Scholarship Finesse

How can you ensure your scholarship application stands out from the rest? Last month, in Swimming in Scholarships, we looked at the plethora of scholarships available to students through AU, AUSU, and external organizations. This week, we’ll examine how to give your application its best shot at producing that oh-so-sweet scholarship cheque.

Check your qualifications. When researching scholarships, carefully check the conditions of eligibility. A scholarship could be restricted to students in a specific program, or who live in a specified province. Applicants may need a minimum number of credits to be eligible, or to have achieved a certain GPA. Some scholarships are intended to assist students who face extra challenges like physical or mental disability. If you don’t meet all the conditions of eligibility, there is no point in spending any further time.

Give them what they want. Many scholarships require the applicant to provide an essay describing how they exemplify the intent of the award. Just like in an academic essay, make sure you are answering the right question. If the question is how your volunteer efforts having benefited your community, for example, then your essay should describe specific examples of the impact your actions had, not how you’ve grown from the experience. Writing counts here: use your best composition skills, edit carefully to eliminate typos and grammar mistakes, and keep within the specified word count. Short answer questions should be answered with the same level of care. Unless the application specifies that point form can be used, answer in full sentences.

Show, don’t tell. Any information you provide in your application should demonstrate how well you exemplify the purpose of the award, not just state that you do. And, no matter how wonderful you think you are, resist using exclamation marks to draw attention to it. If, on the other hand, you are uncomfortable expressing your positive attributes, enlist the help of a friend or family member for assistance with wording.

Get your sh*t together. Before you send off your application, check and double check that you have completed the application fully, and that you are including any supplementary documents required. Make sure you are sending the application package in the manner specified: some scholarship applications can be submitted online, while others may specify regular mail, e-mail, or fax.

don’t rush. Scholarship awards are all-or-nothing affairs. There are no part-marks?you either get the award or you don’t. Rushing to complete a merely adequate application is time well wasted. Check each scholarship’s deadline, and plan ample time to gather needed documents, compose required information or essays, and complete the application form. If the application must go by mail, consider investing in guaranteed delivery service, such as Xpresspost, to make sure it arrives on time.

For more tips on completing a successful scholarship application, check out the 3P’s (Plan, Prepare, and Prosper) at, as well as their Common Mistakes page. You’ll also find a whole section devoted to Tips on finding and applying for scholarships at

For scholarship advice and humour, pick up More Money for Beer and Textbooks, by Canadian authors Kyle Prevost and Justin Bouchard. For nine of their tips, check out this 2014 Maclean’s article. Sadly, this book is not available at the AU Library.

Scholarships are out there waiting for you. Improve your chances of success with careful planning and superb writing. A little finesse can give your scholarship application the boost it needs to land in the awarded pile.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario. Follow Barbara on twitter @ThereGoesBarb.