​The LaGuardia Honors Network

An initiative of the Honors Student Advisory Committee


The Honors Program @ LaGuardia Community College / The City University of New York.


Scholarship Guide by Kevin Magana

Are you hungry for scholarships?  Then, you’ve come to the right place!

To start out: Scholarships require a time commitment!  You might start working on a scholarship here, and a scholarship there.  Perhaps you've applied to scholarships for years with no luck.  Have you ever heard this: “it’s not about how you win, but more so, how you get up after failing”?  Or some version of this saying?  Good!  You must learn from your mistakes.  That is the most valuable quality because you'’re now focused on the process, not the outcome.

So, you also have to keep in mind that winning scholarships is a three-part process: 1.) Organize, 2.) Search, & 3.) Apply (scholarship essays!).

I am aim to take you through this process with: advice on organizing your scholarships, a set of search strategies, and a "Do’s and Don'ts" list for scholarship writing.

A note about scholarship writing: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.  Reduce excess wording (after you’ve “vomited” out all essay material).  After you’'ve written several essays, Reuse and Recycle your essays, tailoring them for specific scholarships (many have similar themes).  Also remember to send your essays to your professors, advisors, student peers, friends and family for their valuable feedback!  Finally, always give your application a “once-over” and review your essay carefully for grammatical and sentence structure errors!

Getting Organized:

If you have access to Microsoft Excel, open up a new file.  Create 4 columns (in bold) titled Name, Dollar Amount, Deadline, and Website.  You are now ready.  It’'s that simple.  To fix the order of the scholarships by dates due, you can click on the top left hand corner (on top of the number 1, and to the left of “A”) to highlight the entire document.  Then click on the upper tab “data,” next on “sort,” and finally, end by choosing sort “Deadline” and “Ascending.”  You can do this step once you have a comfortable number of scholarships.

For those who do not have access to Excel, fear not! Open a Google e-mail account. You can simply Google “'Google Docs'" after that. You'll have the option of creating a “spreadsheet” that you can create following the same directions aforementioned.

Organization is key in the scholarship application process.  It allows for longevity and continuation.  Do not bypass this step.

Strategies for Searching for Scholarships
Take a Saturday or Sunday (about 6-8 hours) and follow these strategies:

Strategy #1: Browse CUNY posting of prestigious scholarships! Click here: http://www.cuny.edu/admissions/financial-aid.html​

Strategy #2: Fill out profiles on the schorship sites provided in our Useful Documents section: (Click here).  Also, fill out a profile with COLLEGE GREENLIGHT, which has a well-curated and substantial database of scholarships (including for undocumented students): Click Here.

NOTE: For a compilation of open residency scholarships, please Click Here.


Strategy #3: Utilize other schools' resources. Pick 15-20 of the top schools and type each name along with the word scholarships on Google. You will find a plethora of scholarships! Browse through them and save ones that pertain to your interests.  However, at some point, many of the same big scholarships reappear; please note: Many have other invaluable resources like SAMPLE Rhodes, Truman, and Marshall winning scholarship essays, along with other tips.  So be on the look out for those.

These 3 strategies for searching scholarships will yield plenty of scholarships for you to chew on. Make sure to organize them all in your Excel/Googledocs spreadsheets.  Also remember that the average scholarship is worth $1,000 and are considerably easier to win than the larger $10,000 + scholarships. Leave no stone unturned!  The small ones can pile up.

Scholarship Writing: Do's & Don'ts List (see Personal Statement section for more essay tips)

X  Don't #1: Promote Religion or Political Views

Divisive issues divide. You don't want a scholarship committee member disagreeing with your political or religious views. 99.95% of the time, you have no idea who will be judging your essay. With America divided right down the middle, and in the context of our two warring major political parties, odds are that there will be someone opposing your political leanings. Avoid them at all costs.

DO: Go the safe route with safe topics in order to avoid offending anyone.  It is possible to demonstrate your passion without putting everything on the table.

X  Don't #2: Talk GPA

Your GPA doesn't really matter that much. With grades across the United States (or around the world) fluctuating as much as they do, scholarship judges do not put emphasis on your GPA. You have already mentioned it in the question #4 (or whichever) on the application form.  Let it rest there.  

DO: Address the essay topic at hand honestly and thoughtfully.

X  Don't #3: Play Sympathy Card

If you mention a hardship in your scholarship application, be sure it's really a hardship.  You have to remember that committees receive many applications from across the country, and from developing and war-torn nations around the world.  Some applicants tell the story of grueling lives of overcoming obstacles so compelling that they may make yours pale in comparison.  In any case, judges are looking for achievers who are focused on the positive, not essays that seek to manipulate their heartstrings.

