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Nail Your Story to Nail the Scholarship

June 6, 2012

Unless you’ve recently crawled out from under a rock, you’ve probably seen the news reports about student loan debt surpassing $1Trillion.  Tuition at state and private institutions have increased as much as 80-90% in the past 10 years.  Pell grants and other federal aid is at an all-time low. So, what is a starving college student to do to help foot the bill of their college degree?

Scholarships.  And, lots of them…

Having interviewed hundreds of students over the past several years about their success with the scholarship process, I’ve found that one skill more than any other is what will determine whether or not you make it to the winner’s circle.  It has nothing to do with your GPA, your skill on the tennis court, or what nationality you happen to be.

It’s all about how well you tell your story.

Scholarship committees are a sticky bunch.  They are usually volunteers, sometimes a group of administrative professionals, occasionally a board of directors.  And you better believe that they can be extremely picky when it comes to choosing a winner.  This group weeds through essay after essay, putting up with sloppy grammar, misspelled words, run-on sentences, and virtually no valid reason why the applicant is deserving of the award.

If you want to nail the scholarship, you MUST nail your story first.  Your story is a tale of hardship — something you’ve come through in your life that makes you a better human being.  It’s usually an experience, a mission trip, a strained relationship with someone close, or some other challenging event that you’ve been through that tested you to the core and taught you a lesson.  If your scholarship application is void of these details, it is more than likely stuck in a pile of applications that were decent, but not good enough.

One of the typical questions asked on scholarship applications is “why are you deserving of being awarded this scholarship?”  The key word is deserving.  What makes you more deserving than someone else?  What makes you more deserving than your best friend?

Deserving is an often misconceived word.  It doesn’t mean financial need.  It means overall merit, future service to humanity, past community service…  So when asked why are you deserving, make sure you include in your story the following pieces of information:

  • A personal hardship, challenge, or event that taught you a lesson and forever changed you.
  • What the lesson(s) learned was(were) and how you’ve applied those lessons to your life.
  • How you will be of service to mankind from now on having learned that lesson.

That sticky bunch on the scholarship committee asking if you’re deserving wants to know one thing — will you do something great with your life?  It may seem like a giant task to do something great, but they want to know that someday they’ll put your name on their website as someone who they assisted in the path to greatness.  In essence, they want a great ambassador for their organization.

If it is to be you, be thinking about your story, your lessons learned, and your future gift to humanity.  There are thousands of dollars riding on it!

Adam Carroll and Tim Augustine

Adam Carroll is an author and speaker who regularly presents on college campuses across the country.  He is the creator of and author of Winning The Money Game.  Find more great articles at

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