Making your scholarship application stand out from the hundreds of others in the crowd is not an easy task. Luckily, the team at Bermuda Scholarships are happy to share some advice to ensure you can make the committee sit up and take notice.
Put in the hours
Don’t leave your application to the last minute – or even the last month or the last year. “The process starts in high school,” a Bermuda Scholarships spokesman said. “It is so important. The result can potentially be huge in terms of a significant scholarship. So, you really need to put time into it.
“You don’t have to just think about your grades, you need to show your extracurriculars, how you contributed to your community. That’s what scholarship providers are looking for. Treat it like another class. Spend a couple of hours on it every week and just build on it.”
You need to demonstrate that you’re not like everyone else: “We tend to get two or three every year where we say, Geez Louise, they should be running the world,” the spokesman said. “They are normally the young people that can clearly state what they have done that separates them from the pack. They might say that in their spare time they taught themselves how to speak Mandarin, or learnt how to play the drums. It’s that extra bit that tells you something about their character and how hard they are going to work.”
Write a good essay
“If a question has been asked, make sure you answer it. It may be something to do with their company or whatever the scholarship is for,” the spokesman said. “Do some real research. You can spot the answers that have just been copied straight from somebody’s website and don’t show your true understanding of the subject.
“Make no mistakes. Have a good sentence structure with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Write in paragraphs instead of one big block of information. Write the number of words that you have been asked to write.”
If you’re submitting several scholarship applications, don’t simply cut and paste the same essay: “You can keep the same general format, but you should tweak the essay to make sure it is specific for the scholarship you are applying for.”
And don’t try to look clever with things like unusual fonts or ink colours: “The most important thing is for your essay to be clear and concise and professional,” the spokesman said.
Get good references
As well as an academic reference, award providers often require a personal reference. This could be a minister, doctor, youth group leader or business owner you worked for.
“It can’t just be the person you scooped ice cream with during the summer,” the spokesman said. “They should be able to speak to your academics and your character. Give your referee the information they need to point out all your good characteristics, and show you’re honest, focused and determined. Tell them what your plans are so they can incorporate that. They need to demonstrate you’re a finisher, so if you win the scholarship, you will see it through to the end.”
“If you have had a trial, be open about it,” the spokesman said. “Explain that your GPA fell below a 3.0 because there were extenuating circumstances. Don’t try to gloss over it. Admit to an issue you have had. Be honest in a positive way.
“If it’s a mistake you’ve made, you can talk about what you’re doing to rectify it. It shows that human side and the personality comes through. It shows you know how to improve and grow.”
Award providers require numerous documents such as reference letters, transcripts or proof of Bermuda status.
“Unfortunately, too many students do not follow instructions and we do not see the documentation we are asking for,” the spokesman said.
School counsellors, teachers, family members, friends or a professional in the career you’re pursuing can all make sure your application is spot on. The Bermudascholarships.com website has a helpdesk which helps students who have issues with their profile. It is open from 9am to 5pm on weekdays – so don’t leave it too late.
Advice from an expert
Wanda Armstrong assessed numerous scholarship applications while working in HR at KPMG for more than a decade, and is now employed by BHS, where she helps pupils with their applications.
Ms Armstrong advised applicants to stay organised and make sure they have a checklist for all required documents: “When I see something is missing, the first thing I think is they don’t know how to follow instructions,” she said. “Why should the company give a scholarship to someone who is not paying attention, who is not organised?”
She said you should also show you are passionate about your career choice.
“Get into the nitty gritty about what you’ve been doing in college or high school,” she said. “Insert the things you have accomplished, the courses you have done well and the ways you have been active in different community aspects, different clubs and committees. That’s what captures our eyes.”
Tips from a winner
Treasure Tannock, who won the Duperreault Fellowship in 2021, said it is important to illustrate your values in your application.
“At its core, a scholarship represents a governing body’s belief that you mirror their values and a financial investment into your professional career based on these values,” Treasure said. “Within your application, centre your achievements, test, scores and extracurriculars around these values.”
Taking a creative approach can be a risk, but if done properly, the reward can be great.
Treasure said: “Consider the board members, reading hundreds of written applications from young Bermudians with a similar upbringing as you, same school and extracurriculars. What makes your application different?
“Where appropriate, poetry, metaphor, anecdotes and visuals can both allow you to explore further the importance of your application, but also encourages the board to reflect on your uniqueness as a candidate.”