11 Genius Scholarship Interview Tips You Need To Know

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You landed that coveted scholarship interview! Now what? If you want to know the questions the scholarship judges might ask you, how to answer their questions with ease, and the essential tips that will help you stand out from the other applicants, then this post is for you!

I’ve been in your shoes– twice. A couple of weeks after I graduated from high school, I had an interview for a full-tuition scholarship at my local community college (that my mom convinced me to apply for). The only advice I got beforehand was not to wear strong perfume. 

The interview lasted 15 minutes and I was asked just a few basic questions. We did walk around campus a bit chatting which I enjoyed. The second scholarship interview, however, was a much different experience. 

For the full-tuition merit-based scholarship I received when I transferred to my four-year public university, there was a panel of 9 people that interviewed me. My anxiety level was high!

Getting an interview meant you automatically qualified for some scholarship money. At the time, my university was awarding 30 full-tuition scholarships (over $20,000/year) and 15 partial scholarships. It all was decided from the interview. 

I saw some of the people who were interviewing ahead of me and I knew a couple of them. I knew they had higher G.P.A.s than mine and took more honors classes than I had. I was nervous but I prepared well beforehand. I practiced answering questions, took an armful of supplemental materials with me into the room, and held myself with poise and grace. 

Long story short, my interview helped me get the full-ride scholarship. 🙌

A couple of months later during the scholarship reception, where all the recipients and their families gathered, one of the panelists told my mom I stood out during the interview because I made them laugh and had really good detailed answers. 

Let this post be your guide to help you prepare and be confident going into your college scholarship interview. 

A young woman in Washington, D.C. in a red coat preparing for an interview
Photography: Crystal Aegean

This post is all about scholarship interview tips.

11 genius scholarship interview tips you need to know

1. Remember details about your scholarship essay

I went to an informational session before I applied for my second scholarship and the representative told us that the part that hurts most applicants is that during their interview, they forgot what the essay questions were and forgot what they wrote.

If you are applying for several scholarships at the same time, there’s a good chance you have written different scholarship applications. Always organize your scholarship files on your computer with a naming system that makes sense to you. For example, change the doc name to: SCHOLARSHIP NAME_ESSAY_TITLE OF ESSAY.

During my interview, sure enough one of the panelists asked me: “Could you talk about the essay you wrote?” They gave me no hints at all about what I wrote or what the question was.

  • Here’s an example of what I said during my interview: 

“The essay question asked to describe the neighborhood or community I grew up in and how it has shaped my dreams and aspirations. In my interview, I first discussed growing up as a military brat and feeling like I didn’t have a permanent home. I wrote how I was exposed to so many cultures and communities and it shaped my love of history and diving deep into people’s stories. Now as a student, I hope to continue doing that studying social and cultural studies because I want to become a working journalist.”

Here are two tips:

  • Pull out two or three details about what you wrote in your application. This will keep you focused and on track.
  • Repeat the prompt/question before you answer it. This gives you time to gather your thoughts and shows that you remembered the question.

2. Answer questions thoughtfully and with pace

The stakes are high when you sit in front of the people who will decide whether or not to help fund your college education. This is why practicing how to answer questions concisely and thoughtfully is crucial.

  • The first step is to slow down your speaking, especially if you are someone who talks fast or tends to ramble. **Also remember to make eye contact with the person you are talking to and greet people with a firm handshake when you first meet them.

Justin Aquino at Cool Communicator wrote something that made the point clear: “Speaking too quickly puts pressure on yourself and gives your words less significance.”

  • Have natural pauses (about 5-10 seconds) before answering every question to gather and organize your thoughts. 
  • Speak more deliberately. I tell people to imagine typing what you are saying as if you are speaking. If you are writing paragraphs, you are talking too much. You can say less while saying more powerful words. 

Being thoughtful in the way you answer questions also tends to eliminate filler words such as “ummmm” and “ah.”

2. Highlight your academic and career goals

The scholarship interview panel wants to know how receiving the scholarship will benefit you beyond monetarily. They are looking for you to clearly articulate your ambitions and motivation and how you handle difficult situations that may arise.

