Kristina Ellis, the author of “Confessions of a Scholarship Winner,” secured over $500,000 in scholarships and grants.
She was a recipient of the US Presidential Scholarship, Gates Millennial Scholarship, the Coca-Cola Scholarship, and more.
Ellis spent her high school years in Indiana working summer jobs to help her widowed mother make ends meet, and without scholarships, she wouldn’t have been able to attend college.
Despite the fact that her mother told her she’d have to start paying her own way after high school the first day of her freshman year, she didn’t seriously turn her mind to securing funding for college until her junior year, when she set a goal of getting a full ride to college — and getting into a top-20 school.
“I read every book in the library on scholarships and interviewed everyone I could find who had useful information,” she writes in her book. “I studied the stories of other students who found success in the scholarship application process, and I continually refined my strategy until I finally felt I had a formula for success.”
And that formula was successful: Her scholarships and grants paid for her undergraduate degree at Vanderbilt University, as well as her master’s degree at Belmont University.
From her research, she learned there are the two things to understand about any scholarship program before you apply:
1. The why.
Each scholarship program has its own reasons for giving out award money — whether it’s wanting to help produce future leaders or motivating volunteers who will go on to impact the world. As much as possible, you need to learn what is motivating the organisation’s generosity before filling out each application.
Use any information you can find on the organisation’s website, brochure, and database descriptions, Ellis writes. If you are curious about anything else, call the organisation directly to make sure you understand the organisation and get of a clear picture of what is necessary for the scholarship.
Take note of areas the organisation stresses and how things are stated:
- What descriptive words are used to describe candidates and values? (For example, you might see such words as overcome, perseverance, ambition.)
- Are certain themes or words repeatedly mentioned?
- Does the organisation place a high value on community service? If so, is one certain area of community service mentioned more than others?
- What similarities do previous winners of this scholarship share?
2. The who.
Each scholarship organisation also has its own definition of an ideal candidate. By unearthing the scholarship program’s reasons and motivation for giving away money, you can get a better idea of what the organisation is looking for in a scholarship winner — and you can convince them you have it.
Think of yourself as a product that you have to convince investors to invest their money in. Are you worth investing a $20,000 scholarship in? Of course you are! So sell them on it! By the time you submit your application, you want to be compelling enough that the judges know their search is over and they should invest their thousands of dollars in you.
To sell yourself, you need to know what the “investor” is looking for.
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