If you’ve ever met me in real life, then you know that I am a huge advocate for scholarships. After all, I was constantly applying for them during my free time in my senior year, and was continually encouraging my friends to do the same. Scholarships are the one thing that have truly allowed me to afford a college education, so it’s no wonder that I’m such a fanatic for them!
However, when students initially begin applying to scholarships, the process can feel very overwhelming, time-consuming, and to some students, even worthless; after not receiving any during the first few tries, many students give up and never attempt to apply again.
However, this is the wrong way of thinking; over my college career, I’ve received thousands of dollars in scholarships, and I’m going to tell you right now that I don’t win every scholarship that I apply to. In fact, I only receive about 10% of scholarships that I apply to. While that may not seem like much, when you consider that each scholarship is worth somewhere between several hundred to several thousand dollars, it adds up very quickly to make a HUGE difference. After a while you begin to focus on the ones you’ve won, rather than the ones you’ve lost.
So far on the blog, I’ve taught you how to organize your scholarship binder (with free printables!), my methods and processes of how I go about applying to scholarships (the right way), and what to do after you win a scholarship. Each one of these posts have received a ton of views and positive feedback, so I thought I’d expand on the subject even more: how to create a scholarship application portfolio.
If you’ve read my post on how to organize your scholarship binder (which you totally should, because it goes perfect with this post), then you have already heard about how I have an entire section of my binder dedicated to my portfolio; however, I just gave a brief synopsis about what it was, and not how to create one.
In short, a scholarship portfolio is like an expanded resume of everything you’ve ever done. Every. Single. Thing. For most students, you should begin your portfolio starting at the high school level (unless you earned something at the state or national level before the 9th grade) and then you continue to add to it as you go through college because you can still apply to scholarships even if you’re not a high school senior. The reason why you start your portfolio at the high school level is because most colleges and scholarship organizations don’t really care what you did in elementary or middle school, unless it was something pretty major.
I have it my scholarship portfolio divided into the following sections:
1. Extracurricular Activities
This is the section where you list any extracurricular activities that you have been in throughout high school and/or college. It’s important to not only list the name of the activity itself, because many scholarship applications will give you the option to describe what the activity was. When this happens, you need to do it. This is your one opportunity to brag about yourself, and it isn’t the time to be humble or be lazy and skip over it. In fact, a strong description is what can help put you ahead of the competition.
For example, let’s say there are two very similar candidates for a scholarship and they both list multiple extracurricular activities on their application. One applicant just lists the name of the organization and a brief description of the activity, like this:
- Beta Club (Grades 9-12)
- I was a member of Beta Club, a service-based honor organization where I had to maintain a good GPA and perform service around the community.
The other applicant lists something like this:
- Beta Club (Grades 9-12)
- I have been a member of my school’s chapter of Beta Club since the 9th grade, and it has truly been an honor to participate in it. Beta Club has not only pushed me to maintain a high GPA and serve my community, but it has also allowed me to grow as a person through the lessons that I have learned when interacting with my fellow Beta Club members and the non-profits that I have volunteered my time with. Some of the non-profits that I have volunteered with through Beta Club are…
Which student do you think is going to get the scholarship?
Whenever you write these descriptions, it is important to note how much time you put into the activity (1 meeting per week, 4 hours per month, etc.), how long you participated in it for (1 year, 2 years, etc.), what the activity was, what you did in the activity, what your responsibilities were, any leadership positions you had, and what you learned from it and/or how you grew as a result of participating in it.
While these descriptions may sound tiring, believe me, they are well worth it. I generally just write a thorough description for each activity and will copy and paste it into my applications, making any adjustments as needed (limited number of words, for example), so that I only have to do all of the work once.
2. Volunteer Services
Scholarship organizations LOVE to see students who get out into the community and volunteer, so this is a great time to highlight everything you’ve done (and I do mean everything). In fact, you don’t even have to have volunteered with a non-profit organization to list volunteer work on your application. For example, I have one volunteer activity listed in my portfolio from where I helped shovel snow out of my elderly neighbor’s driveway.
For the description of volunteer services (and yes, you do want to have a description for this as well) it is important to list the “Title” of what you did, where it took place at, the organization you volunteered with (if any), and how many hours you volunteered.
Many applications will also ask you how many times a week you volunteered and how many hours for each week, but it’s okay to just list it as a one-time thing.
After listing the basics, you then want to describe three main things in your description of the volunteer activity: what you did, how it affected others, and how it affected you. For example, in a volunteer activity where I picked up trash at a riverside park, I wrote how much trash I had found, how my actions positively affected the environment, and how volunteering gave me more awareness of the need to take care of our environment.
