Part Two: How to Write a Great Scholarship Application
First things first: once you’ve found an award that you’d like to apply for, you should get really familiar with the eligibility criteria for the scholarship, bursary, grant or award. While some awards will be “flexible” and may select winners who fall outside of those criteria if they have low application numbers, realistically, it might not be worth your time to apply if you don’t meet the eligibility criteria. If you aren’t sure if you qualify or need some clarification, send the granting organization an email to clarify. Also, always TRIPLE CHECK the deadline for the application to make sure that it hasn’t already passed. No matter how certain you are that you remember what day it’s due, it never hurts to check again. Once you’re sure the deadline hasn’t passed, it’s a good idea to set a reminder for yourself in your email or on your phone to make sure you hit that submit button before the deadline.
Some applications will let you save your answers and come back to them, while others are just forms that you need to fill out and submit in one sitting. A good way to get around the stress of writing and submitting your application all at once is to copy and past the application questions into a new document so you can write your answers for them over time and then just copy and paste your completed, edited, amazing answers into the application when you’re ready to submit. Make sure as you’re filling out your answers to consistently save or backup you work.
Finally, before you start writing your answers, create a checklist of supportting materials that need to be included with your application, so you don’t forget to print/gather them when it’s time to submit. For example, the application may request school transcripts, reference letters or even samples of your work.
Writing Your Answers
When we’re choosing scholarship recipients, the first thing we at Animikii do is to read through the entire application to make sure that every required question has an answer filled out. This is a simple thing to do but it can easily be overlooked so before you submit, make sure you’ve answered each question!
After we’ve determined that the applicant has completed the application in full - and put some care and thought into their answers - we next look to understand why they want to go to school and how this program will help them on their journey. At Animikii, when we’re reviewing applications, we like to see that applicants have some connection to their home communities. This isn’t to say that you have to have worked in or even lived in your home community to be eligible, we just like to see that applicants are connected to the Indigenous communities close to them in some way. For example, maybe you have volunteered with your Nation or a Nation that is close to where you live, or perhaps you have plans to use your education to make life better for Indigenous people where you live. If you have meaningful connections to the Indigenous Communities around you, or if you have plans to use your education to lift those Communities up in some way, feature it on your application if you can.
In writing your answers, you want to be clear and direct. Clarity, good grammar, and correct spelling can really help your application stand out. Much like your professors and TAs, people reviewing scholarship applications probably have a lot of reading to do - help to make their job easier by writing concise answers that are easy to understand and fully answer the question. Asking a friend, family member, mentor or teacher to edit or look over your application can help you to catch any mistakes or find ways to improve.
Finally, we just want to remind you that you don’t need to be an expert writer to win a scholarship - short, simple answers can really powerful. We encourage you to tell your story as it is and let your personal passions shine through in your application.
When an application requires a reference letter (or two or three), it’s always best to get new reference letters specifically for the award. You can ask your referee (the person writing the reference) to specifically talk about some of the qualities that the granting organization seems to be looking for. For example, if the award is for “outstanding volunteers,” you probably want to get a reference letter from someone who has managed you in a volunteer capacity and can speak to how outstanding you were in that volunteer position. If you can, try to avoid generic reference letters - sometimes it makes sense use an old letter, for example if the deadline is tomorrow and you don’t have a chance to talk to a teacher or mentor - but more often than not, it’ll be worth your time to seek out letters specific to the award.
If you’re stuck on who to ask to get a reference letter from, you can always reach out to your Nation’s education department, the local Friendship Centre, or your school’s Indigenous student councillor/supporter - they are there to help you. Not only will these supporters be able to help you by writing references, they may even be available to help you go through your application answers to make sure it’s as strong as it can be.
If you have questions about the application or if you aren’t sure what a question means, definitely reach out to the organization to ask for clarification! Just remember that they want to give away their scholarships, they’ll help you if you need it. If you want to apply to Animikii's scholarship, and you have questions about the application, we definitely encourage you to reach out to use at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is part of a mini-series Scholarship Guide for Indigenous Students. Check out part one of the series: Finding the Right Award.
Article published October 26, 2017.
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