How to Get Scholarships: The 3P’s

After an in-depth discussion with past successful scholarship recipients and scholarship selection committee professionals about their thought process when analyzing an application, the 3P’s (Plan, Prepare, Prosper) was established. The 3P’s is designed to act as a starting point and guideline for students. The following strategy will help you think, plan, and write your application like a scholarship winner. 

1. Plan

Almost every scholarship application will inquire about your extracurricular life. This is a chance for you to shine and stand out from the crowd. 

List out all the names, deadlines, and requirements of the scholarships you are qualified to apply for

Read the criteria carefully before you start. Some scholarships are only open to certain group of people. There are scholarships that are specific to age groups or regions.  Do not spend time on an application you are not even eligible for.

Quality over quantity

It is great to keep yourself active through your extracurricular life, but keep in mind that scholarship committees would like see if and how you have made a meaningful contribution to the activities you took part in. Have a few extracurricular activities that you are proud of and that you can write an essay about. 

Always keep track

Whether it is in a form of a portfolio, resume, or simply a Word document, always have a compiled list of your extracurricular life. Have a separate category for extracurricular activities, jobs, significant competitions & conferences, and honours and awards.


Organize your list of extracurricular activities in the order of its significance. Start from the activity that you had held a leadership role in and contributed to the most. By prioritizing your extracurricular life, you will have a clearer idea of what to write about if an application question asks about your most impactful extracurricular activity. 

2. Prepare

Choose wisely

There is a misconception amongst students that references letters are not important because “scholarship committees don’t usually read them”. This is completely untrue. If anything, your letters of recommendation reinforces what you have written, and acts as a finishing touch to your application. 

A reference letter should complement your application and therefore, it is crucial that you pick the right people to write you a reference letter. While some scholarships may specify who they want the letters from, often times, it is up to the applicant.

Tips for choosing a referee

• They should be someone you have known for at least 1-2 years and have seen your contribution and dedication to that activity (e.g., team coach, teacher, guidance counsellor, community leader)

• Make sure they understand the award you are applying for. Let them know what the scholarship committee is looking for and how you have fulfilled those requirements, so that they know what to emphasize in the letter

• Always provide your referee with additional information that will help them write a strong letter (e.g., your portfolio, resume, transcript, newspaper clippings)

• Be sure to remind your referee about the deadline and leave them with enough time to write the letter (Hint: A minimum of three weeks is ideal).

For tips on how to get a glowing reference letter, see The Do’s and Don’ts of Getting the Best Reference Letter.

Work smart & save time

Reference Letters

Often times, once your referee has written their first letter of recommendation for you, they will only add slight alterations for the following letters.  Chances are, you will want more than one letter from that referee. Instead of contacting your referee every time you need a letter, plan ahead.

Think about all the scholarships you will be applying for that year and tell your referee all at once. You may then ease their workload by changing the date and name in which the letter is written for. 


Similar to obtaining a reference letter, rather than visiting the guidance counsellor’s office every time you need a transcript, ask for however many transcript you know you will need until the next semester (i.e., when your transcript has been updated). It is also a good idea to keep an electronic transcript scanned onto your computer (PDF or JPG file) because online scholarship applications may ask that you email an electronic copy to them. It is also good to keep a copy for yourself for future reference purposes!

Know your audience

Do research on the institution or organization that is offering the scholarship – this includes their history, mission statement, and purpose behind the establishment of the scholarship. A thorough understanding of your audience will allow you to write a more tailored application.

3. Prosper

Use the following tips to maximize your chances of passing the first round and be in contention for the award:

Follow the instructions
This may seem obvious, but it is often forgotten.

It is crucial that you follow the instructions given on the application. If the application asks for no more than 1000 words, then follow this guideline. If you wish to stand out from the crowd, you must do it in a way that still follows the guidelines.

For example, the Queen’s University Major Admission Award Application requires students to use the space provided. It does not specify that your answer must be in an essay form. This is your chance to stand out by answering the question in a more creative way, such as a drawing, poem, or any other form as long as it fits the space.

Develop a theme
Don’t simply list all your achievements. Decide on a theme you want to convey that sums up the impression you want to make. Write about experiences that develop that theme. Use the essay as a way to highlight and expand upon the experiences that make you a good candidate for this scholarship.

Expand with examples
If you tell the scholarship committee that you are a leader, they will be curious as to how you actually demonstrate leadership qualities. Take this opportunity to expand on your answer by adding examples, such as past experiences in which you have taken a leadership role and gives specific instances and describes exactly what you have done for the community. Include details and try to make your experience sound as vivid and colourful as possible. This story may be the reason your application is memorable.

Awards and honours
When mentioning awards and honours, be sure to include a brief description about the award itself. For example, the number students are awarded each year. You want to emphasize the importance of this honour.

Ensure that your essay answers the underlying question
When you finish your essay, go back and think about what the question is asking and see if you actually answered the question in the essay. Often times, students get carried away with their essay and end up rambling on about topics irrelevant to the essay question.

Finishing touches
After you have completed your application, ask someone you trust to review your application. This person can be a teacher, guidance counsellor, or family member. You can get opinions about how strong or weak they think your answer is and whether or not they think it reflects who you truly are. More importantly, they may be able to notice the mistakes (eg. grammatical errors) you have made.


Last but not least, do not make any careless mistakes. Be sure to make yourself a checklist of all the documents they require and ensure that you submit all the required materials to the scholarship committee. Make sure you don’t make these common scholarship application mistakes!

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