Think about your scholarship interview like this: Have you ever driven or flown into a city for a special occasion and had to decide what to do with a little time that remains after the main event? Maybe you went on a school or business trip, or you took a vacation.

Let us use a visit to where you grew up as an example. If you have ever moved away from home, a return in the summer or December vacation period can feel too short. As soon as you take care of your commitment, like a visit to your house or ancestral home, there is something you make time to enjoy—the meal, place, or person’s company you must have as soon as possible. You want it, specifically, because it has no substitute.

When interviewing for a scholarship, adopt the mindset of making yourself a must-have. The reason is simple: The likely scenario is that there will be more people applying than there are available spots, and a large percentage of these applicants will align well enough with the priorities of those providing the opportunity. If you want to give yourself the best chance of winning, you have to move yourself from the “nice to have” pile to the “must have” shortlist.

I’ve been thinking about this over the past two weeks as I have done practice interviews with a bright young person vying for a selective scholarship. The individual is accomplished, driven, and meets each criterion the scholarship creators say they are looking for. However, by the end of practice, the person had not converted me into a “raving selection committee member”. They felt “very nice to have”; however, I was not so sold that, if it came down to a tie, I would call home and ask someone to shelf my dinner, so I could remain in the selection room and hold out for this applicant all evening. I think the person will be a must-have on interview day by using three simple strategies. You, too, can use them:


The direction and pace of an interview depend largely on the interviewer(s). However, at all times, you are in charge of your interview; take charge of that ship, or it will drag you to any old place. This is especially true for interviews known to at times be aggressive (Rhodes and Truman, for example). If you are not sure about a scholarship’s interview style, ask a few recent winners.

Set the tone of the interview by sharing upfront the unique way in which you plan to use the scholarship to address the primary issue the scholarship is geared towards. Your uniqueness makes you interesting, and by articulating it, you remind the committee member(s) that you are who they are looking for.

If you prepared well, you will also be ready for some of the obvious spin-off questions. When you set the tone, you even reduce the number of questions that surprise you.


Whereas the use of jargon is sometimes discouraged in the classroom, in scholarship interviews, especially in ones with experts on a selection panel, strategically use jargon. Also deliberately introduce concepts, historical context, statistics, landmark research projects and policies, and trends. For niche scholarship interviews, you will be talking with panelists who have read (and perhaps also written) thousands of pages of information about the field to which you are saying you want to contribute. Be as thoroughly informed as possible. More importantly, when you are informed, do not assume people know this; show off. Start and facilitate authoritative conversation.



The scholarship you are applying for will fund a specific area of study. What personal experience or conviction bred your interest in this issue? Yes, some people are more comfortable with being vulnerable than others are, and you should not overshare. However, sharing your emotions remains a powerful way of connecting with people. Do not pander to emotions, lie, or be insincere, but do be open and speak openly.

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, people remember how you make them feel. Make the scholarship committee feel the urgency of your mission so deeply that they eagerly appoint you to become an ambassador for their own mission. There will be time and money for you when you meet the committee’s needs in a way no substitute can. Use these strategies to make yourself a must-have.

Which other strategies have you used to win selective scholarships? Share them below, and share this article with anyone who you know is applying for a competitive scholarship.