What is the Coca-Cola Scholarship?

The Coca-Cola scholarship is a $20,000 scholarship awarded to 150 exceptional high school seniors that provides them with a unique and exclusive alumni network. It is one of the more prestigious scholarships for high school students and has a rigorous admission process. In their own words, the scholarship is for students “who demonstrate academic achievement and leadership.” The top five colleges Coke scholars attend are Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Yale, and Princeton.

Image: Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation

In 2023 the Coca-Cola scholarship had around 91,000 applicants. Each year, the applicants are whittled down to 2,000 semifinalists. After a secondary application process, these semifinalists are reduced even further to 250 regional finalists. Finally, after an interview process, 150 Coke scholars are chosen in March. To get an idea of just how competitive the scholarship is, in the 2023 cycle, less than 1/6 of 1% of applicants were chosen. As a 2020 Coke Scholar, I can offer some tips on how to maximize your chances of winning this prestigious, but competitive award.

Eligibility requirements:

  • Be a current high school senior attending school in the US
  • Be a US citizen, national, or permanent resident
  • Anticipate receiving your high school diploma
  • Plan on attending an accredited US post-secondary institution (two- or four-year college)
  • Cannot be a child/grandchild of any employee, officer, or owner of Coca-Cola bottling companies, the Coca-Cola company, Company divisions, or subsidiaries

Fill out your application as thoroughly as you can

For the scholarship application, you have the opportunity to provide the scholarship committee with a list of clubs and organizations you are involved in, a list of honors and awards you have received, a list of volunteer activities, and a list of paid work experiences/internships. The application allows an ample amount of activities to be listed for each section (around 10 or 11), so you should try to include every activity you have participated in or award you have received, no matter how small.

Make sure to list your most meaningful and important activities/awards first for each section to ensure that your application readers understand which activities you prioritize the most. For example, if you have been the captain of the tennis team for four years and dedicated many hours to the sport, you should definitely list tennis as one of the first activities on your list.

Emphasize activities where you have demonstrated initiative and leadership

One of the most important qualities the Coca-Cola scholarship committee values is leadership. Successful applicants for the scholarship should be able to demonstrate initiative and leadership through their activities, honors, community service, and work experience. The activities you include on your application should illustrate your interests and ability to be a leader. For example, if you only participated at your local soup kitchen because you just wanted to fulfill the community service requirements, this would not be an activity you want to include.

On the other hand, if you established a fundraiser or volunteer group at your school that provides food and necessary supplies to needy and homeless people in your community, you should definitely include this activity. The difference between these two examples illustrates what characteristics the Coca-Cola scholarship committee values the most. The former example portrays a desire to help others in one’s community, while the latter example shows someone who is passionate about community service and creates a system that can help others in their community with greater impact.

For semifinalists: highlight your most meaningful interests and personal characteristics

Were you selected as a Coca-Cola semifinalist? First of all, congrats! Second, if you are selected as a semifinalist, you will be required to provide additional details about your leadership, service, involvement, and work including statements of impact, essays, and an online submission of one reference from someone who can best assess your character and your impact on your community.

The second part of the application process is designed to get to know you better, rather than simply looking at a list of activities or awards. As a result, your statements of impact for your activities should highlight your most substantive experiences. Your essays should emphasize your greatest interests and personal characteristics. In fact, one of the essay prompts even asks you what activity you would participate in if you could only participate in one activity. You want to use your essays to speak about experiences in your life that have shaped your interests and personal goals. Unique and honest personal essays will help distinguish you from other candidates.

Additionally, make sure that you request a recommendation from someone who can attest to your personal qualities and dedication to your community, not just your work ethic or academic abilities. For example, my recommender was my guidance counselor because she could provide a more holistic overview of myself as well as provide details of my extracurricular activities, personal traits, and academic abilities.

For regional finalists: practice, practice, practice!

Were you selected as a Coca-Cola regional finalist? Congratulations! You have demonstrated yourself to be an exceptional candidate among a large pool of applicants.  If you are selected as a regional finalist, you will be subjected to a short 20-minute interview with three or four people. Some interviewers will be Coke scholar alumni and some may be employees of the Coca-Cola Scholarship Foundation.

You will have the opportunity to have the interview in-person or online. If you need to have an online interview, know that this will not affect your application! (I had an online interview, and my application was successful). During the interview, keep in mind that you may not have the opportunity to ask questions as they will probably cut you off at the 20-minute mark.

To prepare for the interview, make sure to review your application and familiarize yourself with your essay answers and lists of activities and awards. Also, it is very important that you practice answering sample interview questions with family or friends in order to feel more comfortable during the real interview.

This interview will not be like a normal college alumni interview, as all of your interviewers will have read your application thoroughly and will ask pointed questions about specific parts of your application. Therefore, practicing will make you more prepared to answer questions and will allow you to feel more relaxed. Finally, remember that the application process, especially the interview, can be subjective and unpredictable, so you should pat yourself on the back for making it this far. Good luck!

This informational essay was written by Rohan Krishnan, Yale University Class of ‘24. If you want to get help writing your application essays from Rohan or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions advisors, click here.