Applying to Merit Scholarships: Writing Your Essays
Interested in applying for merit scholarships? Get the inside scoop on how to write and edit your application essays to increase your odds of wining a scholarship with CollegeAdvisor.com. Admissions Expert Jesper Ke will share his expert knowledge on writing your essays when applying to merit scholarships, during a 60-minute webinar and Q&A session. In this webinar, you’ll have all your questions answered, including: – What is a merit scholarship? – What types of essays will I have to write when applying for merit scholarships? – How do I start the essay writing process?
2022-10-10 – Applying to Merit Scholarships: Writing Your Essays
Hello everyone. My name is Lonnie Webb and welcome to CollegeAdvisor’s Webinar, Applying to Merit Scholarships: Writing Your Essays. To orient everyone with the webinar timing, we’ll first start off with a presentation and then we’ll answer your questions in a live Q&A on the sidebar. You can download our slides and you can start submitting your questions in the Q&A tab.
Now let’s meet our panel. Great. Well, thank you so much everyone for, uh, taking a little bit of time to hang out with us today. Uh, I’m really excited to talk to you a bit more about scholarships, how you can apply for them, how you can prepare your essays well for them. A little bit about me. Um, so I’m Jesper.
I’m currently a third year medical student at the University of Michigan. Um, so if you have questions about med school or pre-med, that type of stuff, happy to talk about that too. Um, but, uh, my background is that I grew up in a small town in Michigan. Um, you know, I didn’t really have any awards or like national recognition or research or anything like that, uh, applied to college.
Um, I, I was able, I was fortunate enough to get a, uh, full scholarship from, uh, University of Michigan as well as a full tuition scholarship from Vanderbilt as well. And, um, I ended up, Going to Harvard, um, because the financial aid was actually pretty good there, which I can talk about a little bit later when we talk about financial aid.
But, um, yeah, I’m hoping that we can talk a little bit about, uh, some of the things that are mentioned in the poll that you’re seeing right now. I can’t promise we’ll cover everything, but my hope is whether you are a freshman in high school, a senior in high school, applying right now, a college student even, uh, there’s something for you in this presentation.
So thank you again for joining us today. Okay, so we’ll move to our poll, which we’ve already launched. Um, so we wanna know, you know, where are you, um, what are you looking to most get out of this session this evening? So, what are you hoping to get out of it? Perhaps you’re learning, you wanna learn more about merit scholarships.
What is, what is a merit scholarship? I’ve heard that word before, but what does that actually mean? Um, maybe you wanna learn how to identify and apply for those merit scholarships, or maybe you’re looking for tips on how to work on your essays for the scholarships or other. So we’ve gotten the responses in actually, and about 45% of our attendees are looking for tips on how to work on my essay for scholarships.
Followed by that 37% is looking on, looking for how to identify and apply for merit scholarships. And then 19% is looking for learning more about what merit scholarships are. So just for, I will turn it over to you. . Awesome. So, um, fortunately I think we’ll be covering most all of those things in this presentation.
Um, so first of all, we’ll talk a bit about what scholarship Merit scholarships are, how do you identify them, how do you apply for them? And then a large part of this presentation is going to cover how do you prepare an essay for a scholarship. Um, and I think this is relevant as well for applying to colleges as well, because, um, kind of the skills and the, the tips that you use to apply to merit scholarships are pretty similar to the ones you’d use to write an essay for a college application.
So in terms of what is a merit scholarship, I kind of found this definition online, I think it’s pretty good. Basically, it’s a form of financial aid awarded by a college that typically it doesn’t consider your financial need. Um, rather what they look at is, uh, “merit.” Things like your academic, athletic, extracurricular, special interest, um, type of skills, assets that you can offer to the college.
Now, in terms of, you know, how to think about this in terms of timeline. So, uh, obviously, you know, if you’re a freshman or sophomore, um, you’re kind of early on. I’m glad you’re here, but definitely, you know, focus on school, focus on doing well, finding things you enjoy outside of school, doing well in school.
Um, you know, those are important things as you’ll see later on. Uh, when it comes to being a good a candidate for a merit scholarship, uh, for juniors, I would take some time to like start looking into colleges that interest you. Most colleges will offer a merit scholarship of some type. Um, and I think it’s important to start thinking about places you’d enjoy, uh, being as a student and as a senior, as you know.
Now, um, we’re in October. Uh, some deadlines are coming up soon. You know, early action Deadlines for Schools, regular decision deadlines coming up in uh, January. So now is a great time to be listening to this presentation. And then finally, if you are a current college student, there’s actually merit scholarships you can apply for as a college student, which we’ll get to later.
Now, um, you know, question I get a lot is like, you know, what is a merit scholarship and also what types of scholarships are there? And so I’ve kind of listed the main ones that I think, uh, our ones you’d consider. You know, the first one is an application based scholarship. So typically a university will have a scholarship that is listed on their website somewhere that you can apply to.
So in addition to applying to the university, you would also be putting an application in for the scholarship of interest. Um, and typically there’s a deadline for these as well. Uh, I would say these are not the majority of scholarships that are offered. Um, it’s more a small minority of scholarships. For example, at Vanderbilt, they offer a full tuition scholarship that you have to apply for with like an essay, um, you know, with additional materials.
Uh, I would say the main type of merit scholarship that colleges offer are screening based. And what this means is if you apply to the college, uh, you will be automatically considered for the majority of scholarships that they offer based on merit. Um, the only thing to keep in mind for some of these screening based scholarships is that, um, especially for state schools, I think, um, if you apply early action or you apply earlier, you’re more likely to be considered for the mayor of scholarship because, um, they have more money to give out.
They haven’t awarded it yet. The pool of money is still. Um, so basically every college will offer screening based scholarships from Georgia Tech to Boston College, to Berkeley, uh, to University of Michigan, um, to small liberal arts colleges. Um, you know, any college you look at, if you just look them up and you type in scholarships next to their name on Google, you’ll probably be able to find some of the scholarships that they.
