Scholarship Preparation & Application Tips  

The following tips, resources, and presentation may assist you in writing a scholarship essay, requesting a letter of recommendation, and completing a scholarship application. 

  • Scholarship Essay Tips

    1. Make sure you’re answering the prompt (the essay question)

    a. Are you answering all questions asked in the essay prompt thoroughly? Although you might consider using elements of essays you’ve already written, make sure that what you write is directly related to the question asked.

    2. Know your audience

    a. Do your research on the organization offering the scholarship. What is their mission? What is the purpose of the scholarship? A professional organization may seek to help students pursue a career in their field. A foundation may offer a scholarship in memory of a person who was passionate about a cause. Your essay should highlight how you represent the values and mission of the scholarship. You can usually find this information on the scholarship’s website.

    3. Use details and examples to support what you have to say

    a. When writing about an experience or event, make sure you identify and describe the situation, how things happened, and why this was important to YOU. What did this situation and how you responded to it show about YOU? Always use details and examples.

    b. Many scholarships will ask about your motivation to go to college. For this, think about a particular time in your life when it became clear going to college was your goal? What are your expectations of college (or the college you transfer to)? If you have a specific field of study, write why you are interested in it.

    4. Make sure the essay flows and makes sense, especially when “borrowing” from earlier essays

    a. Yes, you may want to borrow from another essay, or multiple essays that you have written, but don’t just copy and paste randomly. What you use must be related to the prompt. As you read your essay ask yourself the question: Do the ideas and examples answer the questions asked in the essay prompt?


    Don’t Forget the Basics:

    * Don’t go over/under word limits

    * Always type your essay

    * When you’re done writing, re-read the prompt

    * Have at least one person proofread your essay and give you feedback

    * Never copy someone else’s work


  • How to Request a Letter of Recommendation

    A letter of recommendation is needed for applications such as graduate schools and full time positions. Professors may be a good candidate to write a letter. The steps below (credit to WikiHow) can be followed to assist you in requesting a letter.

    1. Prepare to send request at least 4-5 weeks before the date by which the recommendation must be received. Don't wait until the last minute to ask them. They lead busy lives, and you don't want them to rush through your recommendation.

    2. Choose an appropriate professor. Before you choose which professor to ask for a recommendation, ask yourself how well does this professor know me? Have you ever spoken to this professor outside of class? Did this professor give you a grade of 'B' or higher in the course? Have you taken more than one course with this professor?

    3. If you are requesting a letter via email, address it properly. Even though this is an e-mail, you want it to look nice. If you were on a first name basis (meaning they specifically asked you to call them by their first name and you did so constantly) address it by their first name. Otherwise use their appropriate title followed by a comma or a colon.

    4. Put "Recommendation for [your name]?" as the subject line.

    5. Start the first paragraph by stating what you want: "I am writing to ask if you would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me." Don't keep him or her guessing. In the next few sentences, lay out the facts:

    a. Your name

    b. Year in school

    c. Major

    d. Why you need a recommendation [that is, what you are applying for]

    e. When the recommendation letter is due

    6. Outline your relationship with the professor in a paragraph or two and point out why you have asked him or her specifically. Tell a little about yourself in relevance to the subject and why you are interested in the scholarship, graduate program, or job for which you need the reference.

    a. Highlight relevant activities or clubs that you participated in. Describe any projects that you worked on. The more details you provide, the more the professors can work with. Attaching a resume and a transcript in the email is also beneficial. If you are requesting verbally, have copies with you to give to them then if they agree to write one.

    b. You don't want to use mundane reasons like "I want to go to this school because the degree looks really good on a resume." Be professional and say something like, "I chose to apply to this school because I am very interested in their ___ program.

    c. If your experience with this professor had any influence on your choice, say so: "I had not considered going into research until I took your cell biology class. That motivated me to get a part-time job in Dr. Jin's lab and now I'm excited about the possibility of doing stem cell research after grad school." However, don't force this if it's not true.

    7. Give them the details on the process of the letter. Where does the letter need to be sent and by when? Give them a stamped and addressed envelope. If the professor is very busy or forgetful, offer to send the letter once they have written/sealed it within the envelope. You want to be the LEAST amount of trouble. Include this in the e-mail so they know the time frame.

    8. Close with information about how you will follow-up: "I'll drop off the form and a stamped, addressed envelope in your faculty mailbox this week. I'll also send you an email reminder a week before the recommendation is due. Thanks again." Or, "I need to submit the letter of recommendation by August 3rd. If you're willing to write me a recommendation letter, please let me know and I'd be happy to come by your office any time to pick it up."

    9. Thank them, whether or not they write the letter. "Thank you in advance for your time, and consideration. I also wanted to extend an additional thank you for the time I spent under your instruction. I really enjoyed your course, and I can't express how much I've taken away from Archeology 101."

    10. Follow through as promised by delivering necessary materials and sending a reminder. Follow up the e-mail with a phone call if you haven't heard anything in a week, two at the most. If you need to call, don't assume anything. First, see if they've even seen your e-mail. If not, be prepared to do your request verbally.

    11. Before the deadline, take responsibility for checking with the scholarship program, graduate school, or prospective employer to verify that the recommendation was received. If not, send a brief, polite email to the professor and offer to pay for overnight delivery.

    12. Thank them again. After you get your letter of recommendation, send a thank you note to the professor. If the recommendation is in the right hands, send the professor a hand-written thank you note via U.S. mail, not via email. If the letter does the trick and gets you the position, send a quick note to the professor to share the good news!

  • Application Tips

    fastweb is an excellent online resource for application tips.

  • Mastering the Scholarship Essay

    Most scholarship applications will require the submission of an essay. Although, this may be the most intimidating part when applying for a scholarship, this is actually your time to shine. A well-thought essay will increase your chances of winning a scholarship. By following the steps below, courtesy of Fastweb, you are on your way to writing a winning essay.


    Get organized. Brainstorm ideas that fit with the essay topic(s). Create an outline to keep your thoughts in order.

    Develop a theme that fits the scholarship. Think about the kind of student the scholarship donor might be looking for. Highlight elements in your essay that personally describe you and at the same time complement the donor's requirements.

    Be original and creative. Scholarship judges can read up to hundreds of essay applications. To really capture their attention, you have to make sure you are able to draw in the reader right away.

    Show, don't tell. If you are sharing a volunteer experience, for example, be specific. What duties did you perform? How did it change your way of thinking? What affect did it have on your life or the lives of others?

    Revise and Edit. Treat your scholarship essay the same as you would any essay or paper for one of your courses. The reward is money instead of a grade. Write multiple drafts to catch mistakes. Ask your professors, counselors, friends or family to check for any additional spelling or grammar mistakes.

    In addition, The Center for Academic Support (CORE) CO- 303, offers help with scholarship essays throughout each semester. Contact the Center for Academic Support at (925) 473-7590 for hours of availability.

  • Scholarship Essay Presentation
  • Scholarship Interview Tips