Back to school 2023-24: How to write an award-winning scholarship application

Competition for awards is tight, so prepare early

After several years working in her trade, Kerri Chalmers (Welder ’09) returned to NAIT to pursue her Bachelor of Business Administration – Management. Money was tight. In addition to tuition and books, she had a family to support and mortgage to pay, which only added to her financial stress.

Although it felt daunting at first, Chalmers applied for every scholarship and bursary she was eligible for. (What’s a bursary? See our sidebar below).

“I think one of the barriers that stops students from applying is the amount of time it takes,” says Chalmers, now entering her third year of study.

But the effort can pay off. Chalmers was awarded $5,300 – enough to cover tuition and fees for an entire school year.

With 4,000 scholarships and bursaries, there are plent of opportunities for similar success. But competition is strong and growing. That means it’s crucial for students to get their applications right.

We asked Chalmers and NAIT scholarships and bursaries administrator Michelle Graham for tips on how to prepare an award-winning application.

Check out the list of NAIT scholarships and bursaries

1. Don't procrastinate

It takes time to gather required information, so don’t wait until the last minute, advises Graham.

Browse through NAIT’s list of available awards to see criteria for applying. At the very least, you could update your resume or CV, reach out to your references and develop your personal budget for the semester.

When it comes to references, think carefully about who will sing your praises about why you are the best candidate for an award. Chalmers asked references for letters of recommendation well in advance of application deadlines.

“It’s important to have someone who can speak strongly on your behalf,” she says.

2. Follow the instructions

Read all the instructions carefully and ensure you include all information requested.

“Not following instructions fully or including incomplete information can hurt your chances,” says Graham. “It’s important to answer each point required and give examples whenever possible.”

Applications are reviewed for key information that establishes whether you’re eligible for certain awards, so be specific about how you meet the criteria.

“The more relevant information you provide the better so the selection committee is able to make a decision,” adds Graham. “Convey your ideas clearly and demonstrate why you are the best candidate.”

3. Stay calm and write on

If an essay is part of your application, there’s no need to freak out.

Let the essay question guide you, so pay attention to specific keywords, says Chalmers.

“If you’re applying for an award that is asking how you demonstrate leadership, make sure that you are using the word ‘leadership.’” It may sound obvious, but it's a key to success.

“Be sure to include those unique experiences that will help you stand out from the crowd,” she adds.

At the same time, keep your essay succinct. Don’t write a novel, advises Graham.

4. Tap into your strengths

Just like writing a winning resume or cover letter, scholarship applications are about presenting yourself in the best possible light for a specific audience.

“I treat it like a resumé and tailor it to the specific award application.”

“I treat it like a resumé and tailor it to the specific award application, just like you would for a job by highlighting certain qualities,” Chalmers says.

She also recommends including details that make your application more personal. Find something you’re passionate about – whether that’s sports or volunteer experience – and bring it to the fore.

“I help out at my kids’ schools and preschools because my kids are important to me, so I highlight that experience as something that really matters to me.”

5. Double-check your work

Thoroughly reviewing the instructions, questions and your answers once you're done is essential to an award-winning application.

Other things to look out for? Make sure your personal and financial information is correct.

And always, proofread for spelling and grammar.

Scholarship vs bursary. What’s the difference?

What’s the difference between a scholarship and a bursary? For starters, they have different application requirements:

  • Scholarships are awarded based on students’ high academic performance while taking a minimum 80% course load.
  • Bursaries are given to students undergoing financial need and enrolled in at least a 60% course load. Not sure if you qualify for a bursary? Include it as an option anyway. It will be filtered out through the application system if you aren’t eligible.
  • Entrance awards are for students attending NAIT for the first time.
  • All eligible students – those who meet the minimum course load – will receive a notification on their student dashboard on the myNAIT portal.

For a list of available awards and deadlines, visit

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