Tips for Successful Scholarship Applications

General Advice | Writing a Financial Need Statement
Resume Tips | Writing the Scholarship Essay | Additional Scholarships

General Advice

  • Plan ahead. Keep a calendar of deadlines for scholarships.
  • Read all of the application instructions and the entire scholarship application before you complete it.
  • Read the eligibility requirements carefully.
  • Know your audience. Make sure the goals you express in your application match the goals of the scholarship program.
  • Show your strengths and explain your weaknesses. Highlight extracurricular and community activities as well as academic achievement. Explain any issues that may portray you in an unfavorable light.
  • Be clear and concise. If you hand‐write your application, make sure it is legible – typed applications are preferred.
  • Proofread your application; then ask a friend to proofread it.
  • Request letters of recommendation from people who know you reasonably well. Don’t wait until the last minute to ask.
  • Take steps to make sure that your application gets where it needs to go. Make a copy of the entire packet and keep it for your files. Make sure that your name appears on all pages.
  • Ask for help if you need it. If you have questions, do not hesitate to call the contact person for the scholarship.
  • Don’t be reluctant to reapply.12. Be prepared to write a thank you letter if you are the recipient of the scholarship.

Writing a Statement of Financial Need

This should be a short (1–2 paragraph) piece that explains why you would benefit from being awarded a scholarship. It also gives you an opportunity to explain any extenuating circumstances you may have.

Here are some points that you should consider including:

  • How are you currently financing your education?  What are your sources of financial aid? Do you get help from family? Are you taking out student loans or private loans? Do you currently work while attending college? 
  • What difficulties have you faced in paying for your education? Are there extra costs this year? If you are studying abroad, how does paying for your program compare with paying for your semester at UMass Amherst? Has there been a change in your family or personal situation that is making it harder for you to pay for college?
  • What would you gain from this scholarship? Would it help you to be able to work less so that you can focus on your studies? Do you need support so that you can take an unpaid internship or complete community service learning project?

Resume Tips

The Basics

  • Your resume needs to speak to your relevance to the employer, not just how wonderful you are. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes: if you had only a couple of seconds to read your resume, would you pick yourself for that job?
  • Resumes should always be clean, concise and consistent!
  • Translate you and your experience into their language: use the exact same words found in the job description.
  • One page in length (with specific exceptions).
  • Use one single readable font such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Cambria ; font size 10-12 pt. 
  • Apply consistent formatting within sections.
  • Make sure your paper resume is photocopy/scanner ready: 
    • light neutral paper color
    • no ( ), underlines, italics, columns, lines or funky design bullets

Name and Education

  • Your name is clearly visible and probably two points bigger than the rest of the text.
  • E-mail is not hyperlinked if handing or mailing in; e-mail address is grandma approved.
  • UMass is a nickname, write out University of Massachusetts Amherst every time.
  • Include GPA if 3.0 or higher: if it is not there, employers will think it is below a 3.0.

Experience

  • Possible section headings include: Relevant Experience, Related Coursework, Additional Background, Technical Skills, Teaching and Tutoring Experience, Research Experience, Community Service, etc.
  • Think of including coursework, lab techniques, class projects and large research papers as ways to demonstrate your relevant skills. Focus on courses relevant to employer (do not use basic courses or course numbers).
  • Dates are:
    • in reverse chronological order 
    • consistent (i.e. if you said Summer 2007 do not say June-August 2006 in another job)
  • Major titles are capitalized (i.e. lifeguard = Lifeguard)
  • Use descriptive titles (i.e. Intern = Software Design Intern) 
  • Describe your accomplishments and skills as they relate to the desired position; don’t just list “job duties”
  • No articles, pronouns or helping verbs (i.e. a, an, I, them, their, etc.)
  • Start descriptions with action verbs 
  • Use as many numbers as possible (Supervised group of 13 children, Managed budget of $15,000)
  • Well known abbreviations only (i.e. CPR not ASB)
  • “References Available Upon Request” unnecessary
  • Name dropping within resume unhelpful unless employer knows person

Writing the Scholarship Essay

The scholarship essay is a variation on the Five Paragraph Essay that you learned in fifth grade. It has a basic structure with a little bit of a difference: you need to write with the application specifications in mind. 
Some things to consider:

  • Tell your story. But remember to tell that story in the context of the application. For example, if the scholarship is for “leaders,” highlight experiences in which you’ve shown leadership qualities, like ability to work with groups and motivate people toward a common goal; good judgment and organization; putting principles and the greater good above one’s self. You may have done this in your volunteer activities, in your dorm, or in your personal life. Give examples. Be honest.
  • Remember your audience. The committee members reading this essay are looking for candidates who best meet the spirit of the donors’ intent. That’s why it’s important to read the application carefully, and write to the application. You might also research the donor. His or her background may give you some insights into their motivation for funding the scholarship, and you may be able to speak to that in your essay.
  • Be authentic. Try to write it like you’d say it. Be respectful, but not overly formal. Be yourself, but not overly casual. Strike the right tone. Read this essay out loud several times to some different people—including older people, and get feedback.
  • Do several revisions. Let the essay sit for 48 hours and come back to it and revise. 

The Basic Outline
First Paragraph: Introduce yourself and tell in brief, why you feel qualified for the scholarship. Mention hometown and major. 

Second paragraph: Begin to tell your story in the context of the scholarship. How do your qualities fit the application requirements? Be specific. 

Third paragraph: A little deeper background. How have you gotten to this point? Have you overcome any obstacles, physical, financial, personal? Don’t go too deeply into a hard luck story, but if you have succeeded against some kind of tough odds, you should mention this. This is also the place to put anything unusual or interesting in your background that might stand out. Here you might also talk about your long-term plans and why, as well as how you came to those goals. 

Fourth paragraph: How would this scholarship affect your studies? What would it help you do and how would it help you reach your goals?  

Fifth paragraph: Summarize and reiterate your qualifications and make the committee comfortable with giving you the scholarship. Remember that it makes the committee members look good when they pick a winning candidate who reflects well on the donor and UMass!

Other Places to Look for Award

Financial Aid Resources page 
Alumni Association Scholarships (Deadline February 14)
Commonwealth Honors College  (NOTE: Not all of these awards are for honors students - read carefully)
Office of National Scholarship Advisement

Don't forget to check in with your major department to see what scholarship funds they have available.