And finally, um, the third category are outside scholarships. So these are scholarships that are actually not offered by colleges. They’re offered by foundations, nonprofits, private donors. So a national scholarship would be the Coca-Cola scholarship. It’s very competitive, national, $20,000, you have to put in a separate application for it.
Um, but maybe your local school foundation offers scholarships too, that you can apply for. So it’s important to be searching broadly when you, it comes time to apply to college, not just for opportunities from colleges, for scholarship money, but also from, uh, foundations, from local places, from national places that you can apply to as well.
Um, now the next question I get a lot is how do I know I’m a good candidate? How do I know, uh, I would qualify for a merit scholarship? And oftentimes, um, these are the main criteria I’ve listed here on the slide that these programs consider. Um, so for Wittenberg, their main criteria is for the merit scholarship.
They offer simply your SAT and your GPA. If you meet a certain threshold, you will get the scholarship. Other scholarships will, uh, kind of, for example, if you’re a recruited athlete, you know, D1 schools might offer you a full ride. Um, if you’re very strong violinist or you know, trombone player, maybe a school will offer you a scholarship for, for that.
Um, and then diversity is another criteria that some scholarships consider. Um, for example, being the first person in. Family to complete a college degree. And then I’d say the main criteria, a lot of these scholarships use is just overall excellence. And what that means is that it’s a mix of all of the above.
Um, for example, Miami University, it says an elite scholarship opportunity that provides the brightest and best scholars and leaders of the 21st century, um, you know, funding and additional opportunities to thrive at their school. And Duke University, it says a self-motivated sense of discovery and a commitment to engage and meet the challenges faced by society at large.
So these are more broad, general abstract criteria, but what they really get at is a mix of academic skills, leadership, diversity.
Now when it comes to thinking about am I a good fit for a scholarship? It’s really hard for me to just say, you know, a blanket rule to think about. You know, how you would know you’d be good for a scholarship. I think first you need to like look for them. You need to look for scholarships at schools you’re interested in on college websites, Google search.
Um, and when it comes to thinking about if you’d be competitive for them or. It’s difficult, but some things you can do to maybe get a little bit better idea. One of them is, is there specific grade or, you know, standardized test cutoff for this scholarship? Some of them do have that, and if that’s the case, then you’ll know right away if you qualify or not.
Other scholarships, um, you know, if it’s for a university screening based where you do not apply for the scholarship, but you’re automatically considered, you can, uh, you can kind of think about instead, would I be a good candidate for this school in the first place? You know, if the school has a median or average percentile for their standardized tests, um, you know, where do you fit in relative to that?
But again, you know, a lot of these scholarships don’t use only academic criteria to decide who to give them to. So don’t be discouraged if you feel like, um, you know, you’re not the very top of the, you know, the core tiles they have for their different GPAs and SAT’s. You know, there are other criteria as well, things like specific connections to a college.
Like did you do a summer program there? For example? Do you have a compelling life story awards? Um, but ultimately my advice to people is that there’s not really a formula for thinking about this. If you have the time and the interest, then you should apply. I’d say the main limiting factor for a lot of students is just having enough time to put together good applications for these things.
So we’re gonna take a quick break and, um, uh, we’re gonna put up another poll, uh, and kind of see a little bit more about, uh, kind of the backgrounds of everybody here. Yes, Yes. So thank you, Jess. So we wanna know what grade are you in? So let us know. We have the responses popping up on the screen. Okay.
They’re starting to come in. I’m gonna give it a few more seconds.
And just a reminder for the Q&A, if you already know a question that you would like to get answered, feel free to place it into the Q&A tab. All right. So just for, it looks like a 44% of our attendees this evening is in the 12th grade, followed by that we have 37% in the 11th grade, 16% in the 10th grade.
We have one college student, which is grade, and then 3% is other. So majority is 11 and 12th grade. For this, Great. All right. Well, I think that’s great. I think that’s exactly who my orient, uh, presentation is oriented toward. But again, I think, you know, the hope is to have here something for everyone, whether you’re in ninth grade, 10th grade in college, uh, applying to colleges right now.
Um, kind of the tips that I’m gonna give here, I think are relevant to anyone looking at scholarships. So now let’s get kind of to the, um, the main part of this presentation that you probably came here for, which is, how do I think about writing an essay for a scholarship? We’ve already talked about how do I identify scholarships?
How do I find them? How do I see if I’m a good fit? So once you have identified them, whether it is just you wanting to apply to a college to be considered for one, or you applying specifically to a scholarship, oftentimes you’re gonna have to write some type of essay, whether it is an essay for the college or it’s an essay for the scholarship itself.
So I have a couple of exercises that I love to recommend The students that I work with, um, The ones that, uh, the ones that I think are the most helpful are listed here. So the first one is, first of all, just like look through essays you have written already in high school, especially personal essays for maybe an English class, a writing class, something like that you’ve taken, Um, Those are often a good starting point to think about, Oh yeah, I already have some content here.
Um, maybe for example, in 11th grade for your English class, you wrote a reflection paper about, uh, maybe a time that you, you experienced adversity or a challenge and you related it to maybe, you know, some book you read. So obviously you’re not gonna talk as much about the book, probably in your essay for college, but kind of the stories and the lessons that you learned that you put in that essay you already wrote.
You can take and reformat, edit, retool for a merit scholarship application or for a college application. The other thing I’d recommend is if you don’t have any good essays yet that you feel good about, um, how do you think about coming up with ideas in the first place? So, uh, this exercise I listed here is called the Web Association Exercise, and I’ll show you an example on the next page.
So basically with a web associate ex exercise, you’re gonna start with your name in the middle of a piece of paper. You know, just take a printer, piece of paper, something like that, that’s blank. Write your name in the middle and then start drawing lines out from your name, um, to kind of like words, activities, adjectives that you would associate yourself most with.