Where most students mess up when they are asked, “What do you want to do in the future?” is that they only highlight super long-term goals or are really scattered in communicating what they want to accomplish.

  • Here’s what to do: Pull out one or two specific short-term and long-term goals and connect them back to the scholarship. 

During my interview, I said: “I want to be a tour ambassador on campus because it will help broaden my communication and public speaking skills. Becoming a journalist is my ultimate goal and I know that having stellar oral and written communication skills is necessary. By having the opportunity to attend this university with the help of this scholarship will definitely help me accomplish my dream.”

  • Try to tie everything together organically. Demonstrate to the panel how being a recipient of this scholarship—> for this organization—> by attending this institution is the right fit.

4. Discuss how you handle different environments and situations

Being a well-rounded applicant in areas beyond doing well academically is important. 

Although this isn’t a job interview, a scholarship panel or application judges still want to know how well you adapt to stress, to being placed in environments with people of different cultures and backgrounds, your leadership abilities, and your time management skills.

  • Find ways to drop in your past experiences as you answer questions. An example: “During my 10th-grade year, I was juggling a weekend job, being a goalie on my school’s soccer team, and trying to do well in my three AP classes. I really utilized time blocking in my planner and formed good relationships with my manager, coaches, and teachers. Although it was stressful at times, I learned really valuable time management techniques during my time in high school.”
  • Another example you could say: “I’ve always been interested in Italian history and the role Italy played in World War II. I decided to study four years of Italian in high school and during my junior year, I went to Italy with my class during Spring Break. We visited the [insert monuments and museums here] and it helped me understand the country, their people and history more. I hope to gain more of these experiences in the near future.”

Related post: Why you aren’t getting scholarships

5. Ask your own questions

At the end of most interviews, there will be an opportunity to ask your own questions. Never pass up the opportunity to ask at least one or two questions. This is your final chance during the interview to leave a positive impression and shows that you are really engaged in the process.

Have a list of questions ready for the committee members. Here are two scholarship interview questions you can ask but feel free to think of more specific questions:

  • How did this scholarship start and how many students have it supported?
  • I’m so grateful for being chosen for this interview, I was wondering what made my applicant stand out from the other applicants?

6. Practice smiling and smile often

Smiling shows openness and embodies warmth. It shows that you are happy to be there. But when you are nervous or have anxiety people can sometimes grit their teeth or smile in a way that looks forced. 

The best times you can remember to smile are when you are being asked a question, during natural pauses when you are speaking, and of course when you enter and exit the interview room. 

I tended to have a serious face, even when I was happy. I would take a deep breath and practice different kinds of smiles in the mirror (full smile, slight smile, closed teeth smile). Eventually, it became natural. Smiling, having good posture and attentive body language is especially important if you have a virtual interview.

7. Practice your responses to common questions

This is not the time to ‘wing’ it. You don’t need to rehearse everything to a tee but you have to prepare yourself.

Here are a few typical scholarship interview questions that you might get asked:

  • Why do you deserve this scholarship?
  • Tell us about yourself.
  • Describe a mistake you made in your life and what you learned from the experience
  • On your application you mentioned (volunteer experience, extracurricular activity, a project, etc), could you tell us more about your involvement?
  • How will earning this scholarship impact you?
  • Describe your work ethic.
  • What are your career plans?
  • Who is your role model?
  • What is your level of financial need?

How to practice:

  • Have a family member or friend do a mock interview with you and ask you one of the above questions and practice answering it three times. Even if you nail it on the first go, there’s always room to refine your response. You may need to elaborate or a give specific example.
  • Use a service like Standout. This website allows you to practice in-person and video interviewing skills. Virtually practicing your interview is really convenient and you can get a different set of feedback other than from the people who know you.

8. Dress like a professional

Unless you are interviewing for art, fashion, or some kind of creative scholarship, it’s not the time to dress flashy. You can definitely wear something that shows off your personal style, but on interview day you should not distract the interviewer in any way. I recommend semi-formal wear.

