How to Write a Biography to Win a Scholarship

by Dr. Kelly S. Meier
Students working on laptop in library

You’re a top achiever in high school, involved in clubs and organizations and excited to start college. Applying for a scholarship is a logical next step in your college preparation journey. How can you differentiate your application from the thousands of other student leaders looking for funding? A dynamic, content-rich biography is the first step in gaining the attention of a scholarship review committee. Start by becoming familiar with the scholarship requirements and brainstorm a list of your qualities and experiences.

Strong Introduction

A winning biography begins with a captivating introduction. Your opening sentence serves as a way to get the reader to read more. Begin with a sentence that describes who you are and why you're an ideal choice for the scholarship. For example, if you're applying for a flute scholarship, explain when you began playing and why it's so important to you. Use the rest of the introduction to show off your special attributes. The reader should feel compelled to learn more about you as a scholarship candidate. You may even want to write it after finishing the biography to ensure you have accurately outlined your essay.

Showcase Your Talents

A biography should not be a list of your accomplishments but rather an opportunity to highlight why and how you’re talented. You may be tempted to write a paragraph about what you did in high school, but reserve this for an activity résumé. Instead, describe one experience that you feel best highlights who you are as a student or leader. For example, share a story about a community service project you initiated and what you and others learned from the experience. Explain how it taught you about teamwork and serving others. A reader will be impressed with your reflection on a real-life experience, and it will showcase your talents.

Stay on Message

Don’t be afraid to share your thoughts and feelings, but be certain they’re relevant to the scholarship. For example, a poignant story about a family hardship may seem like a good way to win the hearts of the decision-makers, but if it’s irrelevant to the focus of the scholarship, it may do more harm than good. On the other hand, if you took care of an ailing grandparent and through this experience decided you wanted to work in health care, the story might be relevant to your scholarship application. The ideal biography provides a personal story that serves as a connection between the scholarship focus and the applicant.

Biography Don'ts

When you're writing a biographical statement, don't dwell on tragedies you've encountered in your life. Instead, stay positive and describe the ways you've been successful and goal-oriented. Similarly, avoid using money as a main reason you're interested in the scholarship. Focus on why your accomplishments are a good match for scholarship recognition. Your ethnicity or socio-economic background should not be a main focus of your scholarship biography unless the criterion indicates this is a requirement for selection. Finally, be authentic in the vocabulary you use. The scholarship committee will be more interested in your biography if it comes from the heart and sounds like it was written with personal passion.

About the Author

Dr. Kelly S. Meier is a professor and college administrator for a large public institution in Minnesota. She received her undergraduate degree from Western Illinois University and her master's degree and doctorate from Minnesota State University, Mankato. She has published more than 15 books on education, group development and diversity.

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