Every year, we hear from A-Levels recipients that they didn't apply for scholarships because: "My grades are too low, there's no chance I'll get a scholarship." In BrightSparks Scholarship & Education Survey 2021, roughly 65% of JC/IB Students gave precisely this answer when asked why they had no intention to apply. 61% had a similar reason, "fear of not being able to keep up with required grades".
If the above scenario sounds like you, do think again.
While grades are certainly good to have, they are just one of many points a sponsoring organisation looks for in its scholars. Today, a well-rounded individual with broad passions and talents is prized over someone who simply has very good papers.
Our past records indicate so as well. OCBC Scholar 2020 Nazryl Bin Khairil Idham Lim used his polytechnic results to score the coveted scholarship, while Singapore Prison Service (SPS) Full Time Degree Sponsorship Recipient 2021 Koh Zhi Xiang came from ITE and clawed his way to success and more. In fact, SPS believed in his potential so much, it sponsored both his polytechnic diploma and a full-time degree.
So stop thinking about how you'll never make it, and start thinking about how to show them who you are and why you'll be an asset to an organisation. By tailoring your application in choosing what to highlight and writing a moving personal essay, you'll be sure to catch the interviewer's eye.
Here are some ways to stand out from the crowd that don't involve how much you scored.
1) Active CCA Participation
Many successful scholars cited not grades, but their CCA achievements as what defined them and made them stand out. In particular, instances of leadership, perseverance and problem-solving made an impression on the interviewers. Smart Nation Scholar Yang Jiacheng cited being part of the Robotics Club in Secondary School, and now she is doing a Bachelor of Computing (Computer Science) degree at NUS.
Long-term CCA participation also shows that you remain committed to your responsibilities and have interests outside your lessons. That's always a good thing as it will make you stand out amongst the sea of hopefuls.
Glenna Pao, SIT Scholar, is a great example of this. There was little mention of grades when it came to why she was chosen for the award. Instead, the university was impressed with her commitment to helping others, such as volunteering with Asian Women's Welfare Association (AWWA) and Lions Befrienders to help seniors who are living alone.
Her success tells you what you should be doing with your free time: look for a cause that resonates with you and spend your time on it.
But a word of caution: don't volunteer for the sake of the scholarship application. Such shallow commitment will be seen through in a second, to say nothing of how hurt and used your beneficiaries will feel. Instead, focus on your efforts on finding a cause that resonates with you and commit yourself wholeheartedly – and see how the interviewer's eyes sparkle at your passion!
3) Personal Projects
Too many CIPs and blood donation days has created a kind of ennui in some of us. We long for a way to give back, but current projects feel lacking, insufficient, or badly managed.
Then, blast off on your own! Social entrepreneurship will not only help the world and give you great learning experience, it is also a surefire way to leave your mark in the scholarship interview. After all, your courage to do something on your own steam will show them that you're not a follower, but a leader – exactly who they want to give the scholarship to.
4) Internships and Experience Days
Nothing says "I want to make my career here" like an internship with that particular organisation. Lim Liang Yuan, SgIS Full-Term Scholar, interned with SP Group's Distribution Network North section within Electricity Operations to experience the working culture in SP first-hand. This cemented his conviction that this was the organisation with which he wanted to make his career.
So get your fill of those internships, experience days, and even talks and seminars! You never know who you'll get to meet and what insights you will gain… and what that might lead to when you apply.
5) A Global Outlook
One of the many interview missteps we've seen is simply regurgitating your book knowledge or what you read on the company's corporate site when asked. Sponsoring organisations are looking for people to lead them into the future, and how can you do that if you don't know what the world is like?
These questions will appear during interview day too. For example, NLB Undergraduate Scholar Tan Li Lin was impressed with NLB's strong entrepreneurial spirit during her assessment, as senior management constantly pushed candidates to discuss ways to innovate to better serve the public and remain relevant in the digital age.
Read widely, get involved, and think about how you can make a difference. The more you learn about the world and what problems we face, the more ideas you'll have.
As you can see, there's a lot more than grades that go into that vital application. Go forth and expand your world!