I then repeat those same three description factors in each volunteer activity that I list. Once again, it is something that I do one time and just copy and paste into each scholarship application.
This is the section where you get to talk about any kind of honors, awards, or recognitions you’ve earned throughout high school and college. It is also the section where you are most likely to list something that you earned before the high school level, as long as it was at least at a state/national level.
With each honor/award you earn, you will want to list the name of the award, when you earned it (year and/or grade level), who it was from, and (in some cases) if it was a school, community, state, or national award.
After listing the basic info, you will then want to give a description. In my experience, it is okay to repeat the basic info you listed as an introduction to your description, and then list what the award was and why it is important. For example, I might say, “I earned my school’s Academic Achievement Award in Science in the 9th grade due to my strong work ethic, great class participation, and hard work throughout the year. This award is extremely meaningful because it is only given to one student in my entire school each year, and I was the student chosen…”
Whenever you write your description, you also want to write why you earned it and it’s importance. It would be easy for me to list Academic Achievement Award in Science on my scholarship application and leave it at that, but for all the judges who are reading over my application know, that award could have been given to every student who passed the science class. That being said, including a description for honors and awards, especially since awards with the same name can have entirely different meanings between schools and communities.
4. Leadership Positions
Scholarship organizations are looking for many qualities in their applicants, but one of the main qualities they’re looking for is leadership; they want to fund a student who is going to make a positive difference in the world. What this means for you is that you need to tell them any and all leadership positions you’ve had in the past (or are currently holding), because this can give you a huge leg up in the competition.
When you are describing the leadership position, you need to give the name of the position, when you had it (year or grade), the organization you had it with, and then a description.
The description of a leadership position is much like that of the previous ones, but this time you want to focus on the responsibilities you had, how you helped others, why your position was important, and what you learned. Although saying you learned something for any of these categories is good, it is especially good for leadership because it shows that you not only earned your leadership position, but that you continued to grow and learn when holding the position.
Although I don’t keep my academic information in the same section of my scholarship binder, it is still a major factor in an application, and therefore be kept on hand with your portfolio. This part of your scholarship portfolio is where you want to keep track of your GPA (weighted and unweighted), what honors/AP classes you’ve been in, if you’ve participated in any dual-credit classes, etc. You will also most likely need to list your standardized test scores, such as the ACT, SAT, and AP tests.
From my experience, scholarship applications just ask you to list this information, rather than describe it, making it one of the easier parts of an application.
Although I’ve given you a lot of information about creating a scholarship portfolio, there are a few last details that I want to touch on:
Occasionally, You Can List It Twice
On some applications, you can list the same honor, award, activity twice, as long as it’s in two different sections. For example, I often list my community service in one category, and then the extracurricular activities that I did them through in another. Similarly, you can count having a leadership position as an honor, and therefore list it once in the Honors/Awards category and another time in the Leadership Positions category.
The reason that you can sometimes do this is because there might be multiple judges looking over a single application, with each judge looking at a different section. This means that this judge may not know that you did X, Y, and Z, even though you put it in a different section, because s/he is only looking at the section they were given. Since some items can fit into two different categories, it is definitely something to consider.
If you’re unsure about whether you can do this on your scholarship application, just reach out to the organization and ask.
Use ADJECTIVES and ELABORATE
If it wasn’t already clear enough, I want you to give the scholarship judges as much information as possible when you’re writing your description; you to get as much bang for the buck as possible. For example:
- Description Without Adjectives: Through this position, I grew as a person.
- Description With Adjectives: Through this incredible leadership position, I have not only grown as a person, but I have also grown as a mentor, friend, and student.
See what I mean? You to become a storyteller on your application, rather than a robot reciting one thing after the next. Believe me, judges are often looking through a ton of applications, and hearing the same basic description over and over again will get old. However, if you tell a story, they will remember you.
Your portfolio is a major key in being successful when applying to scholarships, so although it may seem like a lot of work at first, it is well worth it in the end. In fact, I created this free printable for you to print out, which contains a simplified version of everything I just taught you! This printable allows you to have an easy checklist to look off of as you create your scholarship portfolio. In addition, I’ll list my other scholarship posts for you below, and if you have any questions or comments, then let me know in the comments below or by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!
- How To Organize Your Scholarship Binder (Plus Free Printables)
- How to Apply to Scholarships (the right way!)
- What to do After You Win a Scholarship