And then from those words, you can draw branches to specific stories, ideas, examples, uh, that resonate with. So let me just show you an example so that makes a little more sense. Um, so obviously put my name in the middle Jasper and, uh, kind of, I think when I thought about myself in high school, I think some of the things I spent the most time on associated myself the most with were, uh, kind of activities I did.
For example, tennis. I was very involved in piano, volunteering. And then also, uh, you don’t just have to put activities. You can put traits, um, you know, things that you associate with yourself personally. So here I put my personal identity and I’ll kind of go through these a little more and kind of talk through how I thought through them.
So, with, uh, tennis for example, I thought about, okay, I know I spent a lot of time on tennis. Now what are some things I associate specifically as examples or stories or ideas that resonate with me when I think about tennis? So, um, one example was, Me serving as a team captain my senior year on my tennis team in high school.
Um, I thought that was a really valuable experience for me to build leadership skills, um, kind of learn how to, um, lead a team, how to like motivate people how to kind of, um, Inspire them, you know, to do their best even when we weren’t performing well. Um, down on the right you’ll see piano. So, uh, as you can see, I competed in some regional competitions.
Um, I was a part of my school orchestra, and you can even draw further branches off of these smaller words like orchestra, for example. I could talk about. You know, the time I, I got to play like a solo piece with our orchestra, uh, during my junior year of high school and how that was a really cool experience for me.
Uh, volunteering, that was a big thing for me. I was part of my key club. Um, I did a lot of work trying to improve my school, improve educational opportunities for my classmates. So as you can see here, I have specific examples from them. Things like, uh, helping organize snow shoveling for seniors in our neighborhood.
Uh, working on a nursing home project where we would go play piano, violin music, singing, uh, for local nursing home residents. So, as you can see, it’s not like a perfect way to come up with ideas, but if you’re really at a loss for what to write about, you know, oftentimes the most meaningful essays are about topics that we care a lot about and have spent a lot of time either working on or thinking about.
And this is like a good way to start, um, thinking about those ideas. now. Um, the next question I get often is, you know, okay, sure, I’ve thought about some ideas. I’ve done the Web Association exercise. Now what, what do I do now? Like, how do I actually get the essay written? You know, how do I put this down on paper?
Um, I think that for when it comes to writing essays, the first thing, and the best advice I always give is once you have some ideas you like, just start writing. You know, let’s say you have three ideas you’ve narrowed from this like nice little web association exercise you’ve thought about. The next step is to start writing the essay.
You know, start writing some content for each of the three ideas that you’ve come up with. You know, your first draft is obviously gonna be the worst draft you have, and that was the case for me all the time. But a lot of times I feel like students spend too much time thinking about writing the essay and worrying about it, and worrying about how their draft is gonna be really bad.
But you have to start somewhere. And oftentimes the best way to start is just to put your pen down on paper and to start writing. Um, and even if you don’t use the essay that you write, there’s many different prompts you’ll have to respond to in your college applications. So there’s gonna be a lot of opportunities for you to use the extra things you write for other applications.
Um, something else I like to say a lot to students is that get feedback at key points in the writing process. Reach out to trusted family members, friends, mentors who really know you for who you are, the things you care about, your personality. Um, I think they will be a good resource to tell you, is this essay true to yourself?
Is this an essay that really represents a core part of who you are as a person? Obviously, it’s hard with college applications. You’re not gonna get everything about yourself into two essays and, you know, like an activities list. Um, you’re gonna have to pick and choose and that’s gonna be hard. But I think the people that you trust are definitely always good people to turn to in this process.
Um, in terms of when to stop writing your essay, when you know you’re done, I would say there’s usually two scenarios my students run into. The first is that you just run outta time. You know the application is due November 1st. You’re busy with other activities, you know, you get the essay to the best place you can and you submit it on November 1st.
If you are very ahead of the, the curve, you’ve already been writing this for a few months, I would say usually the point when students stop writing and a good time to. Writing is when you feel like you’ve hit a wall, um, you feel like you’ve edited it over and over again. You’re running in circles. You’re not really getting anywhere new, you’re not making significant strides with your essay.
I think that’s a good, that’s a good time to stop. I think that means you’ve done enough work on the essay and that’s really hard cuz a lot of students will always feel like you can do more to make your essay better. Right? You only have 500 words or 650 or whatever it is, depending on the prompt. Um, it, it can be feel very stressful at times to just be like, Okay, I’ve done what I’ve can.
It’s okay. I’m just gonna stop here. And then finally we’ll spend some time doing this together. Is, um, I think it’s important to map out the prompts and I’ll show you what that looks like. Um, and essentially what mapping out means is, uh, it means looking through the prompts carefully, identifying the key points, kind of what they’re looking for from the essay prompt and how you can best respond to that.
All right, so let’s do this for a couple of prompts. Um, so, uh, this is a scholarship, I think, I believe it’s from Case Western University. Um, it is an application based, uh, merit scholarship. And so you have to write a separate essay for this, and you have to submit it by a certain time. Um, so I’ve put two things here.
I’ve put the mission of what this scholarship is about, which you can find on the website, and I put the essay prompt as well, which you can also find on the website for this scholarship. So in terms of the mission, it says it is awarded based first upon character or demonstrated potential to be a leader, and secondly, upon academic performance, intellect, and accomplishments.
Now, the essay prompt, which is 250 to 500 words says, Describe your potential to be a leader. How do you envision yourself making a difference in the. So I’ve highlighted a little bit. I think this prompt is a little more straightforward in terms of identifying what are the important parts from it, but I’ve highlighted it here for you as well.
So in the mission, clearly what they’re looking for is character or demonstrate potential to be a leader, which I think is mostly self-explanatory. You know, they’re looking for your leadership experience. What have you done in the past to show that you can be a leader in the future? And then academic performance, intellect accomplishments, pretty self explanatory as well.
It’s how have you done with your gpa? How have you challenged yourself academically? Um, what types of things have you worked on? Have you gotten awards for those? And then the prompt says, Describe your potential to be a. How do you envision yourself making a difference in the world? So potential to be a leader, uh, that’s a great opportunity in this essay looking for leadership experiences that you can talk about.
