How to Decode what Scholarship Judges are Looking for in STEM Applicants?

A common question I get from students and parents is how to apply and win STEM scholarships. I have provided many tips that can help students get noticed, but unfortunately not every qualified student can win every STEM scholarship. Scholarship judges typically look for several key qualities when evaluating scholarship applications. While specific requirements and priorities vary among different scholarship committees, the following factors are important:

First Round

scholarship judgesWhen the scholarship committee receives your application, they might take a quick look at your scholarship application to make sure you qualify.

  • Do you meet the GPA requirement?
  • Do you meet the major requirement?
  • Did you submit all the application materials that are required and answer all the questions?

Proofreading is an essential aspect of writing your scholarship application and submitting all required materials. Make sure to avoid any grammar and spelling errors, and double check that you have answered the application correctly.

Second Round

If you’ve made it through the first round, your application will move to the scholarship judges. However, there may still be hundreds of applications and many scholarship committees do not have the capability to spend a lot of time going over all of the applications. Because scholarship decisions are usually subjective, it is hard to say specifically what will help your application stand out. However, some of these things will help your application move on to the next phase of the decision-making process.

  • Passion for STEM: Demonstrating a genuine passion for STEM subjects is crucial. Judges want to see that you have a deep interest in your chosen field and have actively pursued related activities, such as participating in science fairs, research projects, coding competitions, or STEM clubs. Involvement in extracurricular activities related to STEM can showcase your enthusiasm and initiative as scholarship judges often seek applicants who demonstrate leadership. Engaging in STEM-related leadership roles, such as organizing science events, mentoring others, or founding STEM clubs, showcases your ability to make a positive impact and contribute to your community.
  • Academic Excellence: Judges often prioritize applicants with a strong academic record, particularly in STEM-related subjects. They look for high grades, standardized test scores, and relevant coursework that demonstrate your dedication to the field.
  • Research or Project Experience: Engaging in research or independent projects related to STEM is highly valued. Scholarship judges appreciate if you have gained hands-on experience in your field, whether through internships, research programs, or personal initiatives. Sharing details about specific projects, methodologies, findings, and your contributions can showcase your dedication and expertise.
  • Personal Statements: Essays with a strong hook will keep them reading. If the first few lines of your essay are boring, scholarship judges may not want to keep reading. Your essay should provide compelling personal statements effectively communicating your motivations, aspirations, and connection to STEM. Judges look for clear and articulate writing, as well as thoughtful reflections on your personal journey, future goals, and how the scholarship will contribute to your academic and career trajectory. Every scholarship essay is different, and each criteria will vary. That is why it is important to NOT reuse your scholarship essays. Essays are going to need to reflect your different goals and who you are. Even if you make tweaks here and there to existing essays, the judges may still be able to tell that you didn’t write something fresh just for them. Be creative!
  • Fit Your Application with the Scholarship Mission: Every scholarship has a mission or mandate. A scholarship’s mandate may be the purpose that a prize is trying to serve, or it might be related to why the scholarship was created. For example, a scholarship may exist to honor the work and career of a prominent scientist who recently died. The prize’s mandate may be to reward innovative science students to honor his legacy. Consequently, scholarship committees will look for students who can be great ambassadors of any given scholarship prize.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: STEM fields require strong problem-solving abilities. Judges look for applicants who can think critically, analyze complex issues, and propose innovative solutions. Successfully addressing your challenges, solutions, or contributions to problem-solving initiatives can make a strong impression.
  • Letters of Recommendations: Gather strong letters of recommendation from teachers, mentors, or professionals in STEM fields. Judges value recommendations that highlight your academic abilities, intellectual curiosity, passion for STEM, and leadership potential. Engaging in STEM-related leadership roles, such as organizing science events, mentoring others, or founding STEM clubs, showcases an applicant’s ability to make a positive impact and contribute to their community.
  • Diversity and Inclusion: Applicants from underrepresented backgrounds, including women, Latinos, Hispanic, Black and African American students may receive additional consideration. Emphasizing how your unique cultural experiences and perspectives can contribute to a more diverse and inclusive STEM community can be beneficial.
The Final Decision

Many scholarships will have multiple judges on the scholarship committee. Because decisions can be subjective, each scholarship judge might place different levels of importance to different components of the application. For example, one judge may think extracurricular activities and the essay are the compelling part of the application, while another judge might find the academic excellence as the most important element. In addition to being impressive, the scholarship committee might be looking for someone who shares their values.

There will be a lot of discussion among the judges based on who deserves the scholarship. Most scholarship committees do not take their job lightly and spend a lot of time and energy on the selection process.

It is important to understand that these criteria serve as general guidelines, and the specific requirements and priorities may vary depending on the scholarship program. It’s crucial to carefully review the scholarship application guidelines and tailor your application accordingly to maximize your chances of success.

Applying for STEM scholarships may be challenging, but it will always be worth it when you find out you were chosen as a winner! Now that I’ve covered ways to stand out when applying for scholarships. Get out there, find scholarships, and start applying at IOScholarships!

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How to Decode What Scholarship Judges are Looking For in STEM Applicants?