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Strategies to help your scholarship or fellowship applications stand out

Many journalists and students are facing deadlines for scholarships or fellowships this spring — including more than $40,000 in funding for students from the National Press Club. 

To help applicants prepare stellar packages, four NPC scholarship judges offered tips at a free webinar last week, hosted by the Institute.   

Most applications will ask for a personal essay, work samples, and letters of recommendation. Here are strategies from the scholarship judges to help stand out in each of these areas, no matter the application.

The personal essay: Tell your story as your authentic self.

  • Use the real estate wisely: Address the essay prompt directly and immediately. Avoid copy/pasting from other applications and answer with an original response to the exact question being asked.  
  • Make it personal: Be specific about your experiences by providing concrete examples from your life. Take ownership of your accomplishments, and don’t be shy. It’s also appropriate to use the first person. 
  • Don’t hit the thesaurus too hard: Keep the language simple and authentic to you. A trick is to write the essay as if you are telling the story to a friend.
  • Use examples from other journalists you admire and describe how they inspired your work. 

Select work samples that build on the story you are telling through your application. 

  • There should be a connection between your personal essay and the work samples you are highlighting. Prioritize what you feel passionate about and mention the “why” in your essay.  
  • Share the role you had in your work samples as an addendum. Journalism is a collaborative effort, so describe what you brought to the project you are highlighting. How did you work with your editors? What was your process from start to finish? What did you learn from working with others? 
  • Substance over style: The content is more important than the packaging, so if you have a text-only example that really shows your abilities, don’t be afraid to use it.  
  • Always check for broken links or access issues before sharing work samples. 

Make it easy for your references to remember you and your best work.

  • Seek out your letters of recommendation as soon as you know you want to apply. Share with them the specifics about the opportunity and why you are the right applicant. 
  • Don’t be afraid to send a reminder closer to the deadline. People are busy, so it can be helpful to send a reminder so that the letters are submitted on time.
  • Only ask professors or supervisors who know you and your work well. Think about how they saw you in class or at work. Do they know you well enough to write something specific to you? Will they speak to your strengths?
  • Consider sending your resume as a reminder of your accomplishments, and provide a few highlights about yourself. You want your references to talk about your work in a way that stands out, rather than generic answers.

These tips are based on suggestions from:

  • Alexis Garcia, senior multimedia reporter at Investor’s Business Daily
  • Erin Looney, professor at the University of the District of Columbia and Valencia College
  • Alicia Mundy, author, reporter and columnist
  • Mark Schoeff Jr., senior reporter at InvestmentNews
  • Moderator: Beth Francesco, interim executive director, National Press Club Journalism Institute


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