How to Write an Award-Winning Scholarship Application

After several years working in her trade, Kerri Chalmers (Welder ’09) returned to NAIT to pursue her Bachelor of Business Administration — Management. Money was tight. In addition to tuition and books, she had a family to support and mortgage to pay, which only added to her financial stress.

Although it felt daunting at first, Chalmers applied for every scholarship and bursary she was eligible for. “I think one of the barriers that stops students from applying is the amount of time it takes,” says Chalmers, now entering her third year of study. But the effort can pay off. Chalmers was awarded $5,300 — enough to cover tuition and fees for an entire school year.

With 4,000 scholarships and bursaries, there are plenty of opportunities for similar success. But competition is strong and growing. That means it’s crucial for students to get their applications right. We asked Chalmers and NAIT scholarships and bursaries administrator Michelle Graham for tips on how to prepare an award-winning application.

1. Don't procrastinate

It takes time to gather required information, so don’t wait until the last minute, advises Graham. Browse through NAIT’s list of available awards to see criteria for applying. At the very least, you could update your resumé or CV, reach out to your references, and develop your personal budget for the semester.

When it comes to references, think carefully about who will sing your praises about why you are the best candidate for an award. Chalmers asked references for letters of recommendation well in advance of application deadlines. “It’s important to have someone who can speak strongly on your behalf,” she says.

2. Follow the instructions

Read all the instructions carefully and ensure you include all information requested. “Not following instructions fully or including incomplete information can hurt your chances,” says Graham. “It’s important to answer each point required and give examples whenever possible.”

Applications are reviewed for key information that establishes whether you’re eligible for certain awards, so be specific about how you meet the criteria. “The more relevant information you provide the better, so the selection committee is able to make a decision,” adds Graham. “Convey your ideas clearly and demonstrate why you are the best candidate.”

3. Stay calm and write on

If an essay is part of your application, there’s no need to freak out. Let the essay question guide you, so pay attention to specific keywords, says Chalmers.

“If you’re applying for an award that is asking how you demonstrate leadership, make sure that you are using the word ‘leadership.’” It may sound obvious, but it's a key to success. “Be sure to include those unique experiences that will help you stand out from the crowd,” she adds.

At the same time, keep your essay succinct. Don’t write a novel, advises Graham.

4. Tap into your strengths

Just like writing a winning resumé or cover letter, scholarship applications are about presenting yourself in the best possible light for a specific audience. “I treat it like a resumé and tailor it to the specific award application, just like you would for a job by highlighting certain qualities,” Chalmers says.

She also recommends including details that make your application more personal. Find something you’re passionate about — whether that’s sports or volunteer experience — and bring it to the fore.

“I help out at my kids’ schools and preschools because my kids are important to me, so I highlight that experience as something that really matters to me.”

5. Double-check your work

Thoroughly reviewing the instructions, questions, and your answers once you're done is essential to an award-winning application.

Other things to look out for? Make sure your personal and financial information is correct. And always, proofread for spelling and grammar.

Learn more about NAIT’s scholarships