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How to pitch yourself to admission teams and compete for scholarships
October 21, 2021

How to pitch yourself to admission teams and compete for scholarships

High school graduation is looming, and more than ever, you’re focused on the all-important college application process. As you narrow down the list of schools you’d like to apply to, you may have big questions: “How will I pay for college? How can I impress admission teams? How do I qualify for scholarships?”

Trevor Ehrenheim and Cori Bradham, assistant directors of admission and enrollment management at Berry, have teamed up to give you the inside scoop on preparing for this critical aspect of the college application journey. Here are their insider tips to help you stand out, stay on top of deadlines and make good choices for your future. 

1. Show your interest in and enthusiasm for your chosen college(s).

Trevor says, “The best way you can set yourself apart in the admissions and financial aid process is by demonstrating your interest in the institution you are considering. Institutions love when students engage with them throughout the admissions season. The more you are interested in them, the more they’re interested in you. 

2. Apply soon for both internal and external scholarships. 

“For scholarships provided directly from the institution, you can best prepare by applying sooner rather than later. Reach out to the admission counselor at the school to ask about the scholarships their institution offers. They are experts on these scholarships and can point you to helpful resources along the way,” Trevor explains. 

For external scholarships, Cori advises starting locally and expanding your search geographically. Cori says, “Get to know your high school guidance or college counselor and inquire about the scholarships other graduates have received. Learn more about the community organizations around your area to see if there are scholarships associated with those who are involved.” 

3. Know your application and scholarship application deadlines. 

Trevor advises knowing your deadlines by heart and making sure you get things in on time. “At Berry, we have two application deadlines: Early Action (November 1) and Regular Decision (January 15). Most colleges have similar application timelines and dates. The main difference among them is when you can expect to receive your decision.  For maximum scholarship consideration, apply sooner rather than later. The sooner you apply, the more opportunities there will generally be. 

Cori has tips for staying on top of things: “There’s a very helpful thing you can do to stay organized and on top of these timelines: Create a college calendar that holds all of your deadlines and goals for submitting applications to both schools and their scholarship programs. This will allow you to adequately set aside time in your busy schedule. Consider using these calendars to plan dates for future visits to schools as well.” 

4. Let your personality and past experiences shine in your personal essay. 

“The personal essay is an excellent opportunity for you to expand on the information shared in your application,” Trevor emphasizes. “You’ll do well sharing something new in your essay that wouldn’t otherwise be known from the other information provided.” 

Cori suggests that you list some interesting or meaningful things that have happened in your life up to this point. “Think about unique stories that are important to you and put them on paper,” she says. “We love to read stories that take our breath away, make us laugh, make us think, etc. If you try to write what you think your admission counselor wants to read, your essay may end up sounding like hundreds of applications they’re already receiving. Be yourself. You’ll stand out using your voice and authentic story.” 

5. Get ready for your interview — know your story and practice your pitch.

Trevor says, “Do your best to connect your experiences with the relevant opportunities that the scholarship program prioritizes. Get familiar with telling your story and sharing highlights. Practice sharing your story in 1-2 minutes, offering highs and lows. Share it often enough till you feel comfortable walking through it with anyone who might be interested to know more. The better you are at telling your story, the better you can be at selling yourself. Practice telling your high school journey with friends, parents and admission counselors because that’s what the interviews are designed to reveal.” 

Cori agrees: “For an admission interview, I echo everything Trevor has already said about knowing your story. For scholarship programs, I always tell my students to really spend some time doing thorough research on each program to learn more about their goals, outcomes and values.” 

Interviews can expose students who are in it for the money versus those who are in it to add value and grow. “It means so much when students can connect their stories and experiences with the broader goals of scholarship programs,” Cori says. “Spending time learning about a program and practicing responses to questions that reflect your research show a level of maturity to scholarship coordinators that will set you apart from other candidates.” 

6. Do your research and match your past experiences with scholarship program expectations

Trevor and Cori both agree that this is actually more straightforward than most students expect. Students can expect to encounter questions that are focused on the driving element of the scholarship program. For example, community service scholarship programs are going to ask about your community service experience. Leadership scholarship programs are going to ask about your leadership experience. Whatever the program, institutions are looking for students who are going to be contributors to community rather than just consumers of community. What can you add? What value do you bring with your unique skillset and experience? These are questions admission and scholarship counselors will ask in preparing to interview a student. 

7. Mine your past for stand-out experiences and trust in yourself! 

Though the scholarship and admission process can seem daunting, you are a unique person with unique experiences that are sure to help you stand out throughout your application journey. Take these tips to heart and get to work researching, practicing your pitch and developing essay details. If you put in the time and the work, you’ll be all the closer to finding the college that is right for you.

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