Scholarships are awarded to students based on a variety of factors beyond just academic merit. While grades and test scores are important criteria that most scholarship committees consider, your unique skills, talents, experiences, and personal attributes can also make you a strong candidate.
This blog post explores the diverse array of soft skills and life experiences that scholarship providers often look for in applicants.
With the right combination of academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, community service, work experience, and personal qualities, you can strengthen your scholarship applications and maximize your chances of winning funding for your education.
What Skills and Life Experiences Make You a Good Candidate for a Scholarship?
Soft Skills and Hard Skills
When considering scholarship candidates, selection committees aim to find well-rounded individuals who will make the most of their educational opportunities and give back to their communities. In addition to reviewing your academic transcripts and standardized test scores, they want to learn more about your interpersonal abilities, leadership potential, work ethic, and how you problem solve. These are known as soft skills.
Some examples of key soft skills that demonstrate your suitability for scholarships include:
- Communication: Being able to clearly and concisely express your ideas in writing is essential. Strong written and verbal communication skills give selection committees confidence in your ability to advocate for yourself and complete demanding college-level coursework.
- Critical thinking: The ability to analyze complex problems, synthesize information from different sources, and think creatively is highly valued. Scholarship providers look for applicants who can apply reasoning and logic.
- Collaboration: Working effectively in teams is an important job skill. Committees favor candidates who can cooperate with diverse groups of people to achieve shared goals.
- Leadership: Taking initiative and motivating others is attractive to selection panels. They seek candidates passionate about serving their communities in leadership roles.
- Work ethic: Scholarship providers award funding to hard workers committed to seeing projects through to completion. A proven track record of diligence helps.
- Adaptability: Being flexible and open-minded prepares you for new challenges and opportunities. The capacity to adjust to changing circumstances signals resilience.
Of course, scholarship committees also consider your technical or “hard skills” depending on your intended major, career interests, and the specific focus of the scholarship. For example, STEM scholarships may prioritize proficiency in lab techniques or programming languages in addition to soft skills.
Getting involved in extracurriculars, organizations, volunteer work, internships, or employment demonstrates your dedication beyond textbooks. Scholarship providers aim to support students eager to gain experiences that promote personal growth alongside their academic goals. Some examples of activities that strengthen applications include:
- School clubs and sports: Holding leadership roles shows initiative and teamwork experience. Longevity in a single group carries extra weight.
- Volunteer work: Serving your local community through non-profits, charities, political campaigns, or religious groups indicates principles of giving back. International service can be particularly impressive.
- Internships: Relevant work shadowing, research assistantships, or paid internships provide hands-on experience in your intended industry and a network of references.
- Employment: Scholarship committees value the responsibility, time management skills, and financial independence gained from part-time or full-time jobs during the academic year or summer breaks. Teaching or tutoring roles especially signal teaching potential.
- Performing or visual arts: Music, theatre, dance, painting or other creative talents offer unique perspectives and enhance applications when balanced with academics. Winning awards adds distinction.
- Activism: Advocating for important social or political causes through rallies, petitions, or organizing shows initiative and leadership for change.
Getting involved in multiple areas allows selection panels to assess your broad interests and time management abilities when balancing extracurriculars with schoolwork. Focusing deeply in one or two main areas also succeeds by allowing for greater depth, responsibility and, often, leadership roles over several years.
An authentic passion for community service consistently impresses scholarship committees. They seek students dedicated to bettering society through volunteerism. Some promising types of service experiences include:
- Mentoring or tutoring underserved youth
- Volunteering at homeless shelters, food banks or assisting seniors
- Environmental conservation or advocacy for social issues through non-profits
- International mission trips providing healthcare, education or infrastructure
- Starting your own fundraisers or awareness campaigns for important causes
What matters most is choosing quality service opportunities aligned with your values and making meaningful impacts. Tracking hours and requesting recommendation letters from supervisors helps verify the depth and significance of your work. Longstanding commitments signal greater devotion compared to one-off events. Leadership within service organizations, like planning activities or fundraising, strengthens applications further.
Credentials and Awards
Scholarship committee members scan applications for awards, honors and achievements that set applicants apart. Formal credentials like the following can enhance your competitiveness:
- Academic or musical accomplishments: Placement exams, advanced diplomas/degrees, soloist awards
- Standardized test scores: ACT, SAT, AP/IB exam scores in the top percentiles
- Talent or skills competitions: Science fairs, debate tournaments, art show awards
- Licenses: EMT, software certification, pilot’s license demonstrating expertise
- Military service: ROTC enrollment, service academy nominations, veteran status
- Published works: Scholarly articles, creative writing, musical compositions
- Patents: Inventor status from technological or scientific creations
- Fellowships/internships: Prestigious programs like Fulbright, Goldwater, Research Science Institute
- National Merit Semifinalist or Finalist designation
Including any scholarships or grants previously awarded by other organizations reflects positively on your potential, as does a history of strong letters of recommendation from recognizable experts in your field.
Scholarship providers aim to support dedicated students positioning themselves for career success after graduation. As such, relevant work history helps demonstrate your suitability, especially as it relates to your major course of study and post-collegiate goals. Examples of meaningful experiences to highlight include:
- Internships: Paid or unpaid, in your proposed field of study or dream industries.
- Research assistantships: Working alongside professors and scientists to advance knowledge.
- Apprenticeships or trade programs: For targeted vocational/technical fields like welding, mechanics, medical assisting.
- Full-time employment: Balancing responsibilities shows work ethic for ambitious course loads ahead.
- Self-employment: Initiating your own small business displays creativity and entrepreneurship.
- Caregiving: Caring for family members cultivates compassion valued across disciplines.
Committees favor polished candidates who can link their work experiences to long-term career aspirations in interviews or essays. Discussing responsibilities, impacts achieved and lessons learned amplifies your suitability.
Scholarship providers aim to help motivated students across all backgrounds fully access their educational dreams. If personal hardships or disadvantages factored into your path, addressing determined approaches taken to overcome them showcases resilience. Some examples include:
- Family responsibilities like child or elder caregiving that distracted from studies
- Bilingual upbringing providing perspective on cultural diversity
- Physical or learning disabilities necessitating accommodation
- Financial difficulties requiring self-support through part-time work
- Community barriers like lack of role models, unsafe neighborhoods or underperforming schools
Rather than dwelling on negatives, highlight the grit, problem-solving skills and determination cultivated to prevail, supported by evidence like impactful recommendations. These profiles tend to deeply impress upon selection committees.
While difficult to convey succinctly, your character, personality and attributes matter to scholarship committees evaluating how you will positively represent their programs. Some promising personal qualities include:
- Integrity: Applicants whose conduct and values aligns with the mission of bettering their communities through education.
- Curiosity: A love of learning often transfers to how scholars approach new subjects and environments.
- Optimism: Positivity, hope and belief you can create opportunity through dedication.
- Empathy: Consideration for others’ perspectives and situations fosters inclusive cooperation.
- Vision: Insight into how your studies and experiences might address real-world problems down the line.
- Humility: Recognition that accomplishments stem from privileged access and a willingness to pay opportunities forward.
While showcased through experiences, humility in applications lets your genuine qualities shine without grandstanding. Authentic enthusiasm for continuous self-improvement also signals promising development ahead.
Academic performance establishes a foundation for scholarship consideration, yet your complete profile ultimately sells your suitability.
Demonstrating diverse experiences, overarching passion for bettering communities, and a blend of hard and soft skills through involvement highlights your potential to maximize funding and make the most of educational support.
With strategic presentation of your unique talents, attributes and experiences, scholarship committees can envision how you will thrive and give back as a recipient.