Cause again, it’s one thing in an essay to tell someone something about yourself, for example, uh, to say, I am a leader because I’m very organized. Um, I, I’m good at, uh, you. Motivating other people to do things, you know, that type of stuff. It’s very different to say that versus to show it in the essay. So instead of saying that you could be like, you know, as the tennis team captain, um, I remember a time we were playing another school, we had lost three matches, um, and we were on the verge of losing, uh, the overall match with the team.
And so I got our teammates together and I talked to them a bit about how we’ve really worked hard together this year. And it’d be a real shame if we just kind of folded. Um, and as a result, you know, we did much better. We won several matches and won the entire, um, kind of match with them. You know, it’s better to kind of show instead of tell Right.
Use examples from your experience, um, to show the people reading these essays that you have, these traits that they’re looking. , and that’s the same thing with the second part of this prompt, which is making a difference in the world. Um, and again, talk about your previous experience, maybe when is a time that you saw something happening, whether it’s in a group, in your community, um, in the world, and that you decided to do something about it.
You know, whether it’s something as small as, uh, offering direct leaves for your neighbors or something as big as, you know, starting a new group or doing some research.
All right, so we’re gonna do another prompt. You know, this one’s a little more challenging for this longer. Um, but hopefully we can use skills that we just discussed together to think a little bit about what are some key parts of this prompt. So, uh, the scholarship description says for the Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship, which is a full tuition application based scholarship at Vanderbilt, the scholarship honors the vision of Vanderbilt University’s founder, who endowed the university to contribute to strengthening the ties, which should exist between all sections of our common country.
Scholars continue that mission, bringing intellectual and community leadership to the Vanderbilt campus, where they forge interdisciplinary and interpersonal connections that unite people and ideas across the world. All right, That’s a mouthful. We’ll think about that in a second. Now, the essay prompt.
500 words. The College of Arts and Science is a liberal arts school committed to introducing every student to a broad range of subjects in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. How will you embrace the breadth of courses offered by the College of Arts and Science, and how does this fit into your academic journey or life’s?
Its so, um, I’m gonna actually give you 20 to 30 seconds. I just want you to think by yourself right now. Look through the description and the prompt again, and just kind of think about what are some phrases there that stand out to you. We’ll take a little bit of time for that.
All right, Great. Now keep those thoughts in the back of your. And I’m gonna tell you what I thought about the scholarship description and essay prompt.
All right, so let’s see. Did we get the same ideas? I thought the most important things to think about in the scholarship description were, first of all contribute to strengthening the ties, which it exist between all sections of a common country. That’s the first thing. The second is intellectual and community leadership, and the third is forging interdisciplinary and interpersonal connections that unite people and ideas across the world.
I will talk about this on the next slide in terms of how I interpreted each of these sections within the prompt. I think really the main question is the last sentence. How are you going to embrace the breadth of courses offered by the College of Arts and Science, and how is, how does this fit into your academic journey or life’s passion?
All right. So in terms of the scholarship description, I thought the first part that I highlighted, basically it’s talking about what is your ability to bring people together from different backgrounds, different ideas, um, you know, just different experiences, right? The second one, intellectual and community leadership is pretty self explanatory, right?
It’s when have you demonstrated initiative being proactive, whether it’s in the academic setting, the community setting, extracurricular setting, and then finally networking, connection, building capacity. So that was from the part here that says, forging, interdisciplinary and interpersonal connections that unite people in ideas across the world.
So I think what that’s really getting at is what is your ability and capacity similar to the first part of this prompt, to, um, create new connections, networks with people from different backgrounds, um, different ideas, different experiences. And in terms of the prompt, um, how will you embrace the breadth of courses offered by the College of Arts and Science?
I think for this section, um, I think it’s pretty straightforward. I think it’s you taking some time to think about, first of all, what is the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt? What types of courses do they offer? What is the curriculum for students in this school? Is it a liberal arts program? Is it something else?
Um, thinking a bit about that and then thinking about yourself. You know, most people are not going to know what they wanna do for the rest of their life when they apply to college. That’s really unreasonable to expect of any high schooler. But I think at this point when you’re applying to college, you have an idea of things you care about generally.
Maybe you care a lot about, you know, helping your community, you know, volunteering. Maybe you care a lot about innovation. You’re really interested in tech. For example, computer science. Maybe you love to read, You’re really into the humanities in literature. Um, I think that’s enough to have a starting point for this prompt where you have both.
Thought about and are communicating the things that you care about and how you see Vanderbilt. Importantly, how you see Vanderbilt being a part of your journey, how it can help you get to the point that you want to be at in the future. So I’m gonna tell you a little bit about how I approach, I would approach this essay, um, for this Vanderbilt scholarship.
So, um, one example is, like I mentioned in the web association exercise that we did together, is that I was a part of my key club in high school. I was on the board and at this time I was the vice president on the board. Um, something I noticed was, um, I think I had spent some time at different nursing homes around the community, and, um, I kind of realized that uh, a lot of the residents were kind of lonely.
You know, their family members would come visit them sometimes they had activities they do every now and then. But, um, you know, the community is just not the same as, you know, the neighborhood that you grew up in, you’ve lived in most of your life. And so what I thought would be cool is that. I’ve identified this need, you know, these residents who, um, you know, don’t have as many social connections as they used to.
And I have my own passions, things like, I love music, I love to play piano. I love to bring people together to play music. So what I did is I engaged, um, a lot of my classmates and friends to go to different nursing homes in the community and, uh, basically do free performances at meals for them. And what ended up happening is the residents all loved it.
And I think that, um, the people who are performing loved it too, because it’s a really cool opportunity to connect with people across different generations. And so you can see here, just from this example I’ve given, I’m kind of touching on a lot of the things in the prompt things. It talks about intellectual and community leadership.
