well-rounded student so much as they want a diverse student
population. If every student at a school were well-rounded, it would
be uniformly dull.
It is far better to excel at a single activity than to be average at
several. If every applicant plays a musical instrument,
volunteers at the local hospital, and participates in a school sport,
there's nothing to distinguish one applicant from another.
You should certainly pursue hobbies and extracurricular
activities, but only if you are passionate about them. Selection
committees can easily distinguish students who pursued a hobby in
depth because they were deeply interested in the topic from those who
superficially participated in order to acquire a credential. The depth
of your interest in a field or endeavor will distinguish you from
other candidates. Quality is more important than quantity.
On the other hand, participating in a variety of activities can help
you develop new interests. Explore several possibilities, but focus on
those that you find the most interesting.
- Practice for the admissions tests. Buy a book of
practice admissions tests, and take them in a realistic setting. Score
them using the book's answer key, and use the scores to evaluate your
weaknesses. Take the practice ACT and/or SAT tests in the fall of your
junior year in high school, and actual tests in the spring of your
junior year and fall of your senior year.
- Ask for reviewer's comments. Some scholarship programs
will allow students to apply twice (e.g., once as a high school senior
and once as a college freshman, or once as a college senior and once
as a first year graduate student). If you didn't win the award the
first time, write a letter asking for a copy of the reviewer's
comments on your application. Some scholarship sponsors are willing to
provide you with a copy of the comments. These comments are often
quite specific. If you address the problems in your next application,
it can help you win. Seeing the comments can also help you improve
your future applications to other award programs.
A good example of this is the National Science Foundation Graduate
Fellowship. Students who were honorable mentions as college seniors
have won the NSF fellowship after fixing the problems noted in their