First, let me acknowledge that it’s rough putting together application after application and ending up with the rejection email. No one likes to lose, and it’s natural to feel discouraged.

That being said, understanding what goes into an amazing application can help you write one of you own.

Honestly, It’s all about the essay, and there’s a good reason why.

First of all, having a great GPA and tons of extracurriculars isn’t enough. Everyone else is an honors student too. Being awesome at school won’t make you stand out. Plus, who wants to send yet another transcript?

A great essay isn’t written overnight. Start early, and give your subconscious time to mull over your points. You never know what could pop into your head at the most random time. Can you get away with writing something decent in an hour? Of course, but it probably won’t be the selected application. In fact, honors students might be more likely to wait until the last minute because they’re smart enough to pull it off most of the time, and the adrenaline that comes with procrastination is addictive.

Think about who’s reading your essay. Our scholarship reviewers (about 300 NSCS alumni members) have been at it for years, and they’ve seen too many general statements. After a while, vague pronouncements about why leadership is good blur together. And those applications aren’t selected. Instead, use examples and stories. The reviewers want to get to know a deserving, unique student for whom they can advocate. Write an essay that couldn’t have been written by anyone else.

Finally, take note of the word count requirements and follow them. If the scholarship requires a letter of recommendation (not all do), make sure to include one. Take note of the submission deadline.

Keep submitting! In the months to come, Talk Nerdy 2 Me will be posting pieces from some of the winning applications from the past year.