How to land a scholarship

Illustration of students looking for knowledge.

By Ledornubari Nwilene

Posted on 10-07-2020

Today, a quick Google search for “scholarships” will yield a mountain of results. On one hand, this is great! But how do you find the right scholarship for you? And once you find it, how do you land it? These are just a few of the questions I grappled with when I went down my journey to secure a scholarship in tech last year. As a recent recipient of the Adobe Research Women in Technology Scholarship, I want to share the steps I took to secure it and how you can, too.

Letting a dream die

Up until I was 17, my life revolved around a plan, the plan — graduate high school, go to college for four years, get into medical school, residency … you get the rest. But my first term at Drexel University was a turning point. As a biomedical engineering major, I should be more interested in my science courses, right? Instead, I found myself more intrigued with my technical classes. It was at that point I had to take a step back and ask myself, “Why do you really want to be a doctor? Is it because you genuinely have passion for it? Or because you have held on to this dream since you were 7 years old, and were afraid to try something new?” The latter was true. I decided to continue being fueled by my curiosity and explored the opportunities that existed within the College of Computing and Informatics at my university. After a gap term of exploring computer science and technical classes, talking to professors and students, and praying, I eventually declared Computing and Security Technology as my major.

But even after all that, there was one thought that perpetually loomed over me — scholarships.

If you want to go far, go together

Just like you, my first approach was to go on Google and type in “scholarships for international students in the U.S.” but I found a majority of the results were not useful to me. Ultimately, the four scholarships I received were not from a Google search. Instead, here’s what I did.

  1. Be open about what you need: During my freshman year, it was me, myself, and I. An African proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together,” and I’m an avid believer of that. When I told my community about what I was looking for, they assisted me in my search. They became my “ears” and “eyes.” It got to a point where I was regularly sent opportunities that I was not even “looking for.”
  2. Communities and group chats: You know those group chats you mute on GroupMe or quickly scroll past on Facebook? There is so much gold there! Try searching “scholarships,” or ask about what you are looking for, you might be surprised just what you find and who’s willing to help.

Overcoming the application

Now that you have found scholarships, how do you tackle the application, especially the essay portion?

  1. Ruminate over the prompt: Many scholarship prompts are ambiguous in nature. Ask yourself, “What is this prompt asking me to share?” Is it more of a behavioral, situational, or technical question? As you start to break it down, jot down notes in bullet points rather than dive into writing the essay. Just by getting more clarity on what you’re being asked, you’ll find that the rest of the writing process is easier.

  2. Show your impact: I have been able to apply this resume tip to my application essays. An essay prompt might be, “How have you demonstrated leadership?” Remember the accomplished [X] as measured by [Y], by doing [Z] resume rule? I utilize this here and amplify it more. This is not the place to be humble about your achievements. Many people are quick to state what they did, but not enough about how they did it, and more importantly, the results seen. That is really what makes you stand out from the crowd. If you can add numbers here, all the better.

  3. Connect with past scholars: There are usually previous scholars you can find through LinkedIn or the scholarship website. More often than not, they have insights on the application process and can give you ideas to help you make your application even stronger.

  4. Believe in yourself: This might be an unusual tip, but it has worked for me. I have applied to countless opportunities, and would just cross my fingers waiting to get called back or picked. But after reading a story about someone who took their faith to the next level, I decided to do the same. When I submitted my application to Adobe’s Women in Technology Scholarship, I sent this email to myself the next day.

That’s right, I sent myself an acceptance email! Quite frankly, I felt “weird” doing this, but when my anxieties or fear came knocking, I would go back to this email to refuel my faith and confidence in myself. What a day it was when I got the real acceptance letter!

A screenshot of Ledornubari's email notification telling her she received the scholarship.

There is not an out-of-the-blue formula to getting scholarships. It is all about being strategic. All you need is ONE yes and you will surely get it! I believe in you. If you have more questions, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and reach out!

Topics: Career Advice, Adobe Life, Brand,