How to Highlight Academic Competitions on Scholarship Applications.

Posted November 9, 2017 by Nicholas Wilkins

Most students participate in academic competitions because they love the thrill of a challenge, and find competitions more engaging than the typical classroom. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t appreciate the benefits offered by these programs. And when it comes to college admissions or scholarship applications they can be hefty. Participation in student competitions can help you stand out among your peers and showcase a student’s unique skills, motivation, and academic grit!

This ability to stand out is becoming more and more important in your applications. Particularly with scholarships and college admissions. According to Sallie Mae’s “How America Pays for College” report, in 2017 on average 35% of college costs were covered by scholarships or grants – the largest share of costs in over a decade! This is great news for upcoming applicants; however, it also means that more and more students are going to be applying for these opportunities.

So, in honor of National Scholarship Month, we thought that we’d share a few tips to help upcoming college or scholarship applicants highlight their competition experience to increase success rates in these applications.


Focus on the Effort.

Scholarship reviewers love to see a sense of drive and dedication. Rather than just focusing on what award you received, try to really highlight the effort it took throughout the program. Discuss how you built up to being able to compete. Did you practice night after night? Did you ever reach a point where you thought you couldn’t push ahead? Your application should tell a story, and this is a great opportunity to highlight your work ethic via an exciting anecdote.


Discuss Specific Challenges you Overcame. 

There’s nothing we like more than an underdog. If you faced a challenge that appeared insurmountable but eventually overcame it, you should include it in your application. It will show that you don’t back away from a challenge, and that you can set achievable goals over time. It also shows the reader that you’re able to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and act on them. Even if it didn’t seem like a huge deal to you at the time, if you think back on it and can identify the specific hurdle, others will see that you had academic grit, in overcoming the challenge. Remember to also demonstrate how you grew from the challenge. What did you learn from addressing the problem, or learning from the failure.


Highlight the Real-World Lessons You Learned.

Just because you competed as a high schooler doesn’t mean your experience wasn’t important. At the end of the day, college admissions officers don’t care if you were a start math-lete or spelling bee champion. They care about the skills you gained and the lessons you learned from the experience. If you can highlight the real-world lessons you learned—like the value of handwork, the struggles of cooperation, or the importance of leadership—it will make you stand out among the crowd.


Demonstrate Your Initiative.

Scholarship providers want students who are go-getters. When they imagine their dream applicant, they picture someone who decides what they want and fights for it. If at any point in your competition experience you took initiative, describe that moment. Did you realize that a peer needed help so you set aside time to help them? Or did you decide to organize an extra training day when you saw the team slipping behind? Anything can work!


Participating in academic competitions can be great fun and provide powerful academic benefits, but don’t forget about these opportunities to help advance your applications. This is one of the greatest ways your high school competitions can support your future – they help you get in, and get scholarship!