Tips on Creating Competitive Applications

How do I start?

Reflect deeply on:

  • Who am I?
  • What do I care about?
  • What contribution do I want to make?
  • How do I get there?

What do applications measure?

Applications try to measure the uniqueness and potential of the individual. 

  • Selection committees want to know who you are.
  • They want to see a distinctive and memorable application that captures a vivid sense of the person and your professional mission on the page.
  • They want to read an application that builds an outstanding case, proving how you meet the award criteria and why you are right for this place, this program, this project, this award.
  • They want to read an application and say, “I would like to meet this person.”

What essentials am I trying to communicate in an application?

  1. My Story:  What I am and why

    Including pertinent qualifications (background, skills, experiences, and traits)
  2. Your Future:  What I want to be and why (professional/academic/personal goals and aspirations)

    Short-term (1-3 years)
    Long-term (5+ years)
  3. How the funding opportunity explicitly connects #1 and #2:  "Fit" or "Suitability"

    Including what you can offer the funding organization/society/discipline as well as what the opportunity can offer you

Note: The writer does not have to follow this order. In fact, he/she could begin with any of the elements above. Writers should also be cautioned that a strictly chronological approach often detracts from the essay because such an approach sometimes subordinates the primary objectives of the self-presentation to the logic of the chronology. The writer should experiment with the most arresting and persuasive order of presentation. (from Tony Cashman, College of the Holy Cross)

Common elements of an application can include:

  • Personal Statement: who you are, what you care about, the contribution you want to make and its significance. An intellectual or developmental autobiography as pertinent to the opportunity. In your personal statement your personality, character, "agenda," and passion should shine through.
  • Statement of Purpose/Proposal: WHO/WHAT/WHEN/WHERE/WHY/HOW--specifics and value of the research, project, or degree program you wish to fund, as in a grant proposal (for some awards, a formal research proposal or political policy proposal is required).  The proposal should demonstrate professionalism and maturity.
  • Resume Section: academic record, peer-reviewed publications, conference presentations, leadership, employment, internships, study abroad, languages, campus and community activities, awards, etc.
  • Transcript(s): be sure whether an unofficial or official transcript(s) is required, whether current or all institutions
  • Letters of Reference from professionals who know you and your work well
  • Foreign language evaluation by a professional

How long do most applications take?

For national or international opportunities, with students nationwide competing for funding, applications must be your very best work. If you want to be competitive, we recommend that you work with an application over a three-month period minimum; requesting feedback from advisors, mentors, and the scholarship coordinator; then revising, revising, revising!  For the most prestigious awards, beginning to think about and work with an application a year ahead is not too early.

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