You know, I took the initiative to start, um, this music program and then kind of that network building, bringing people together. Um, I was kind of bringing people together across different generations, different ages, different backgrounds to kind of enjoy some, some type of passion and interest in music together.
And so, again, you know, it’s not easy to find good examples that fit different prompts, but, you know, I did all of this with the things that I just told you about today. I did the web association exercise, thought about some ideas. I read the prompts carefully. I read the mission carefully. And then I thought a bit about different ideas for how I could fit the stories that I had into these prompts.
Cause again, I really think these stories and experiences are the most, the most powerful way to answer questions, um, that are asking how you are going to go about doing something. Sometimes you’ll come across really weird prompts that ask about your opinion about different things and might ask about your hobbies, your interests, your views on things.
In those cases, it’s still nice to be able to touch on personal examples, but especially for essays like this that are asking how you are going to go do something, whether it is you embracing the breadth of courses, fitting this into your academic journey or something else, having specific examples is always a way that you cannot go wrong.
Cause again, it means a lot more to show someone than to tell someone. All right. All right, so I’m gonna touch on a few miscellaneous questions that I get a lot about me scholarships. Um, one of them is, how do I think about my letters of recommendation? Again, it’s going to depend. Um, I would say most merit scholarships do not require additional letters of recommendation.
Um, I think it’s very rare that they do, uh, I can only think of a handful that do. Um, but it’s important to think about your letters of rec for your college that you apply to that has the scholarship, because likely the college, uh, scholarship committee is going to be looking at those letters of rec from your original application.
And those are very important because these are people who are vouching for you professionally, people who are mentors, who are much older and farther ahead in their life than you, um, basically vouching for you personally. And so I would definitely not slack on thinking about your letters. You know, some things I think.
You know, how did you do in the class? Um, do you have any extracurricular association with this teacher? You know, for example, it might be your history teacher that you took a class with, but are, do they also advise the Quiz Bowl team? And were you a part of that? It’s nice when they can touch on different dimensions about you.
It’s not always a prerequisite though. Um, and things like, you know, how well can they speak to you as a person? You know? Have you had interesting conversations with them? Have you had good essays, ways they’ve gotten to like, learn about you more as a person? And how well do you connect with your recommender?
Um, the best way to go about figuring this out is identifying people who you might wanna ask for a rec letter and saying, Hey, I’m applying to college soon, or I’m applying to the scholarship soon. Would you feel comfortable writing me a strong letter of recommendation? It is really important to frame it that way as a strong letter of recommendation cuz you really need people to go to go be, be comfortable going to bat for you, right?
You don’t want a Luke warm letter where they say, Oh, Jasper was, you know, a good student. He showed up to class on time. He did also assignments as assigned. Um, you know, he did pretty well in the class. You know that that’s not getting to know you better as a person. You know, you want a teacher who’s able to say, Oh yeah, this student should be in this English class.
Um, he talked a bit about his family background is upbringing. Um, I could really tell he reflects a lot on these things as a person, you know, things like that. And so that’s really up to you to figure out how well you have a connection with different teachers, different mentors who can write letters for.
Um, any final advice when it comes to applying for scholarships? Um, you know, I would say now is a good time to start looking, whether you are a junior, a senior in college, look for scholarships, either offered by college or, um, what you can do is you can Google outside scholarships. Um, I just did this an hour ago before the presentation.
I just typed in outside scholarships that I can apply to, uh, or outside scholarships that high schoolers or college students can apply to. And I just found many, many lists that had direct links to websites of foundations that are offering merit scholarships that you can apply for. Map out the prompt, you know, think about what are some important things to touch on in your essay, and then apply, you know, don’t, don’t.
If you do end up applying for a scholarship that has an interview associated with it, which is very rare, I think it only happens for a couple scholarships, I think at, I think Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, some of the very big scholarships. Um, just practice, you know, have some people you trust, try and reach out even to people who have gotten the scholarship before on the website and ask if you can do a practice interview with them.
Typically, I would say interviews for these scholarships, uh, will ask a mix of questions. Either they will ask questions just to get to know you better. Like, tell me more about yourself. I saw you wrote about Key Club in your resume. Can you tell me more about why that’s meaningful to you? And then sometimes they will ask interview style questions that you can just look up things like, when is a time you overcame adversity?
When is a time that you led a team to overcome a challenge? That type of thing. But it’s always good to practice. All right. Um, so in terms of, you know, kind of how CollegeAdvisor can help you, um, I think honestly, uh, a lot of the students, um, that I’ve worked with and a lot of the fellow advisors we have here are pretty experienced in like helping students think about, um, all of these things that we’ve talked about in this presentation.
Kind of providing a more professional insight into how do I identify a good scholarship in my fit for it? How do my essays look? You know, I’ve drafted this essay. Is it good? Do you think it’s a good fit for this, this program? Um, preparing for interviews, doing mock interviews, um, reviewing and just advising in general on financial aid and scholarships.
Um, yeah, I’ve been here for a couple years and I’ve had a really good experience so far working with students. So, um, just wanna put that in your head for something to think about if you’re interested, before we get to the Q&A. All right. So that kind of concludes the main presentation part of this, um, this talk, and we’re gonna spend the rest of the time talking about some of the questions you’ve put into the.
Yes. So thank you so much, Jesper. So that concludes the presentation portion of our webinar this evening. I hope you found the information really helpful because I did listening, listening to Jesper. And remember that you can actually download the slides from the link in the handouts tab, and then also you will receive a, um, recorded copy of this presentation immediately after.
So we’re gonna move on to the live Q&A. I will read through your questions that you have submitted in the Q&A tab. I will paste them in the public chat so that you can see them, and then read them out loud before Jasper gives you an answer. As a heads up, if your Q&A tab isn’t letting you submit questions, just double check that you joined the webinar through the custom link in your email and not the webinar landing page.
