8 Tips and Tricks for Applying to Scholarships

8 Tips and Tricks for Applying to Scholarships

By Jeffrey Shu 

Jeffrey is a senior MCB major and OURS Peer Advisor. His peer advising drop in hours are in 2422 Dwinelle on Mondays from 12-1pm. 


Are you thinking of applying to scholarships to fund your research (or your tuition) and don’t know where to start? This article offers 8 tips to getting you planning on the right track. The Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (OURS) has many more resources for various scholarship opportunities, including advising!

Visit the main office at 2422 Dwinelle as well as the Scholarships Connection Website and the OURS website for more information!


Tip 1: Do your research

There are scholarships for every niche out there - you just have to able to find them! So many scholarships are accessible by the internet, but it’s overwhelming to sift through the hundreds of thousands of scholarships available. One good resource for managing this sea of scholarship opportunities is the OURS Scholarship Connection database at http://scholarships.berkeley.edu/scholarships/type. You can search by deadline month, type of award, eligibility criteria, underrepresented group, and name!

One thing to note is that prestigious scholarships (such as Beinecke, Boren, CLS, Churchill,  Goldwater, Knight-Henessey, Luce, Marshall, Mitchell, Rhodes, Schwarzman, Science Po, Strauss, Truman, Udall, Benching) require a significant amount of work, thought, and advising to apply for. Successful applications from previous winners are available on the internet to use as examples to see what the committee is looking for. Interested students should contact Alicia Hayes if planning to apply to any of these prestigious scholarships (ourscholarships@berkeley.edu).

Tip 2: Apply broadly

You should apply for scholarships for which you fit the qualifications. Don’t limit yourself to only big scholarships or ones that sounds impressive. Many smaller scholarships offered by smaller organizations are less competitive and offer free money! If you strongly believe you are good candidate, even if you don’t necessarily meet all the qualifications, apply!

Tip 3: Start early!

This has been stated over and over, but start early! Many scholarships require essays or letters of recommendation before submitting, so starting early ensures that you can put out your best work. Securing letters and revising your essays can end up taking way more time than expected (and believe me, working on scholarship applications during finals week sucks!).

Especially for prestigious scholarships, where every applicant is extremely well qualified, starting as early as 3-4 months before the deadline date is normal and will allow you to ration out the mountain of work expected into manageable pieces.

Tip 4: Tell a story

Tie your personal experiences and activities into a unique story about your life. Why do you do the things you do? What led you to the major you are studying, the activities you participate in, and the scholarship you are applying for? A story captivates the reader and will help make your application stand out from the rest of the applicants!

Tip 5: Revise, revise, revise (and revise again)

Start with ideas and craft a rough draft! Try to get some feedback throughout the whole application process so that you can filter your ideas into a more cohesive story for strangers to understand. It takes a lot of effort and work to mold a rough draft into a submission-ready application, so don’t be afraid to run through multiple drafts! OURS Peer Advisors are willing to help you through this process! Alicia Hayes is a great resource for students applying to prestigious scholarships!

Tip 6: Tailor your application to the scholarship

Each scholarships looks for different things in applicants.If you are reusing essays (which is OK), be sure to tailor them to the specific scholarship and not just swap out names. Be sure to address every criteria they are looking for in your personal statement and to make sure you prove you are the best candidate for that specific scholarship.

Tip 7: Choose recommenders that know you well

Bad recommendations hurt your application. Make sure you choose recommenders not on prestige, but how well they know you as a person/student/researcher. Be sure to go to office hours, meet with them in person, and give them all the information they need to write a strong letter (CV, essays, etc). Also remember to choose recommenders that fit the scholarship you are applying for. For example, research mentors make good recommenders for research based scholarships, but maybe not for community-service based scholarships.

Another good resource for letters of recommendations is to store them in the Career Center letter service data bank for future applications after submitting! Ask your recommender to write a general letter if you plan on applying for a large amount of scholarships/programs and store them in the letter service for easy submission! Note that prestigious scholarships require “fresh” letters to be competitive - so let your recommender know in advance!

Tip 8: It’s a win-win situation

Still deciding if you should apply for the scholarship? Just do it! The worst that can happen is that you end up with letters of recommendations you can use for future applications, a strong essay, and experience to help guide you through your next application. The best case scenario is you get free money and all of the above!

A good strategy to get a strong letter of recommendation is to apply for a scholarship right after finishing the class or internship.That way you can have your recommender write a letter while your experiences with them are still fresh on their mind!


Good luck applying!