How to Interview for Scholarships (and Win!)

Scholarship interviews can be intimidating. After all, there's literally money on the line. But you'll be sure to win more money if you follow these tips.

I like to think of myself as a bit of an interview expert. I’ve been acting since a young age, I qualified for a DECA International competition, and I have a full ride to college lined up because of a 20-minute interview. If I can do it, there’s a chance for almost anyone! But guess what: interviews aren’t just for admission. You may also be asked to come in for an interview (with one person or in front of a panel) as part of a scholarship application. Having good interview skills could be the deciding factor in receiving free money for college. So for all you scholarship seekers out there, here are a few interview tips and tricks I’ve used to help me win.

How to prepare for your interview

Your interview process should begin with a good amount of preparation beforehand. You don’t want to go into a scholarship interview not having done your research. Here’s what to do.

Know what the scholarship is for

This may seem obvious, but you really should know. Most colleges and universities won’t give you a full ride based simply on your GPA. The scholarship I got was for leadership. The school didn’t even ask about academics because they already knew that information.

Plan for that scholarship

Once you know what the scholarship is for, see why they would want to give it to you. If it’s for diversity, go over the pictures from when you went to rural China and see what stories you can remember. If you haven’t been to rural China, think of when you went to that tiny restaurant where no one spoke English and you became friends with the owner’s kids. Your stories don't have to be big, but they do have to be genuine.

Have a list

Ask your most brutally honest friends what your three best and worst qualities are. Then find a unique way to describe your best qualities and a way to turn your worst qualities into positive ones. For example, try “goal oriented” as opposed to “determined,” and instead of saying “stubborn,” go with something like, “I have a hard time letting go of things, but I find that it’s because I care so much.”

Related: Make Your Scholarship Applications Stand Out in a Crowd

Dressing the part

You clothing and your body language speak just as loudly as your words do in any kind of interview. Here’s what to know about dressing the part to land the scholarship.

Be comfortable in your dress clothes

I mean this physically and psychologically. You definitely want your sleeves to be the right length and skirt to be the right size, but you also want to feel right. If you’re a girl who would never wear a dress (that’s me), wear a suit. If you’re a boy who never leaves the house without eyeliner, wear eyeliner! As long as you look professional, wear your most “you” outfit. You may worry that the people giving the scholarship will think you’re odd. Think of it this way: they’re going to give a small number of scholarships to a small number of people after meeting a large pool of candidates. You want to be different. If nothing else, they’ll remember you.

How dressy should you go?

Do the bank test. Assume you go to a large, upscale bank. If you were to walk into their main branch and someone came up to you dressed like you are now for your interview, would you think they work there? If the answer is yes, you should be good to go. If the answer is no, figure out why and try again.

Related: How to Make a Great First Impression to Win Scholarships

Acing the interview

Interviews are stressful—there’s no way around that. But there are some things you can do to ease the situation and ensure you ace it.

Stop freaking yourself out

There’s no way to fully prepare for the exact questions you’ll be asked. You simply have to accept that you’ll have to think on your feet and go with whatever the interviewer asks.

Don’t worry about the other candidates

If you’re being interviewed, it’s because you already passed at least one round of screening. Hundreds of people want this scholarship, and they don’t have time to interview them all. If they invited you, it’s because they think you have a real shot at winning. They think you’re impressive. That said, they think all the people you’re interviewing with are impressive as well. Do not be intimidated. I didn’t make up the rural China example. I was talking with a group of the other candidates, and one of them casually mentioned going to rural China for six months. That got me a bit nervous, but I still ended up with the scholarship in the end. No matter who’s sitting next to you, the college, the university, or other scholarship sponsor thinks you deserve to be sitting next to them.

Fake it ’til you make it

This interview is designed to be hard. They have to decide the most impressive one or few out of a very impressive group, so they will ask hard questions. If you feel scared, smile and act like you know exactly what’s going on. They want to see how you react under pressure. The best thing to do is take it all in stride (or make it look that way).

Be yourself

I know, I hated this advice too. I heard it constantly, and every time, I thought those who would win had all the answers (and I certainly did not). If you’re interviewing for an institutional scholarship, the school is looking to invest in a whole student. They would rather have someone with a 3.7 GPA who found the cure to cancer over the 4.0 who just did the homework and slept. “Be yourself” means “let them see you.” While you certainly shouldn’t admit to doing anything illegal or immoral, you shouldn’t come as a sanitized version of yourself that you think they want to see. Anyone can smile and say polite things, but you want them to choose unique you.

Related: Ultimate Scholarship Guide: How to Apply and Win

You’re going to have to attend a few to potentially many interviews throughout your life, depending on your goals and career path. Think of a scholarship interview as a good opportunity to practice your interview skills with the bonus of winning money for college. Just follow these tips and you’re sure to nail it. Good luck in your interview!

Is your interview virtual? Get some specific tips on succeeding in an online interview with our blog How to Navigate and Excel at a Job Interview on Zoom.

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About Erica West

Erica West

Hello there! My name is Erica, and I am happy to make your acquaintance. Calculus, reading, viola, and traveling: these are a few of my favorite things (I also like musicals). I don't have a favorite book, but my favorite genre is definitely historical fiction. I am the viola section leader in my high school's highest orchestra and in a successful string quartet. I plan to major in Mathematics when I go to college then go on to study law and become a patent lawyer.


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