Okay. So our first question, and we have a good amount of questions coming in, so thank you all for submitting them early. Our first question reads, um, how do you deal with the issue of finding it hard to write about yourself? I know that’s typical working with students. You’re like, How do I, how do I talk about myself?
So, any advice you can offer. Yeah, I think that’s something I really felt when I was applying to colleges as well, which, uh, was the fact that I felt a little embarrassed, um, to try and talk about myself in was, seemed to be like a somewhat positive light. You know, whether it was overcoming a challenge, something, uh, that I led that I thought I did well, um, I, I feel like that’s not kind of something I’m super comfortable with even now, still.
Um, and I think really the best way to go about that is to think of it not as, um, To think of applications not as a way to just like boast and brag about yourself. You know, the goal is not to come off as arrogant in your application. The goal is to come off as having humility and being able to reflect on yourself deeply, the things you’ve worked on, the leadership you’ve done, the challenges you’ve overcome, and how, how that makes you a good fit.
You know, a person who brings something to the table for the scholarship you’re considering, or the college, um, think of it as a way to just kind of show, uh, kind of the work that you’ve put in over the past four years. You know, it’s not about again, you know, making things up or, or being overly confident.
It’s about just showing the work you’ve done and being honest about that. And I think that’s the best way to go about thinking about that, which can be difficult for love students. Thank you. Our next question reads, can high school students apply for scholarships offered by colleges slash universities even if you haven’t applied or not thinking about applying to that particular college or university?
So typically with scholarships, um, you will have to, you will not be able to apply to them until you apply to the college itself. There are some scholarships, only a couple that are open to like juniors in high school or earlier. Um, things like I think NACA or something has a junior, a scholarship for juniors.
I think there’s. Um, there’s other programs, these are mainly foundations that offer scholarships for people who are not seniors yet in high school, but I would say like 95% of scholarships you’re looking at are going to be ones that become available to apply to either after you’ve applied to a particular college or when you are a senior in high school or a student in college itself.
All right. Next question reads, how do you spice up your essays to avoid sounding redundant and boring to the reader? Yeah, that’s tough, right? Cuz there’s a lot of people applying to colleges. And I think at times I did feel like, yeah, I worried that my essays were bland. Like even the one I talked about with the nursing home, I was like, Oh yeah, I feel like a lot of people play music and volunteer and do that, right?
Like, what makes my experience unique? Um, I would say don’t, don’t think that far because I think you’re just going to end up hamstring yourself and getting into a cycle of not even writing the essay because you’re like, I don’t think I have any good ideas. Again, you just need to start, put your pen down on paper, put your fingers on the keyboard, start writing.
Um, I think the best solution to that is again, to draw on your own personal experience, your personal stories, because nobody else has the same story as you. Um, you know, people might have similar stories. I’m sure there are other people, for example, who are in volunteer groups who organize performances at nursing homes.
But I think the way that I think about it, the way I reflect on it, the specific things we did together, um, that those are my thoughts, those are my reflections. I, I don’t think other people would have the same way of approaching it and thinking about it as I did. You know, not everyone is going to have some crazy story about, you know, how they designed like a, a rocket ship or something flew to the moon, or, you know, they did this amazing research project or, uh, you know, they, they went to like some country and did some, some interesting, you know, volunteering.
Most of us don’t have those experiences and don’t have the opportunities to have those experiences. We just have the ones that are around us in your community. And if you just speak to it as what you experienced your story, use your own anecdotes, um, that’s the best you can do. You know, like there’s, there’s not much more you can do than that.
And that’s, and I think that’s a really good way to approach it. Okay, so next question is, what should I do if I haven’t done many things in my high school career to put into my applications, my resumes, my. Yeah. Um, yeah, I get that question a lot too. I think the first thing is you may not have done a lot of things you think, but if you think about like yourself as a person, there’s a lot of things that are interesting about you.
It’s not just you being the president of this group or you getting this award for an essay or something you wrote. It’s kind of your life story too. So think about yourself, like what are some interesting things, um, or interesting thoughts even you have. It doesn’t have to be like an adversity experience, for example.
It can just be something about, for example, let’s say you grew up in a particular, um, community, whether it’s like based on your race, your ethnicity, your faith, your gender identity. Um, these are all interesting things to share your thoughts on and experiences as. Um, and I think a lot of these programs are looking for diversity of thought, diversity of experience, Um, and talking about that is something that I think can be interesting as well.
Not just you talking about your activities or your awards or the themes that you did. I think the other thing is, again, if you’re a little worried about your competitiveness, um, for particular scholarships, then look broadly like, don’t only limit yourself to the very top scholarships at, you know, places like North Carolina, Vanderbilt, Duke.
You know, look at smaller universities, smaller liberal art schools, smaller public schools, um, where you might be more competitive of an applicant as well. Great. Okay. Our next question reads, what’s a good essay structure to follow when writing for scholarships? Um, that’s tough. It’s really gonna depend the way that I usually write my essays, which you should not.
This, this is not the only way to write an essay. You can also Google other essay, college essay formats, uh, just look up like college application essay tips or something on Google. Um, I would say for me, I usually like to start off my essay with a little story, like a little anecdote cuz I wanna hook the reader in, right?
I want to give them a little, you know, a little bait, you know, if we’re, let’s say we’re fishing, um, something to latch onto that is personal and is like specific to me. So, you know, let’s say I’m writing this essay about the nursing home. Um, I might start off with a very short paragraph and it might just be kind of a narrative.
It might just be, um, you know, uh, The sound of like seating filled the air, um, in the nursing home. And, you know, I could hear like the, the, the kind of like the happy chatter and the applause from the residents who had smiles on their faces. Um, and the laughs coming from the different performers we had.
Um, kind of something kind of that paints a picture for the audience. You know, that wasn’t a very good example cause I just made up that on the spot. That was pretty good. I was, I was, I was intrigued. I was like, , thanks. But, um, I usually like to start off with a little story, a little anecdote, like a little imagery.
