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  • Jean O'Toole

How to Create the Ultimate Scholarship First Impression

Let’s put some truth on the table. You will, most likely, be one of several, if not many,

candidates for a scholarship that you apply to. Why are some applicants selected to be finalists for an opportunity, when most of the other applicants are also impressive?

The first impression that you make to a scholarship decision maker can separate you from the pile of other potential candidates. Your strategic goal should be to catch the attention of the scholarship committee decision makers immediately. Create your strongest first impression and your application will be flagged as a potential contender.

There are many ways to catch the attention of the reviewing committee. One strategy is to craft a “why you statement”.

What IMPACT do you hope to have?

When I am working with students, I often will ask them to describe what impact they hope to have on the world or in a community, when they complete their education. It’s a big question. It is also the most important question to ask as you start your scholarship pursuit.

Scholarships from companies, organizations and foundations are often created and expedited because doing so aligns with their corporate or organizational mission. Awarding a scholarship is an act of impacting the industry or the community they serve. Having impact, is therefore designed into the scholarship process.

If you intentionally include a statement that speaks to the impact you hope to have, you are aligning yourself with the goals of the committee.

A “why you statement” is a two to three sentence statement that speaks to the impact you hope to have on your family, your community or the world, after you complete your education goals.

The French mathematician, physicist, religious philosopher and writer Blaise Pascal wrote, “The entire ocean is affected by a single pebble.” Each and every one of us has the opportunity to be a “pebble in the ocean” and impact the larger world around us.

If you state clearly how you aspire to utilize your education for impacting others, you are

reassuring the decision makers their scholarship award monies will touch the lives of people beyond yours.

For example, if a student with the declared academic major of Education were to write:

“If your organization grants me this scholarship, I hope to advance in my career beyond the role of a teacher. I aspire to become a principal or a superintendent to have the opportunity to impact not only hundreds of students, but potentially thousands.” This “why you statement” immediately separates their application from all the other Education major applicants. Impact is simply stating how you hope to be the pebble in the ocean in the life you have ahead of you.

The majority of scholarship applications will be sent electronically. This opens the opportunity to include your “why you statement” in the introductory email that you will submit with any required application materials.

Stating your intended goal for impacting the lives, community, or the world around you assures the scholarship decision makers that their choice in considering you is a smart one. You are essentially stating that the award amount will have impact beyond you as an individual. Their designated or fundraised scholarship monies will touch many lives.

Take the time to craft your own “why you statement”. As a first impression it can open doors to potentially thousands of dollars in awards for you and your family.


Jean O’Toole is an educational consultant and author of the bestselling book, Scholarship Strategies Finding and Winning the Money You Need. Over the past 15 years, she has helped tens of thousands of students in the United States. Individuals collectively have been awarded millions of dollars by applying her scholarship strategies. In 2008 she co-founded Connections101, a company specializing in providing motivational tools for scholarship searching. It is her goal to empower students to design their paths to their future without college debt. For more information about Jean, visit


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