Don’t stress about this, just remember what you wear should be: 

  • Clean 
  • Wrinkle-free
  • Well-fitted (not too tight or too loose) 
  • Something you feel confident in

Appearance tips:

  • I highly recommend bringing a blazer or suit jacket. Having a good blazer is always a staple item and practical because the room could be cold. You can also opt for a dress shirt.
  • Wear practical shoes. Heels are fine as long as they aren’t too high. No athletic shoes. Remember during my first interview, I walked around campus during my interview. I’m so glad I wore flat shoes. 
  • You will never regret having a small steamer. You may be traveling for your interview and where you are staying might not have an iron. In a pinch, you can purchase a bottle of wrinkle release spray. 
  • Your overall appearance needs to be polished. It’s the best way to make a good first impression. No overly big jewelry, no overpowering or strong fragrance, bring floss or a floss pick and breath mints. 

Remember you most likely don’t need to buy a new outfit. A well-fitted blazer, slacks, a pencil skirt, and button-up shirt are classic staples.

Related post: The best scholarship essay tips

9. Be your authentic self

I made the scholarship panel laugh. It wasn’t my intention to crack jokes but I went into my interview confidently and comfortably. You can be taken seriously while showing your personality. Your interview is the time to show the committee who you are beyond your application and why you are the ideal candidate. 

As you prep for your interview, keep in mind ways to insert what you’re passionate about and something that makes you special. Maybe you discuss what you do in your free time or what your favorite subject in school is. This is where your personality can most shine. 

Not everyone is outgoing and that’s fine! Aim to come off friendly and tell the panel a short story that lets them know a little more about you if you can. They want to know who you are beyond your grade point average or greatest achievements.

A young African American woman outside in a red coat with a briefcase bag preparing for her scholarship interview
Photography: Crystal Aegean

10. Prep everything the day before

Do not wait until the last minute to gather everything you need for the interview. You’ll rest easier knowing you are fully prepared to conquer the day ahead.

Do this the day/night before your scheduled interview:

  • Bring supplemental materials- To really take the extra step bring something that shows your skills to the panel. For me, I brought about a dozen copies of the school newspaper I was editor of. I asked the judges if they wanted a copy and distributed them at the end of my interview. I was proud of my school’s paper and wanted to show my work. For you, that could mean bringing in a small robot you created, a piece of artwork, etc. 
  • Bring a spiral notepad and pen. You probably won’t take a ton of notes during your interview but it’s always good practice to have it handy. I jotted down the names of everyone I interviewed with after they introduced themselves.
  • Review instructions regarding what building the interview will be in and map out the time and distance it will take you to get there.
  • Hang your steamed/ironed clothes and pack your bag. Take all tags off new clothes.

11. Write a follow-up thank you email

At the end of the interview, either a few hours after or the next day, send a thank you note to either the coordinator or main interview judge. Try your hardest to send out separate emails to everyone you interviewed with as well. You need to thank them for their time and for the opportunity.

Normally, people would suggest sending a handwritten thank you letter but I think you should save that for after you get the scholarship. Send this email the next day if possible.

Here’s an example: 

Dear [insert name],

I wanted to take a moment and say thank you for the opportunity to interview for [insert scholarship name] yesterday. It was wonderful hearing more about the scholarship and organization [or school]. Discussing my goal [insert long-term goals or future plans] made me really enthusiastic and I look forward to hearing [the panel’s] decision. 

[Optional: write something personal that you connected on]

All the best,

[Your name]

Put your best foot forward and let them know why you are the best candidate. Taking this step makes you more memorable and leaves a pleasant impression. Be sure to address people correctly and proofread it for any grammatical or spelling mistakes. I like using Grammarly to look over anything I send.

Ultimately, with these tips on how to prepare for a scholarship interview, I have confidence you will be one step closer to funding your education without having to take out loans. Getting an interview invitation is something to be proud of. Keep applying for more scholarship programs! For more scholarship advice, sign up for my newsletter, and be sure to download my free Ultimate Scholarship Checklist.

Stay driven.

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