Um, and then from that, then I go into the story. So let’s say I, I start off with that little imagery and then after that, the next paragraph is, You know, something that I found really important for me and meaningful has been bringing student, bringing my classmates and nursing home residents together through our shared love of music.
You know, starting my junior year of high school as the vice president of Key Club, I noticed, um, you know, that many nursing home residents in my area felt pretty lonely, uh, during meal times and as a result, Because I was already very interested in loved music and I had friends who did. I thought it’d be a good idea to bring everyone together so we could share music, uh, over meals.
So something like that, right? You know, you start off with a little, like bait, a little hook, Um, and then you kind of then talk about the main meat of the essay, kind of the main content that you wanna share and your reflections on it too. Again, there are many ways to approach writing an essay and structuring it.
I just found that was a good format that worked for me. Um, but, you know, some people like to be a little more creative. They like to, you know, take a different unusual approach to their essay. Um, I, I can’t give you again, a boiler plate. You know, this is good. This is not good for writing essays. I think you would probably need more individual advice for that, um, from someone with more experience, um, who has actually read your essay and can give you feedback on it specifically.
Um, I can only speak a little bit to kind of what I did when I applied. Yes. And so that’s a great transition, Jess. We’re gonna take a short pause from our Q&A so we can talk a little bit more about one-on-one assistance. So for those who are not already working with us, um, we know how overwhelming the college admission process can be.
The process of writing college essays, writing essays for your merit scholarships, um, it can be, it can be overwhelming, um, especially for competitive applicants like yourself. Our team of over 300 former admission officers and admission experts are ready to help you and your family navigated all in one on one advising sessions.
Take the next step in your college admission journey by signing up for. Free consultation using the QR code on the screen. During the consultation, a member of our team will review your current extracurricular lists, discuss how it lines up with your college goals, and find um, ways to help strengthen your application.
Um, after scanning the QR code, you’ll be able to select a date and time for a phone conversation with a member of our team. And I saw earlier that we have a good number of 12th grade students, so we are still, um, looking to work with our students who are currently going through the college application application process that are in the 12th grade.
So please take a second to scan the QR code. All right, and I will leave it up as we continue our questions and answers. Our next question is, what is the easiest way to find legitimate scholarships? And then this kind of just adds a little, you know, I feel like the internet can lead you in the wrong direction at times, You know, Wanna stay very focused.
So any websites I heard you mention a little earlier, but any website websites you can offer for our attendees? Yeah. Legitimate scholarships. I’m trying to think about what that means. I think, um, any, any, if it’s offered by a college, it certainly a legitimate scholarship. Um, I think the best way to find those is to, um, just Google scholarships offered by colleges, or if you already have colleges you’re interested in.
For example, let’s say you wanna go to USC in California. I would go on Google, I would type USC scholarships. . Um, and you will probably be, be able to find websites from USC that list different scholarships that they offer and what they look for in their candidates. Um, when it comes to outside scholarships, that’s where I’d be a little more careful cuz you don’t want to be scammed by some, you know, fake scholarship that doesn’t actually exist.
And outside scholarships, again, means ones from foundations, nonprofits, private donors. Um, the first thing is, uh, typically if you have to pay money to apply to a scholar, Like an outside scholarship, not a college. Um, I would be a little worried about that. Um, most scholarships that I’m aware of from legitimate foundations and donors do not require an application fee.
They do not require, uh, private personal info. You know, things like your social security number, um, your credit card number. You know, I, I think some of it is just common sense thinking about Yeah. You know, why would the scholarship need that information for me, in terms of finding legitimate ones, um, I think looking for lists of scholarships from websites.
Um, let’s see. I’m just typing this in right now. ISO Scholar Outside scholarships or college? Um, yeah, let’s see. So I’m already finding like a couple examples through websites like US News. Um,
Outside, um, through like different universities. I would say it really? Yeah. Just like make sure the source you’re, you’re finding these scholarships from are credible. Um, and if they’re asking for information that doesn’t seem relevant to the scholarship, like personal information, money, uh, I, I think you should be careful about that.
Yep. I would, I would absolutely agree with you, Jasper, on that. If they are requiring you to pay for it, then it may not be legitimate. Uh, next question reads, what are some activities that you can do early on that would help when, when that will help when writing essays? Um, so basically what activities would be helpful?
Mm-hmm. when it comes to, Okay. Hmm. Again, I think it’s hard for me to just give a blanket answer because it depends on the person to person. Um, I would say do the activities you really care about and I think, you know, you will care, you care about them because it doesn’t really feel like a chore to do it.
Um, you know, if you really love volunteering, then it’s not gonna feel like a job to do it, you know, It’s gonna feel like something you’re excited about. Um, if you love to read, if you love to play p uh, piano, you love to play scene, you know, these are things that you, you know, you care about. You don’t have to ask people about it.
Um, I think the things you care about are typically things that you can do well at and can provide meaningful stories when it comes to writing your essays. Okay. So what is the best way to stand out to college admissions and scholarships for selective schools? That’s, that’s tough. Um, I think even if you are like a very competitive applicant, for example, you have very good gpa, very good SAT, really good awards, love extracurriculars, great rec letters.
You still might only have a very small chance of getting a scholarship from a very selective school. Um, even for me, when I applied to college, there were a lot of colleges that I got wait listed and rejected from. Um, it can be really random at times. I would say the best way to go about it, um, is to be true to yourself.
Pick the stories you feel are, are very authentic to yourself. Don’t, don’t just write an essay cuz you’re like, Oh yeah, you know, I think that’s what they want. Like, yes, you want to answer what the prompt is asking for about you, but you don’t want to answer the prompt as like someone who you think you are supposed to be.
Right. There’s a very important distinction there. It’s. Identifying the prompt, what it’s looking for, What is the question asking? You want to answer the question, but you want to answer it authentically to yourself. Right? And I think if you do that, then at the end of the day, even if you don’t get the scholarship, then you’re not gonna, you’re not gonna like, regret it because you put everything out on the table that you knew was true to yourself.
