September 10, 2010

Get That Scholarship: A Letter of Application Checklist

Having trouble writing the first sentence of your application letter? Can't organize your thoughts? Scared of the first person pronoun? Don't worry, the following checklist should give you some relief as you sit down to write, and hopefully it'll result in a nice award package as well. 

Prepare Your Materials
Before you begin writing, you'll first want to gather all relevant materials. Collect copies of your transcripts, resumes, the application form, and information about the scholarship program. Quickly review these materials, noting any important information that you might need to include in the letter, such as titles of jobs you've held in the past or academic awards you've received. 
Answer the Question
Make sure that your letter directly responds to the prompt. For example, one application might ask you to describe how a personal experience inspired you to apply, while another might ask you what you expect to gain from the program if accepted. If you must, write down a one sentence answer to the prompt to keep your letter focused--you can cut this sentence later if it doesn't fit. 
Use the Letter 'I'
Ignore all the terrible rules you learned about the letter 'I'; after all, this is an application letter that describes your intentions. Efforts to avoid 'I' in your writing will only lead to an unnecessarily formal tone and confusion on the part of your readers--the all-important selection committee. Use 'I' to create an energetic, personable prose. 
Don't Repeat Information Needlessly
Your letter of application should expand upon your other application materials; therefore, you shouldn't simply restate your exact GPA or list your previous job titles. Instead, you should show how that GPA or job experience floats you to the top of the application pool. Think of your entire application packet as a limited tract of land: your application letter is valuable property. Don't waste it by building another parking garage! 
Distinguish Yourself
Trying to distinguish yourself is perhaps the most anxiety-inducing aspect of writing an application letter. Too little ingenuity and you become another faceless applicant; too much and you seem like a clown. Avoid jokes and odd turns of phrase. Include personal details that are unique to your experience. Sure, many have studied abroad in Australia, but not everyone took a week to motorcycle through the outback. Our best advice here is to give yourself a few drafts to get this right. If you have any doubts, sleep on it. Allowing yourself a bit of time between revision sessions is often a useful editorial technique. 
Clear, But Concise
Usually, letters of application range between 250-500 words or are about one typed page, so you'll have to walk a fine line between including clear details and writing concisely. By focusing on how each of your experiences directly relates to the application in question, you'll be able to include the most pertinent material and have enough room to clarify those experiences. Also, choose your words carefully and cut awkward phrases so that you can make your points clearly. For example: “It was there that I learned…” should read, “In Australia, I learned.” If you can remain focused and write concisely, you'll send off a remarkable letter of application. Good luck!
This guest post is contributed by Olivia Coleman, who writes on the topics of online colleges and universities.  She welcomes your comments at her email Id:

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