For many students, college acceptance only results in actual attendance if they can somehow piece together the finances to cover the full cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses. While individual scholarship requirements vary, they all expect a bit of an introduction by way of a cover letter. An effective cover letter must be structurally sound, well-written and grammatically correct and offer a small demonstration of college level thought, vocabulary and preparedness. Regarding content, conventional wisdom that says you only get one chance to make a good first impressions is true, and this one chance comes with dollar signs attached.
Get to the Point
Unlike an essay that may rely on metaphor and literary craft, a cover letter should be succinct and specific. An effective scholarship cover letter introduces the candidate and makes a distinct connection between their attributes and the qualities that are called for in the scholarship application.
While the body of a cover letter can be generic to a candidate's resume, it is imperative that each individual scholarship letter be specific to the organization. Researching the fund and its founders enables a student to align his own abilities, achievements and positive character traits to the qualities being sought by the trustees of the scholarship. Personal ties to a cause, mentor, organization or community should be included in the letter. For example, an appeal to the Boy Scouts of America would include the fact if the candidate is an Eagle Scout. Someone seeking scholarship from an art museum might allude to a personal connection with the museum or a specific exhibit or featured artist.
Core character traits like honesty, integrity, initiative, leadership and perseverance will appeal to any panel considering scholarship candidates. Giving real world examples of hard work that paid off is a good place to start. Becoming a black belt in Karate, holding an after school job while maintaining good grades or captaining a sports team are all examples of the stick-to-itiveness and leadership that today's givers like to see in the next generation. Citing examples of active community service and personal positive involvement in churches, clubs and organizations that give back are also worth mentioning in scholarship cover letters. However, it is imperative that candidates avoid exaggeration, as humility is an equally impressive quality.
Include Future Plans
Because donors often look upon their scholarships as investments in the future, they like to hear of plans beyond the four years of college and evidence that their candidates have the ability and tenacity to make their dreams a reality. Scholarship candidates should write cover letters that offer career goals that include benchmarks they will use along the way to assure their success. For example, a student hoping to become an architect might first speak to appropriately rigorous course work in high school, then to academic clubs he intends to join in college or internships he hopes to attain.
Since most scholarships are granted through anonymous selection, students often avoid referencing their personal connections to an organization. In some cases, this can be a costly mistake. Students should access friends, family and alumni who may have a connection with a school or a scholarship and include them as references willing to vouch to their worthiness.
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