Scholarship Selection Criteria
What the Committee Looks For
Scholarships are merit-based gifts designed to help defray the cost of a college education. Millions of dollars in scholarship monies are available from private companies, non-profit organizations, universities and other sources.
Many of these scholarships are available only to students who fit a narrowly defined set of eligibility requirements.
Regardless of what the scholarship’s specific set of eligibility requirements, selection committees are looking for well-rounded candidates who excel in one or more of the following categories: Academics, Internship & Work Experience, Community Service, Leadership. By being able to demonstrate strength in some or all of these four essential qualities, you will undoubtedly advance your standing with any scholarship committee.
Whether you are applying for a scholarship from a pharmaceutical company or a non-profit organization, most scholarship committees will take into consideration your overall commitment to academics.
Even if the scholarship you want does not require a high level of academic achievement, the selection committee may still reasonably be interested in your grades or other indications that you take your studies seriously. After all, you are asking for money to pay for higher education, not a trip to the beach.
For some scholarships committees, academic commitment is translated into a minimum GPA requirement; for others, the breadth and depth of your coursework is more important. If you are already in college at the time of your application, expect a selection committee to consider your GPA; major, minor and course load; academic awards and honors; body of published work; and letters of recommendation from professors and advisors. For high school students, committees will look at your GPA, class rank, number of honors and AP classes, and letters of recommendation from teachers concerning your academic promise.
If you have struggled with your GPA, have not yet declared a major, or do not have a single award to your credit, don’t panic. You do not have to write off scholarship assistance just yet. Not all committees demand – or even care about – honor roll and Dean’s List. For some scholarships, a well-rounded candidate with a lower GPA (even a 2.0, for example) is more appealing than one who aces his exams but doesn’t do anything with his time other than study.
Internship & Work Experience
Scholarship selection committees are interested in seeing how you relate to the world outside the proverbial ivory tower. They are looking first and foremost for initiative and commitment. Do you work a part-time (or full-time) job in addition to your studies? Are you a major breadwinner for your family?
Scholarship committees are less concerned with your job description and earning power than with your ability to demonstrate responsibility. You can do this by presenting strong and compelling letters of reference from your employer and showing a history of commitment to your place of work.
You can also demonstrate initiative by having an internship – either paid or unpaid. Particularly attractive to selection committees are those internships related either to your major course of study or to the field of the scholarship.
In addition to the work you have done for pay – or for credit, in the case of an internship – volunteerism and service to your community make potential scholarship candidates even more attractive to selection committees.
By volunteering, you show not only that you are civic-minded but also that you care about a cause broader than your own advancement. From working the phones for a political candidate to candy striping in the children’s ward at your local hospital, giving of your time and talent is a noble use of your resources. Plus, many civic and non-profit organizations give scholarships – and past volunteers make the top of the priority list for selection committees.
To demonstrate your commitment to community service, go beyond just listing volunteer assignments on your scholarship application. Write an essay about how volunteering has impacted on your academic or career ambitions, what have you learned from serving the community, or why being a volunteer changed your political beliefs. Also helpful to your candidacy with the scholarship committee are letters of recommendation from volunteer supervisors. Letters should stress your commitment, dedication, selflessness and maturity.
Leadership is a meta-quality that should be reflected in all aspects of a student’s life, including her academics and paid employment, as well as her community service.
Beyond the initiative it takes to become a leader, scholarship committees are also looking for the consensus building skills and motivational abilities required for leadership success.
Getting elected class president doesn’t necessarily prove you are a true leader. Scholarship committees will be more interested in the way you utilize your position to help others or rally fellow students to lobby for change.
To show the selection committee that you are leadership material, focus your essays on a pivotal leadership opportunity or challenge and reflect on how that experience shaped you. Letters of recommendation that cite examples of your leadership skills can be very helpful to your candidacy, as well.