Yes. Yes. Always stay true to yourself. Uh, our next question reads, what is your advice when it comes to having a problem exceeding the word limit? Oh, that’s really tough. You know, I, I definitely had essays where I was way over the limit and I was like, Ah, but I love everything I wrote in this essay. How could I cut anything?
I could only been, I think that’s one place, again, to look to your trusted mentors, uh, teachers, family, and ask them for their thoughts on the. or friends even. Um, and you can mention, Hey, you know, I’m a little over the word limit. Uh, where do you think I can cut? You know, where, what are some things you think that are not super key to the essay?
I think learning to cut down yourself is a very important skill to have as well. Um, that would be a talk for another time because I think that’s pretty, that’s pretty complicated and it kind of depends on what you’re writing about. But, um, what I, what I think about often when I’m trying to make something shorter is, uh, first of all, are there extra words I put in the essay that I don’t need to have?
Are there, for example, extra adjectives? Are there, like, is there a really long way of went about describing something that I could just say and fewer words? Um, that can be hard to know yourself sometimes if you don’t have experience, but I find that’s a good way to cut things down.
Okay, so our next question reads, should we try finding scholarships in our desired field of study, or should we attempt to stay broad? Um, I would say you should do both, you know, Um, you know, for example, I see a question here about if you’re interested in art or design, Should you look for scholarships specifically for that?
So to take that, for example, an example, um, yeah, I would look both for scholarships, um, from schools you’re applying to that are art and design schools. Um, you know, like maybe the Rhode Island School of Design. I’m sure they might have something there. Um, but also look broadly, you know, let’s say you’re looking at outside foundation scholarships, like your local community foundation scholarship, you should apply to that too if you have time.
Um, at the end of the day, you wanna put your name out there, you know, you know, get yourself known, give yourself more chances to be considered. Um, and you’ll kind of know what time you have to do this and what time you.
Okay. Next question reads, what if your desire to get a scholarship is driven by sport? How do you connect it to your brand to be interesting to the funders? Yeah. Um, I would say for funders. I wonder if that means like colleges that are recruiting athletes perhaps. Yes. Yeah. Perhaps the scholar. Like the, the college.
Yes. Yeah. I mean, I think we have, I mean, yeah, I, I’m not as experienced with that. I know we do have advisors though, who are college athletes and we’re recruited and can speak to that better. But I think being a recruited athlete is a very different process than applying for a merit scholarship and has different things you should know about.
Absolutely. Thank you, um, for answering that. Um, can you negotiate merit scholarships? Um, yeah, uh, that’s tough. I think, yeah, in some cases you can, uh, basically what happens is, uh, maybe it’s like May, April, you’ve gotten a few acceptances, you’ve gotten some financial aid package offers, you’ve gotten maybe some scholarship offers.
Um, typically I find that schools will consider matching financial aid or scholarships sometimes from schools of a similar caliber to them. So, uh, let’s say for example, um, I don’t know, like let’s say you get into Harvard and Princeton, that’s like a dream. Like I, I couldn’t even do that myself. Um, but.
Yeah, let’s say, you know, you get a financial aid package from Princeton that’s better than Harvard. You could reach out to, uh, the Harvard, uh, financial aid office, be like, Hey, um, this is what I got from Princeton. Would you be willing to match that? Um, and you could probably do the same for scholarships.
Like, let’s say you apply to, um, you know, University of Toledo or something. You get a scholarship from there and you want to really go to like Ohio University or something instead. Um, you could be like, Hey, um, I got this scholarship from University of Toledo, um, but I feel very strongly about going to your school.
You know, is there any way you could possibly match this financial aid slash scholarship offer?
Okay, this next question reads, will a screening based merit scholarship be indicated on the letter of acceptance with the financial aid package? Or how do you normally know if you’re eligible for one? . Yeah. Um, you know, screening based scholarships, it just depends on the college. Um, for some schools they will, if they choose to give you a scholarship after you apply, they might just notify you by email.
Maybe they’ll give you a phone call, Um, maybe that you’ll know at the same time that you’re accepted. Maybe you’ll know before or after you accepted. Um, it really depends on the scholar. In terms of how, you know you’re eligible for one. Um, I think hopefully kind of what I talked about earlier, covers that it’s, um, it’s kind of looking at what the criteria are for the scholarship and a lot of times, um, there are screening based scholarships you’ll be considered for that you didn’t even know existed because it’s not on their website.
Again, the advice I give is if it’s a public university, you should apply early action, um, no matter which public university it is, because whether or not you do early decision, early action at another private school, uh, in most cases, almost always, you are allowed to apply to as many public universities early action as you want.
And applying early to public schools is good because they have more money to offer to you as a student. Yeah. Uh, and this will be our last question. Um, can a non US citizen apply for scholar. Yeah, it definitely is a lot harder, I think as an international applicant, uh, I think what you should do is find schools you’re interested in applying to and reach out to their financial aid office and ask, um, would you be considered for, uh, financial aid and scholarships from their school.
Sometimes it’s on their website as well. In terms of outside foundation scholarships, typically it will be listed in the criteria for that scholarship if non-US citizens are able to apply. Okay, so that is now gonna get us to the end of our webinar. Thank you, Jesper, for sharing all this great information about applying to merit, uh, scholarships and writing the essays.
I enjoyed hearing your presentation. I got a few tips to add into my resource kit as an advisor, as I continue to support my students through the application process and the scholarships. Just a reminder, again, if you are interested or you just have a curiosity about what the work of CollegeAdvisor looks like.
Please feel free to scan that QR code. We will also have an additional link once you exit out of the webinar. And last but not least, we have a multitude of upcoming webinars that are happening this month. Um, we have, you know, two that are happening, um, this week, additional two. So please sign up so that you can learn more information that’s gonna get you ready for the college application process in helping you be a competitive applicant.
Again, thank you all for joining us and that is the end of our webinar. Have a great night. Thanks everyone.