Are you looking for scholarships to help pay for college or graduate school? With thousands of scholarships available, it’s important to select and prioritize the best scholarships for you and prepare each application to shine above the rest.

Most scholarship applications involve some standard requirements such as transcripts and recommendations. Others may require specific elements such as a personal statement, research paper, or creative prototype.

Let’s take a look at some standard and specialized requirements, and how to submit a winning scholarship application.

Standard Scholarship Requirements

Columbia University
University Campus, Columbia University

Personal Information

The personal information section on most college scholarship applications is going to be basically the same. You will need to fill out your name, address, phone number, and other personal information.

Where you attended high school as well as previous college information will be asked. Make sure you have the dates of enrollment available and your school or college information.


Some minority-based scholarships may also require you to submit information about your cultural and ethnic background.


Most merit-based scholarships require academic transcripts. These may be required from high school as well as colleges you have attended.

Some scholarship sponsors will simply ask you to have official transcripts sent to them if you are a finalist for a scholarship award. Others will want an unofficial copy turned in with the college scholarship application.

If your transcripts include less-than-satisfactory grades, you could write a letter explaining why you obtained those grades. For example, there could be a personal event that affected your grades. Explain what actions you have taken since then to improve your academic performance.

Do not let less-than-ideal transcripts stop you from pursuing your dreams.


There are plenty of special skills you may have to offer. For example, you might be interested in learning other languages, so make sure you list your bilingual or multilingual skills.

If you are interested in programming and web development, start creating a portfolio with all your work. This will help prove your programming skills.

By developing a list of all your skills and strengths, you will stand out as a strong scholarship applicant.

Volunteer Work and Community Involvement

Most universities and scholarship organizations are looking for well-rounded applicants. What does this mean? It means that they are not only looking for students with excellent grades but also looking for candidates who are creating a positive impact in their communities.

Start getting involved in volunteer and community activities where you can put your knowledge and skills to great use. This not only looks good on college and scholarship applications, but it’s a positive life experience.

Extracurricular Activities

Some scholarship applications might require extracurricular activities. In fact, some specialized scholarships, such as sports-based and arts-based scholarships, may award scholarships based on your performance in these activities.

If you are a good tennis player, you should probably talk to your coach about specific tennis scholarships. And if you are a good artist or musician, you’ll be surprised by the number of scholarships available in these fields. S

tart getting involved in extracurricular activities, and practice, practice, practice.

Personal References

Personal references are needed on most applications for college scholarships. You do need to make sure you have the permission of individuals to use their contact information before listing them as references.

Having their name, address, and contact information written down will ensure you can always access it quickly. Make sure you list people who know you well and can provide an excellent reference on your behalf. These could be teachers, coaches, mentors, supervisors, tutors, and others.

Letters of Recommendation

You should have at least five letters of recommendation available as well. Make many copies, so you will have enough for all of the college scholarship applications you wish to complete.

These letters of recommendation should be from teachers, employers, coaches, mentors, and others that know you well. Their letters of recommendation should explain why you deserve a scholarship to fund your education.

Your Essay or Personal Statement

This is perhaps one of the most important pieces of the scholarship application. Your essay or personal statement gives you an opportunity to convey your story and persuade officials. Make sure you follow the instructions since most applications involve specific guidelines or a specific word length.

If you need to write a personal statement, try using some principles of storytelling and start crafting your narrative. Start with your background and setting, share your rising conflict(s), and show them how you have resolved these conflicts.

Also, make sure to convey how this scholarship will provide a more permanent resolution and a new chapter in your life. You should also try to explain how you will use your future degree to make a positive impact in your community, country, or the world.

You may also want to take a look at these Admissions Essay Dos and Don’ts to ensure you nail your essay or personal statement.

You may also like: Graduate Assistantships: How to Pay for Your Master’s or Ph.D. Degree

Specialized Scholarship Requirements

STEM Scholarship Girl

STEM Scholarships

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) scholarships may require additional items. Some Science and Math scholarships may require you to be involved in research studies, testing, and evaluation.

Also, you may need to submit a research paper, research proposal, or an evaluation by your research and evaluation team lead.

Technology and Engineering scholarships may require designs, portfolios, 2D/3D prototypes, project documents, etc. Review the specific requirements included in your scholarship application.

Word of Advice: Whether you are a STEM or creative student, start creating a portfolio today. This will not only be helpful with college and scholarship applications, but it’s also something you can show potential clients and employers down the road.

Design and Creative Arts Scholarships

Most likely you will need to present a portfolio of your designs or art projects. Be creative and start preparing a portfolio that can be repurposed for print, web, or video.

Show your final work, but also show your creative process including mockups, drafts, concepts, inspiration, etc.

Travel and Study Abroad Scholarships

These types of scholarships are usually awarded to students who show an appreciation for other cultures, languages, and regions.

If you are applying for a travel and study abroad scholarship, then you may want to show language courses, volunteering activities with multicultural communities, or a personal statement that shows how this international experience will help you grow as a global citizen.

You may also like: Top 10 Tuition-Free Colleges in the USA

Can you win a scholarship?

Yes, you can! You just need to plan and prepare for it. Show the best version of yourself by combining all your versions: the academic, the creative, the skillful, the storyteller, the global citizen, the volunteer, the idealist, the athlete, the artist, the techie, the prototyper, the researcher, or… just the amazing human you are!

Don’t doubt yourself. You can do this!

Denisse Romero, author
Denisse Romero
About | + posts

Denisse is a global education and communications consultant, as well as the main person behind MacQuil. As an international mentor and frequent traveler, she enjoys sharing information to help anyone travel, study or work abroad.

Denisse holds a Master's in Management from GWU, a Master's in Education from Harvard University and an Executive Coaching Certificate from the University of Cambridge.

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