When I was younger (and I am not so sure this has changed since then), we were always instructed to work to improve our weaknesses. If we were weak on spelling, we spent extra time on spelling. If we were weak in math, more time there. Where ever we were weakest seemed to be where our instructors were focused.
Now, I understand that there are some basic skills that need to be obtained and those definitely should not be neglected. However, when it comes to applying for scholarships – you want to make sure you are playing to your strengths not your weaknesses. This obsession with improving one’s weakness has changed quite a bit in the post-academic world. Since the time of my youth many business advisors counsel just the opposite – don’t focus on your weaknesses, but focus on your strengths as that is where your advantages are. That is where you will make a difference!
Knowing Your Strengths
Before you can tout your strengths in your scholarship application, you must first understand what those strengths are. Depending your personality type this might be easy or difficult. If you are full of self-confidence, it may be easy for you to state: “I am good at piano, math, and lacrosse.” However, even for the self-confident person, you might be leaving some opportunities on the table, so keep reading some of the strength discovery ideas below.
If you are not that sure of your particular strengths, first, recognize that everyone has strengths. If you struggle to see them, or would like to discover others, there are a few simple techniques that you can use to help see them.
• What do you do for fun? (This might lead to video game playing, drawing, sports, etc. Each of these answers will lead you to a potential strength.)
• Ask those around you. (Ask your teachers, parents, friends, and even those who barely know you, but are around you often. Others will often see in us the abilities that we might not recognize in ourselves.)
• Look at external assessments. (There are strength finder exams as well as various assessments that will point you in directions that you might not have noticed before. These would also include assessments that might point you in a career direction.)
Showing Your Strengths
So, now that you have a list of strengths, what should you do with them? Well, just because you have identified a strength of yours, this does not mean that someone will buy in to your assessment without some sort of proof – especially a scholarship selection committee.
When I interviewing individuals for positions in organizations that I run, I will usually ask them one key question. “What are you passionate about?” Many very intelligent people I have interviewed struggle with this question, but even when they answer, I often ask them to provide proof of their passion. To help them through this second part of the question, I ask them to imagine that a prosecutor was attempting to convince the jury of their claimed passion. What evidence would that attorney cite as proof of their passion?
This same exercise can be applied to your strengths. What proofs could you offer up to the jury (or in this case the scholarship committee) that your claimed strengths are indeed such? Here are a few types of evidence for you to consider (share some more in the comments below).
• Report cards for graded strengths.
• Mentions on line of an award received for performing particularly well.
• Participation on teams or groups that are aligned with your strength.
• Actual products of your strength: works of art, recordings of music, funds raised, etc.
Remember, to be thinking of your proof as you work on your strengths and collect those proofs in your Scholarship Resume. If those proofs or evidences seem a bit weak, you need to work on creating more opportunities to demonstrate and then document them.
Finding the Silver Lining
Most students who apply for scholarships have a general idea about the ones that they are most suited for. If you are good at math and science, you tend to apply for the math and science scholarships. If your strengths are in the arts, perhaps an art or music scholarship would be what you apply for. Win the state championship in cross country, you might apply for a scholarship at a university where you hope to be recruited to their cross country team.
That is all wonderful, but now that you have hopefully discovered a few more strengths through the efforts described above, you will be able to apply to whole new categories previously not considered. I like to think of this as a silver lining found on the bottom of a gold plate. Corny, I know. But you applying to scholarships at all is the gold I am referring to. There are dozens if not hundreds of scholarships available in each of your intended application areas. Now that you have uncovered even more areas to apply, the number of opportunities has increased substantially. That is the silver you will add to your scholarship process.
Pulling It All Together
Following the above, you will now know your strengths more completely through the exercises and inquires mentioned there. You have also concretely demonstrated capability in those areas by collecting documentation for them and saved this proof as PDFs that you can easily share digitally in applications. What should you do next?
You need to research all of the scholarships that are applicable to your areas of strength. Once you have applied to three or four of the scholarships available in a given area, you will find that the application process gets easier and faster with each one you complete. You should strive to apply to two scholarships every day to increase your chances of winning. The more you apply the better your chances of winning!!! Just remember, keep playing to your strengths.
Dr. John W. Mitchell
President, Scholarship Keys