“hey u got a scholarship 4 me?” Not likely! If you want to be taken seriously by scholarship committees, you must communicate in an effective, professional manner. Even if you are simply sending an inquiry by email, or posting to a website or social network, the basics are essential – proper grammar, capitalization, punctuation and complete sentences.
With a few general rules, some good tips from scholarship committees, and help from family, friends, or teachers, you can learn to write effective professional letters – and increase your chances of winning a scholarship!
Before you write the letter:
- Take the time to think about your skills and strengths, other than what might be included in a resume. Write them down, describe them, and list examples. Here are qualities committees may look for, beyond financial need:
- Knowledge of chosen field, carefulness of work
- Motivation, enthusiasm, seriousness of purpose
- Creativity, originality, ingenuity of problem solving
- Ability to plan and carry out research, organization
- Ability to express thought in speech and writing
- Maturity, emotional stability, ability to withstand stress and face challenges
- Leadership skills
- Self-reliance, initiative, independence, adaptability
- Ability to work well with others
- Growth potential, desire to achieve, dedication to goals
Writing the letter:
- Any formal business letter format is acceptable.
- Make sure to use an easy-to-read font when typing your letter.
- In the top, right hand corner put your name and contact details.
- One line below and left aligned, type the name and address of the person (or organization) you are addressing.
- One or two lines below, either left or right aligned, add the date. The following formats are acceptable: October 10, 2010; or Paris, 10th October 2010. The place of writing can also be included, but is not necessary.
- Two lines below, begin the letter with Dear and then the title of the person as applicable (Mr., Ms., Mrs., Dr., or Professor), then the surname, making sure it is spelled correctly. If you do not have the name of the person to whom you are writing, “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom it May Concern” are acceptable.
- Two lines below, add the content of your letter.
- Two lines below the last paragraph, add the closing, such as “Sincerely”.
- Four lines below the closing, add your name in type, and your hand-written signature above.
- If both a cover letter and essay are required, then the cover letter should be a small, tight introduction to the personal essay. If a cover letter, personal essay, and resume are required then the cover letter introduces you, the purpose for sending the packet of information you’re sending, and gives a brief overview of what to expect in the resume.
- If you cannot include your resume with the cover letter or essay, which is rare, you may need to include important information from your resume in the letter. If this is the case, divide the information into specific areas, like you would in a resume – such as education, awards, work experience, and goals. Be sure to include areas such as volunteer work or other information that fit with the goals of the scholarship.
- Make an outline of your letter. This will help maintain your focus as you write. You'll need to open with a greeting, transition to your main point, then to your next point and then provide a conclusion.
- Choice of words is important. Achieve a balance between bragging and modesty. Avoid exaggerations and clichés but do not down play your worth.
- Be personable – be yourself. Remember that real people read your letter. Be respectful and courteous but use normal language, not flowery, overly formal wording that you would never use when speaking.
- Once you've written your letter, go back and do an initial edit. Read it and find the spots that sound awkward, don't make sense or don't fit. Spend some time editing, improving the language and flow, and correcting your spelling, grammar and punctuation. Avoid wordiness. Be clear and concise.
- Take a break even if it is just an hour or two, and focus on something else. Read and edit your letter again after your break. It can often be difficult to proof-read your own material; have a friend, family member, or teacher read it through – they may see some places that need to be polished.
- It is simple errors with grammar, punctuation, and spelling that will remove you from the competition much more quickly than, for example, listing too few club activities. Make sure your letter is professional and compelling!
- Start with a strong organizing thesis statement or umbrella statement at the beginning in order to introduce the key points that make you a good applicant for the scholarship.
- Focus on a few main points. Stress the qualities and areas of expertise that make you a good candidate for the scholarship. To do this, refer to the qualifications listed with the scholarship. So, for example, if the committee considers financial need when deciding upon the candidates, make a point of your financial need but not in a tacky way, or in a self-pitying manner. Instead, refer to the financial need in a way that indicates the good that would come of receiving the scholarship.
- Write the body of the cover letter with a sense of gratitude for the opportunity the scholarship will give you. Then make a case of how this scholarship will enable you to help your fellow man and the community as a whole.
- Use specific examples to support what you say about yourself. For example, don't just say, "I am a leader," and expect the reader to believe you. Provide at least one specific example from your life that demonstrates your leadership skills. This is your evidence, and it gives your entire letter credibility.
- If you can, connect your goals to the ideals and purpose of the scholarship committee or organization.
- Close the scholarship cover letter with a forward looking and enthusiastic statement that thanks the committee, organization or person for their time and consideration in reviewing your scholarship application. It's always useful to add a sentence praising the work or the mission of the funding organization as well.
Effective, professional communication skills are not simply an asset – they are a necessity!