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February 9, 2024

How to Ace Your Scholarship Interview: A Comprehensive Guide

Key tips to prepare for your interview and help you score higher and a step closer to the scholarship
illustrations of 2 people having a video call

You have applied for the scholarship, waited, and finally received an email inviting you to the second stage of the scholarship application: The Interview! Securing a scholarship involves navigating a multi-step process, and even if the application is well-written, the interview phase is often the make-or-break moment. 

So how can you best prepare yourself for that interview? In this article, we'll delve into some scholarship interview tips, questions asked in a scholarship interview, and how to pitch yourself in several ways. Our goal is to prepare you with actionable tips and advice to confidently take part in your scholarship interview.

1. How to Prepare for a Scholarship Interview? 

A. Research the Scholarship Institute Provider

Before entering the interview room, understand the institution providing the scholarship. For instance, if it's a foundation emphasizing community service, align your responses with their values. 

For example, researching Jusoor Scholarships would reveal our focus on the candidates’ willingness and intent to contribute to the redevelopment of Syria and impact the global Syrian community [More eligibility criteria below]. This would help you understand and keep in mind the purpose of the interview: to showcase your qualifications and suitability for the scholarship.

Another example with Chevening, in their mission, the main focus is to enable emerging leaders; thus, one of their main eligibility criteria is showcasing leadership skills. 

B. Understand the Scholarship's Objectives 

Knowing the scholarship's eligibility criteria helps create your responses. If the scholarship emphasizes innovation and entrepreneurship, weave examples of your entrepreneurial mindset into your answers. 

You can easily find the required criteria on the scholarship website. For example, in any Jusoor scholarship, you can open the “Selection Criteria” section and it will help you predict question types coming in the interview. 

You won’t be reinventing the wheel during the interview or expecting irrelevant questions as they are always outlined in front of you on any application or scholarship page. You should aim to hone on that and elaborate with in-depth knowledge and experience! 

C. Outline Your Experiences:

This might seem weird; why would you need to outline things about yourself? 

The purpose of creating an outline is to bring out your best during the interview. Make sure to align your experiences with the scholarship goals. Simply note down the following:

  • Achievements: Consider your academic achievements and volunteer/community accomplishments, awards, or publications.
  • Failures: Mention academic/work failures, how they changed you, and most importantly, how you dealt with them to reach success again. 
  • Work experiences: Dealing with decision-making, big milestones, etc.   
  • Skills: Outline your main skills integrated with concrete examples. Never randomly mention skills with no examples. 

In addition, make sure to review your own submitted application thoroughly, if you have a form copy. By reviewing, you can be aware of any questions asked to you about your application. 

Source: https://coderpad.io/blog/hiring-developers/best-places-websites-to-find-developers-online/ 

2. How Do You Stand Out in a Scholarship Interview?

Presenting yourself effectively isn’t only in what you say, but also in how you say it, your performance, and body language. The mindset of How do I sell myself and stand out? Can be simply achieved. Here are the main interview tips to create an excellent impression: 

  1. Dress Professionally: During the Zoom call, avoid tank tops or PJs - keep them for your family, and dress in a manner that reflects professionalism, showing respect for the opportunity.
  2. Prep and Arrive Early: You never know what happens with technology, your laptop, or WiFi, so arrive early to the Zoom waiting room to ensure everything is working and minimize last-minute stressors.
  3. Positive Body Language: Although you’re on a Zoom call, your professional act matters. Sit up straight, maintain eye contact, smile when appropriate, speak with an enthusiastic and clear respectful tonality, and you’re not a robot, so use open and relaxed gestures. And of course, avoid randomly standing up, walking around, or looking away vigorously as if there is something more important than the interview.
  4. Structuring Responses Effectively: Master the art of structured responses using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result) or the brief PAR Method (Problem, Action, Result).  
Source: https://faangpath.com/blog/star-method-for-faang-interview/


What is the STAR Method? 

Briefly, the STAR method is a structured way of responding to simplify your thought process rather than blurting out unorganized information. Here’s what it stands for:

  • (S) Situation - What’s the background and context? Describe it briefly.
  • (T) Task - What are the responsibilities or the tasks you were given?
  • (A) Action - Solution comes in - How was the problem solved? Elaborate on the steps you had to take.
  • (R) Results - What are the outcomes achieved and solved? Add any proof or detail to show the positive result.

A simple example, if asked about leadership experience, narrate a situation where you took charge, the tasks involved, actions you implemented, and the positive results achieved. Novoresume provides a great example of how to answer using the STAR Method:

Example question: How do you set and accomplish personal goals when under pressure? Give me an example.

