My sister, Renee, is wrapping up her senior year of high school and preparing to head off to college next year.
Over the past two months, Renee has been applying for every scholarship she can get her hands on.
I’m so proud of her for taking the initiative and putting so much time into these applications. Every time she sends me an essay to proofread I’m more impressed with her work.
(So if you find yourself on a scholarship selection committee with an application from “Renee Laurent” consider this my completely biased endorsement of how awesome she is!)
Like many farm kids, Renee will be majoring in agriculture, specifically ag economics.
Through my work with FFA over the years, I’ve picked up many high school readers who might be spending their weeknights much like Renee, pouring over yet another scholarship application.
I decided to share some of my scholarship application tips for agriculture majors.
I am by no means a “scholarship coach” or an expert on the subject.
My advice comes from my personal experience as someone who paid for my college education completely with scholarships and never took out a student loan.
Hopefully, you’ll find these tips helpful and see them pay off…literally!
1. Don’t assume your audience understands agriculture.
If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I grew up on a family farm, showed pigs and was active in 4-H and FFA. I’ve written hundreds of blog posts about how these experiences changed my life and made me the person I am today.
On a scholarship application, you have to get that point across in 500 words.
If the scholarship is sponsored by your university as a whole or a non-agriculture organization, make sure you avoid ag specific jargon like “combine” or “milking parlor” that might not make sense to the reader.
You will probably have to use some “ag terms” so make sure you define them.
A really effective way to do this is by giving an example that the reader can connect with.
When I wrote about showing pigs I compared it to the dog shows that many people have seen on television. If you’re writing about fixing tractors in the shop on your family’s farm, compare it to being in the pit crew in a car race.
If the scholarship is sponsored by an agriculture organization, you don’t have to worry about this as much. When in doubt, remember that its better to overly explain yourself than confuse the reader by skipping the explanation.
2. Find a way to connect to the reader, no matter who they are.
The toughest thing about scholarships is that you have no idea who is judging them.
At the end of the day, everyone has to eat. As an agriculture major, you can always play that card.
The key is to take it one step further.
Connect it to the reader as an individual by talking specifically about how you will someday play a role in providing a safer, healthier, more affordable food supply.
For instance, I always talked about how I wanted to make a career in ag communications so that I could provide people with reputable information about how their food is produced.
Basically, you want the reader to feel like they will personally benefit from you achieving your goals.
3. Your family farm work is “employment,” whether or not you get a paycheck.
On a lot of family farms, kids might consider their day to day responsibilities “chores” instead of “employment.” Just because your parents don’t write you a check for your farm work doesn’t mean you shouldn’t list it as a job on your scholarship applications.
The selection committee won’t view farm chores in the same way that they do setting the table or helping with the laundry. (Even if your parents, like mine, threw them all into the “earning your keep” category while you were growing up).
Leaving out that you spend 2 hours every week night feeding cattle and still kept a 3.5 GPA is selling yourself short. You deserve credit for that!
Its also important to remember why scholarship committees want to know your work history. They aren’t concerned with how much money you’ve made.
What they really want to see is that you can manage your time, balance your school work and additional responsibilities, follow orders and have a solid work ethic.
4. List every award you’ve received in high school.
Selection committees see hundreds of applications in the same day. It only makes sense that sometimes they’d pick quantity over quality when it comes to awards.
If an application allows you to attach additional pages for your awards (which many do) then you have no reason not to list every single one you’ve received since starting high school.
It might seem like over kill but you only have a few pages to give this person every possible reason to give you the scholarship, why leave anything out?
A common mistake I’ve seen on application is forgetting to include what I’d call “qualifying awards.”
For instance, in many FFA contests you must first win the regional competition in order to qualify to compete at the state level. Don’t just list “State Champion” without also listing that you were the “Regional Champion” as well.
5. Recruit proofreaders.
Renee has the advantage of being the third child in our family to go through the scholarship process. Our parents have been through this before and can offer advice based on what we all learned while my brother and I were in her shoes.
(I like to think that having a journalist for a sister is a big help too but I get the feeling that my obsession with perfect grammar actually drives her nuts!)
Whether you’re the first or the last in your family to go through this process, recruit people to proofread your essays and applications.
This doesn’t have to be a parent or family member. Consider asking one of your teachers, guidance counselor, 4-H agent/volunteer or a family friend.
You have probably spent so much time pouring over your applications that you’re subconsciously overlooking errors. You’ll be amazed by how many mistakes you’ll catch just by having someone with a fresh set of eyes read over it.
The moral of the story is that you don’t want a grammar mistake or misspelled word to be the reason you miss out on a scholarship!
If you have any additional questions, feel free to ask them in the comments.
Or if you want to share some advice with the next generation of ag majors, feel free to comment with that as well!
I really hope these tips will help you through the long and challenging scholarship process.
Though the late nights and extra work might seem like a real pain now, I promise it will pay off in the end.