As part of virtually every scholarship application you put together, you’ll have to write an application letter. Your scholarship application letter is an opportunity for you to make an impression and separate yourself from the competition. Since the best applicants’ transcripts are often nearly identical, it’s likely that your scholarship application letter will break the tie between you and every other straight-A student in the country.
So, you want your letter to help you stand out. However, if you want to win a scholarship you need to stand out in good ways and not bad ways. It’s the bad ways I want to talk about here. Admissions Officers are often on the lookout for red flags, things you may let slip in your letter that will help them make the difficult decisions between who gets the big money and who gets a version of the home game.
Do Not Be Weird
Some students, especially the creative, artsy ones, look for alternatives to the standard application letter. Maybe you’re one of these students. Maybe you’re a writer or a wannabe writer, and you’ve been thinking of writing, say, a story or a poem instead of a regular, boring application letter.
This is a good idea only if you don’t want to win a scholarship.
Universities do not want to give money to weirdos. No offense, just facts. You might think writing an application letter cleverly disguised as a story about an ambitious young student excited about university is a great way to show the committee how different and unique you are, but it’s not. Rather, it’s a good way to show them that you don’t take university very seriously.
The other problem with creative letters is that they complicate a competitive field. Insofar as it’s possible, a selection committee wants to compare apples to apples. They want to compare your grade in Chemistry to someone else’s grade in Chemistry. They want to compare your two years as captain of the basketball team to someone else’s tenure as Student Council President. They do not want to compare someone else’s 100 hours of charity work to your ability to write a creative letter. Rather than try to quantify your cuteness, they will instead remove you from consideration.
Do Not Be Generic
Admissions Officers don’t just want you to know about you; they also want to know why you want to come to their school. It’s important that you customize each scholarship application letter you write for the school to which you’re applying. You don’t want to just send a form letter to every prospective university and hope one of them sticks.
Reference specific courses you want to take and programs that interest you. Mention things about the school that make you want to go there. Do they have a study abroad program or a theater major? How about a Film Studies Department, or a lacrosse team? Ask yourself why exactly you want to go to that school. When you’re in tight competition with other students for scholarship money, a selection committee will notice that you’ve put the effort in to talk specifically about their school.
Do Not Be Silly
While you want to be personable and you want to appear likeable; don’t try to be funny. Again, universities tend to take themselves pretty seriously, and they want to see that you take the application process seriously as well.
Making jokes is probably not going to work in your favor. It’s going to make you stick out from the crowd in a bad way. Sometimes it’s an indication that you’re trying to supplement a sub-par application with fluff.
Also, written humor is not an easy thing to master. Have you ever tried to be sarcastic in an e-mail or on Facebook? It often backfires. Many people find it difficult to tell whether or not you’re joking. So, be friendly, but don’t be funny.
Do Not Be Negative
A story of perseverance and determination can make for a really effective scholarship application letter. If you’re the kind of person who has had to overcome long odds to get where you are today, make sure you let the application committee know that.
However, make sure your application letter is free of hostility and negativity. Be positive. Focus on your future. Emphasize the wonderful things you plan to accomplish at university and in life; don’t spend the whole time talking how tough the world is. Don’t represent yourself as a victim, represent yourself as a hero.