DO: Just to clarify: if you don't have a story of being stolen from your village by Congolese rebel tribes at age 12, you are not necessarily cut off from the possibility of winning scholarships. You should definitely talk about challenges you have overcome.  Judges like reading about creative, bold and heartfelt solutions in personal stories.  Just be clear to avoid using the word hardship, especially if you are not sure.

X  Don't #4: Be General or Selfish About the Future

In life and scholarships, it's better being specific than general.

If you tell a scholarship committee you want to be a lawyer, that sounds good. But if you say that you want to be lawyer who practices human rights law so as to bring justice to leaders around the world who commit genocide and other human rights violations, or you want to open non-profit organizations in Third World countries that help provide educational resources for those seeking to practice public service law--that sounds extraordinary.

Note: Some people might advise you to outright lie about their aspirations to appeal to the scholarship judges because the latter themselves are usually educators and public servants, and so may not appreciate selfish rants about wanting an education to make a lot of money.

However, consider this: you are talking about your future. Sure, if you want to make boatloads of money someday, that's great.  In this case, you wouldn't be talking about something you would never do; instead, you'd either overdramatize certain truthful desires to highlight your goals, or ideally you would seriously reflect on your goals and consider expanding your list of potential aspirations (e.g. opening non-profit groups in Third World countries).

Just make sure that you stick to the truth without compromising your integrity as much as possible.  Besides, what's more important at times is not what you say, but how you say it.

DO: Stick with serving society as your primary goal here and be specific about it!


X  Don't #5: Ignore the World Outside Campus

School-related activities on their own aren't enough to grab a scholarship committee's attention.

DO: Along with common activities, go beyond campus if you want to win the big scholarships.

X  Don't #6: Forget Family

Your role in your own family is not as important as your school activities; it's more important. School will be over in a few years, but your family is around forever.  If you are so busy with family responsibilities that you can't involve yourself in student organizations, then you may have a stronger application than those who do.

DO: If this is your story, by all means, go into detail about how you spend time doing things for your family. Tell your story, regardless of where it takes place.

X  Don't #7: Omit Important Details

If you have participated in a church youth group, that's great. What's better is giving insight into the activities you've done (this is a good reason to always go the extra mile in your endeavors)!! Did your group serve a homeless shelter soup kitchen for two years feeding (an estimated) 125 people daily?  Scholarship committees want to know how and why you arrived at a need, what was your action, and what was the impact of your actions.

DO: Write to make the committee's eyes burst.  Demonstrate your initiative, ingenuity, your concerns for society, and your leadership by showing the impact.  Preferably with specific statistics (number of hours worked, number of people in the audience at your workshop presentation, number of books collected by the campus drive youd organized etc.) to accompany your story.  Committees want to know the scope of your reach to determine your future potential.

X  Don't #8: Preach


Many scholarships are open-ended, thus granting you the authority to suggest solutions. Here’'s where you will point out social problems that demand solving.  Be cautious of sounding too preachy, or giving the impression that solutions to the world's problems are obvious or simple.

We live in a complex world where solutions are not easy to find, especially amidst competing interests.  Your maturity is invaluable next to your “intelligence.”

DO: Demonstrate your maturity by embodying the fact that the world is a complex and dynamic place.  If you address a real problem, avoid giving overly simplistic solutions.  Do your research first and acknowledge the complications.   Also, try to focus down your issue of interest, e.g., narrow down a broad topic like health care reform to medical insurance and treatment for children with preconditions, or a broad topic like immigration reform down to migrant workers’ rights.


X  Don’t #9: Include Irrelevant Details

Avoid birth dates, school, and hometown, unless they are of particular importance.  Sticking to the prompt will work magic for you.

DO: Make everything in your essay relevant to the topic at hand.  A good strategy is after writing each sentence, look back at the prompt and ask yourself: does this sentence answer this question effectively?

X  Don't #10: Vie For The Guilt Trip

Think of this idea in this way: many students (your competition) write that if they don't receive this very scholarship, they probably won't be able to attend college, or be able to pay the rent, and thus be kicked out into the streets.

The problem here is the unwelcome pressure on the scholarship judges who are human, and would abhor living with the knowledge that they got you tossed out of your apartment and onto the streets.  Although the judges have a heart, they are going to stick to their job, and that’'s to select the most qualified candidate.

DO: Avoid resorting to desperation.

Last Words

You should never depend on receiving any one scholarship.  Chances are pretty slim for many scholarships (although after reading this list, you've bypassed many of the errors in scholarship writing, thus, greatly improving your odds), so this means you should apply to many scholarships.  I would suggest that you take the summer between the last year in your 2-year institution and the start of your transfer school to set as your goal to apply for 60-90 scholarships, distribute these across the 8-9 weeks, and apply!

Also, you should always have a backup plan. Investigate all your student loan options, grants, jobs, etc.  Develop your educational plan first, including costs and how to pay for them. Then, as you receive scholarships, start erasing sources of funds like loans and jobs since they will no longer be needed.