Nailing the Scholarship Interview

At Randolph-Macon College, I’m incredibly grateful to be a recipient of the Presidential Scholarship! Part of the program allows scholarship winners to interview prospective students for future awards. It’s such an honor to be able to influence the next generation of potential RMC students. If you can’t tell, I take that role very seriously. From the other side of the interview table, I want to help you get free money!


You’re amazing. I don’t care what other people tell you. You are completely and totally special. The only thing you have to do is convey what makes you yourself to people three times your age. Clearly, if you’re interviewing for a scholarship you have a pretty impressive academic record and likely have a similar story as the kid next to you. But, you are not the same as the person next to you. YOU are special!


You’re not in college yet, but let’s do a little homework. These interviews are typically short, but the people conducting the interview have been doing so ALL DAY. So, you have to sell yourself to a panel of exhausted professionals (and sometimes students) who see teenagers like this all year. Luckily for you, most of the interviewers are there because they love their schools and their programs. There is a lot of passion there. Let’s focus on how to polish your pitch.


Grades aside, what makes you impressive?  For example, I went to a Governor’s School for marine and environmental science and had quite a bit of field work experience from that. I also presented my senior research at the Virginia Junior Academy of Science (P.S. professors love research. If you can work it in, DO). On the other hand, I was the captain of the cheer squad, President of the National Honor Society, and the valedictorian. I had a ton of volunteer work, two jobs, and great summer experiences. You have to choose your three main selling points. What makes you different? Maybe you love the movie Transformers, so you decided to do engineering. Tell that story! It’s memorable.


What most people say: “Yeah, I want to major in engineering because I think machines are interesting.”


Better Option: “When I was younger, my brother took me to see the new Transformers movie. What I thought was just a regular day turned out to influence my college decisions. The machinery, even if it wasn’t real, was fascinating. It really sparked an interest in me.”


In the second scenario, you are 1. relatable, 2. passionate, 3. driven. You’ve also established your identifier in the same sentence. An ‘identifier’ is how interviewers refer to you when you leave. We can’t possibly remember everyone’s name, so you become “The Transformers Boy”. That’ a great thing for you. That is a connection with the interviewer. Think about it as how your interviewer would introduce you to someone who didn’t know you. In the first option, an interviewer could say, “This is _______. He/She wants to be an engineer.” In option number two, I could say, “This is _______.  He/She was just telling us how watching the movie Transformers made him/her want to be an engineer.” BINGO! Then, you follow up with some clarification, “That’s right. My brother asked me to see the movie one day and I really found the machines interesting….blah, blah, blah”. Connection made. Memorable interview.


What do I want to focus on?

  1. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  2. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  3. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

How can I make that more relatable?

  1. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  2. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  3. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________


For example, this how mine looked:

Selling Points

  1. Senior Research
  2. Governor’s School Field Work
  3. Well-Rounded Activities

Make it spicy

  1. My project was on bees as natural pollinators, because my dad is a farmer. I’m very girly and no one would ever guess that I was a farm girl. That gives the interviewer a glimpse into how I link my personal story with my research.
  2. We took one major field work trip a year. The first year, we followed the Rappahannock River from its headwaters in the mountains of western Virginia to my native Essex County. The second year, we kayaked in the saltwater marshes that feed into the Chesapeake Bay. The third year, our classes visited the Outer Banks of North Carolina to study oceanography. Briefly touching on these trips showed the interviewer that I have had some very special extracurricular experience.
  3. I’m a Governor’s School nerd, but the captain of the cheer squad? Quite the contradiction. Here, I focused on how my activities tied into who I am.

Does that make sense? If not, feel free to contact me for any advice. I’d love to look over your plan!



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