  1. Situation - “Sure! To give you some context, during university, I had very limited financial aid, and my parents couldn’t help co-pay the rest of the tuition. So, while studying, I also had to work to pay for the university. At the same time, I also took up a lot of extracurricular activities (and internships when possible) to get as much professional work experience as possible before graduating.”
  2. Task - “To keep up with the workload, I realized I had to manage my time efficiently. So, I set up Google Calendar and got a personal notepad for my daily tasks and responsibilities.”
  3. Action - “Through hard work and dedication, I managed to balance studying, a part-time job, and all extracurricular activities. Sure, it was pretty tiring at times, but by the end of each day, I would always go over and edit my calendar for the rest of the week. This way, I knew pretty much everything I had to get done daily, and never missed an assignment or a deadline either!”
  4. Result - “In the end, I graduated with a 3.7 GPA, no student loans, and a personal design portfolio which landed me my first real job at Company X within a month of graduating.”

Similarly, the PAR method can be used to quickly delve into answering a question on adversity you faced or a challenging project you faced. According to Jobversity, PAR stands for:

  • (P) Problem or Project - State a problem or challenge you faced - a crisis, a project, an innovation you spearheaded, a major responsibility, or even an everyday responsibility you held at work or school. 
  • (A) Action - Clearly describe the action you took to solve the problem. Share your individual contributions beyond those of the team. 
  • (R) Result -  Using numbers whenever possible, share positive short-term & long-term results achieved. 
Source: https://twitter.com/ResumeWay/status/1422271131294347269 

One question asked in a scholarship interview could be about how you faced an academic challenge. Let’s have a look at this example.

Example question: Can you provide an example of a situation where you faced lower-than-expected grades in a course, and how did you address and overcome this challenge?

  1. Problem - In my junior year, I encountered a situation where I received lower-than-expected grades in a challenging engineering course. Despite putting in considerable effort, I struggled to meet the anticipated academic standards.
  2. Action - To address this academic challenge, I took a strategic approach. Firstly, I scheduled a meeting with the professor to discuss my performance and gain insights into areas where I could improve. Subsequently, I reevaluated my study techniques, seeking advice from academic advisors and utilizing campus resources such as tutoring services and applied techniques such as the Pomodoro Technique or Mind Mapping. Additionally, I joined a study group to foster collaborative learning and gain different perspectives on the course material.
  3. Result - As a result of these actions, I saw a noticeable improvement in my understanding of the course material. My subsequent grades demonstrated a positive trajectory, and I successfully completed the course with a much-improved performance of 14/15. This experience taught me valuable lessons about adaptability, seeking guidance, and leveraging available resources to overcome academic challenges.

You will notice that in both responses, the candidates responded by using real-life examples by mentioning courses and specific tools such as Google Calendar for time management, Pomodoro for study techniques, and organizing a group study for extra effort. 
Now try applying this example to yourself by highlighting academic or work achievements you’ve undergone. The STAR Method can help structure your flow of ideas and prepare you for the interview.

3. How to Navigate Common Scholarship Questions?

Some questions can often catch candidates off guard with no preparation or expectation. That is why you should familiarize yourself with common scholarship interview questions. It is recommended that you practice your responses to questions related to your background, academic pursuits, goals, challenges, and experiences.

Before jumping into the questions, note that ALL scholarship interviews have a TIME LIMIT, whether it’s 30 minutes to 45 or 1 hour, you have to watch the time.

Source: https://coderpad.io/blog/interviewing/2-effective-interview-questions-to-ask-your-full-stack-developer-candidates/ 

Now, let’s have a look at common questions asked in a scholarship interview with optional examples: 

1. Your Background

Can you tell us about yourself briefly? 

Have you ever heard of an Elevator Pitch? It is a short presentation of yourself, speaking in a concise and impactful manner. Mention your name, current academic status, major, and a brief sentence highlighting your passion.

Example: "Hello, my name is Nour Khalid, and I am applying to Computer Science at Harvard University. Having recently graduated from high school with Honors/High grades, I am eager to embark on my university journey, specifically in CS at Harvard University. I have previously participated in [academic or professional workshop] and I gained the [specific skillsets] and through it, I achieved [relatable achievements] and this feeds into my future goal of [main goal which aligns with the scholarship goals].  

2. Program of Study and Why

Why do you think this program of study is suitable for you and at this university? There are a few ways to respond to this by mentioning:

  • Motivation: Explain what motivated you to choose your specific program of study. 
  • Relation to Career: Discuss how your program aligns with your long-term career goals. 
  • Relation to Work Experience or Personal Stories: Share any relevant work or volunteer experiences or personal stories that influenced your decision to pursue this program.
  • Interest in Specific University Modules or Problems occurring: Highlight any specific modules or areas of study within your program that particularly interest you. How does your program address real-world problems or challenges?

