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We asked previous applicants what advice they have to share with current applicants. We have compiled the best tips and tricks for applying to nationally competitive awards while working with the National Scholarship Office. These are tried and true methods, and will lead to a stronger application package! 

First Steps

  • Fill out the NSO's Intent to Apply form for your intended scholarship or award. Contact the NSO for the link.

The Application

  • Start the application process early.  You are in competition with students who have been planning to apply for months and even years.
  • Give yourself enough time when writing proposals or personal statements to have them reviewed several times by professors or advisors. Peers and even parents can also be good reviewers!
  • Contact your references early and notify them of deadlines well in advance—then follow-up with them.  Get to them any materials they will need.
  • Presentation is important because it shows your commitment, ambition and desire.   Allow enough time to show your very best work.
  • Earn the campus nomination (show us your best work!)
  • Notice a theme here?  You should plan to start working on the application for any of these scholarships at least a couple months before the campus deadline.

References and Letters of Recommendation 

  • Most scholarship applications require multiple letters of recommendation.  They are looking for letters from people who know you and can speak knowledgeably about your talents & abilities, academic firepower, leadership, future potential and even your personality.
  • Get to know professors, advisors, university administrators, employers and mentors; forge strong, enduring relationships. Stay in contact with these people.
  • Initiate contact by going to their offices with questions or to express an interest in what they study/teach/do.
  • Professors are often looking for research or teaching assistants.  Paid or unpaid, this experience provides opportunities for career and scholarship networking, mentoring relationships and potential references.
  • When finding references make sure the people you ask know enough about you to write a strong recommendation. Give them some guidance/suggestions for each letter you request.
  • Consider sharing with your recommenders what you are asking your other recommenders to focus on in their letters. That way, they know what you want them to focus on and what they do not need to address. 


  • Apply for small and large scholarships to become accustomed to the application process.
  • Ask faculty members and advisors to proof read your research proposals, personal statements, and other essays.
  • Practice interviewing.  Some scholarship competitions require several interviews. VCU Career Services offers interview practice opportunities. 
  • Ask for feedback and be a willing and appreciative recipient, even when it is not positive. We learn more from trying and failing than not trying at all.

Have any tips you need to share that you don't see on this list? Send your suggestion to natlscholar@vcu.edu

Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs
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