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July 3, 2016 How to write a knockout scholarship application

This article is part of a series called Thinking Ahead by Compass.

Read the series >

Preparing for university is an exciting time, but there are financial questions you need to think about. Will I move out or stay at home? Will I be able to eat anything besides noodles for three years?

Scholarships are lump sum payments or incomes paid to students by the government and institutions such as the University of Sydney to help with studying costs. There are many different scholarships and some are awarded based on academic merit, extracurricular activities, sporting ability or equity.

E12 Applications are now open at Sydney University.

So how do you apply?

Step 1: Actually doing things

While you may only apply for scholarships in your final year of high school, in reality you are preparing for a long time.

You should get involved in all extracurricular activities that interest you. Play competitive sports, study hard for great marks and volunteer your time whenever you can. Scholarships go to well-rounded, community-oriented and enthusiastic young people. You’re unlikely to be rewarded with free cash by sitting on the couch, so get out there!

Step 2: Locating information and criteria

Visit the websites of universities you are interested in attending. There is likely to be lots of information about the available scholarships, eligibility criteria and how to apply. Check the ‘Useful Links’ at the end of this article to see where to start looking.

You should apply for all scholarships for which you are eligible. You need to apply to be considered! This strategy also spreads the risk. Applying for lots of different opportunities may give you options and flexibility when it comes to finally deciding what you want to study and where.

Step 3: Writing your scholarship application

Scholarship applications have hard deadlines, so make a note of when the application is due and start preparing well in advance. You want to have time to make your application the best it can be before submitting.

The most efficient way to apply for as many scholarships as possible is to write a template cover letter and/or personal statement. Then you can adapt that template to the specific criteria of each scholarship. Answer all questions specifically and directly. Make sure that each application is tailored to fit the scholarship you’re applying for – vagueness won’t set you apart from the crowd.

In terms of content, your application should reflect your personal experiences and strengths. Be accurate (you could be caught out if you exaggerate or are dishonest) and include some unique insights about your interests and aspirations. A friend of mine secured a University of Sydney Mathematics Scholarship with a personal statement emphasising how passionate he was about music, and how it had always been his dream to play the grand piano in the Great Hall. These personal touches will distinguish your application from the thousands of others, and improve your chances.

Step 4: Polishing

Now you have a draft it’s time to make your application stand out! Read your cover letter and personal statement aloud to see how the language flows.

Ask a parent, teacher or your careers advisor for feedback on the content, language, style and structure of your application. Triple check the grammar and spelling (particularly the name of the person you are addressing!), and that all your details are correct. Use a professional-sounding, non-embarrassing email address (no [email protected], please).

Step 5: Recycling

You’ve submitted the application! Fingers crossed!

Even if you aren’t successful (and don’t be disheartened, the competition is fierce) putting the application together was a fantastic exercise, as now you can easily apply for other opportunities using the templates you developed. Good luck!

Useful Links

Hobsons Scholarship Search. This is the master of them all – it has EVERYTHING.  Satisfaction is guaranteed. But this site takes a bit of work – you need to either know your search criteria or set aside a big chunk of time to sort through results.

Study Assist. A government site aimed mostly at postgraduates and professionals. The most relevant scholarships here for school leavers are the Commonwealth Scholarships for indigenous students.

The Aspiration Initiative. A great place to find all the scholarships for indigenous Australians, whether you’re in high school, undergraduate, or postgraduate study.  Search by location, area of study, or institution.

The Public Education Foundation. Still in Year 10 – 12?  These are scholarships for you!

Country Education Foundation. More than 30 towns in NSW are part of the CEF’s scholarship program – maybe yours?  The site also has a scholarships guide and a survival guide for regional students attending university.

This article is part of a series called Thinking Ahead by Compass.

Read the series >

Elizabeth Cameron
is studying law at the University of Sydney.