Example: Since I was a kid, I loved tinkering around with electronic chips and boards, and when my school got its first computer Lab, I was the first to sign up, and all I did was learn the workings behind it. I soon discovered coding through Blocks, and my passion was ignited. I then created my first Maze game and I knew this was a pathway I wanted to pursue and enlighten everyone about as well. Therefore, throughout my academic life, I've dedicated myself to learning many programming languages, and joining workshops with Company X. I had the chance to organize a weekly Coding Club to teach my friends and community how to create their first impactful game [add more if necessary]. I know my passion will further ignite at Harvard University. Its Computer Science program, renowned for its excellence, is my natural choice for several reasons. Firstly, the program's commitment to fostering an environment of innovation and collaboration aligns perfectly with my aspirations. I am particularly drawn to the module 'Technology and Social Impact,' recognizing the profound influence of technology on society. This course will not only deepen my technical knowledge but also equip me with the skills to leverage technology for positive societal change.

3. Life Experiences

When it comes to life experiences, you will most likely be asked about the following categories:

  • Failures: Can you narrate a setback or failure?
  • Achievements: Can you share a significant achievement?
  • Ongoing Goals: What are your goals?

4. Situation Questions 

Situation or Simulation questions help interviewers understand how you adapt to new situations and persevere:

  • Personal Life Challenges: Mention challenging life experiences including emotional struggles.
  • Academic Challenges: Mention challenges and milestones overcome.

5. Cultural Adaptability

If it is an abroad scholarship, this question helps identify the candidate’s ability to deal with a new culture. 

  • Traveling Abroad: Mention any language skills, cultural understanding, or experiences that demonstrate your adaptability. 
  • Networking Opportunities: If you haven’t traveled abroad before, then highlight any efforts you've made to understand the local culture, connect with institutions or clubs, and engage in networking opportunities.

6. Career Goals and Plans for the Future

Even if you mention your career goals initially, it’s always great to reiterate them in-depth. Common questions are:

  • What are your career goals?
  • How will your program of study contribute to your career goals? 
  • Do you have any plans to support your community? How would you give back? 
  • Are there any upcoming volunteering opportunities or startup ideas?

7. Financial Responsibility and/or financial difficulty 

This doesn’t affect your acceptance rate, but scholarship providers ask to understand if you have any financial responsibility towards family members and your financial needs. Common questions are

  • Do you have any financial responsibility towards any family member?
  • How will you manage their finances if you get accepted and travel? 
  • How will you manage any additional personal expenses?  

4. Recap Simple Expectations

Let's recap the main skills and outcomes derived from the previous questions. This is a short comparison between strong and weak candidate performance during the interview and can help you stand out.

Source: https://coderpad.io/blog/interviewing/3-interview-tips-for-software-engineer-hiring-managers/ 

Strong Candidates:

  • Show a structured and connected flow of ideas 
  • Show leadership skills/qualities.
  • Mention concrete examples and strong cases of experiences.
  • Speak with a professional demeanor and high tonality.
  • Highlight ambitious and plausible future plans and how to achieve them.
  • Respond with authentic answers. 
  • Focus on unique experiences that relate to academic pursuits and future goals.
  • Highlight key achievements with confidence.
  • Reveal a dedicated plan to give back to the community.
  • Let your passion for your major or goal shine through.

Weak Candidates:

  • Show a lack of focus and structured flow of ideas.
  • Reveal a lack of enthusiasm when speaking with low tonality.
  • Respond with general answers that are cut short quickly. 
  • Show a lack of focus during the interview with no effort to present properly in front of the attendees. 
  • Mention unclear goals or plans to give back to the community. 
  • Outline plans for the future with no specific examples of how to achieve them.
  • Read off of the screen or papers. 
  • Memorize and repeat answers even after being prompted again.  
  • Overemphasize personal challenges without highlighting achievements.
  • Respond with inconsistent stories and plans. 

5. Finally: How Do You Stop Being Nervous for a Scholarship Interview?

Again, you’re being interviewed by humans doing their jobs and not extraterrestrial beings, so no need to panic. The calmer you are, the easier for you to show your best self! A few scholarship interview tips from my own experience:

  • Interview yourself: speak to the mirror to practice, walk around the room and speak to an imaginary audience,  and keep doing it till it feels natural to you. 
  • Request Your Buddy’s help: Simply find a friend and let them interview you with the previous questions. Try with a timer! 
  • Positive visualization: Visualize yourself succeeding in the interview. Picture yourself answering questions confidently and leaving a positive impression. Visualization can help build a positive mindset.
  • Collect your thoughts: Take a moment to collect your thoughts before responding to a question.  Also, during the interview, if you need a minute to think and breathe, you can simply ask your interviewees. Remember, they are humans doing their jobs and there is nothing to be afraid of. 
Source: Designed from Canva. 

In conclusion, acing the scholarship interview is not only about highlighting your achievements but also about exhibiting a genuine passion for your program of study and a dedication to creating a positive impact. Outline your best experiences and qualities, use the STAR method to prepare, and remember, it's not just about what you say but how you say it. With confidence, extra preparation, and authenticity, you'll stand out in a scholarship interview as the ideal candidate. Best of luck on your scholarship journey!

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