Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Honors College

National Scholarship Office

Jaime Stansbury

The Honors College knew me and my interests.

Jaime Stansbury, social work

Resources and advice

Preparing to be a national scholarship candidate

Preparing for the major scholarship competitions

  • Take challenging classes
    • Honors classes, especially those outside your major and foreign language courses, are valuable when applying for scholarships
    • Seek out classes with faculty who will challenge and inspire you
    • Ask your classmates — especially older students — which professors they have found to be challenging and inspiring
    • The path of least resistance will not lead to national scholarship success, the best graduate programs or the type of internships that will boost your career
  • Maintain a high GPA
    • Most scholarship selection committees look for GPAs of 3.75 or higher
    • A good GPA of 3.7 to 3.9, with a diversity of challenging classes will always be viewed more favorably than a perfect 4.0 GPA with no significant classes outside your major and no obvious signs that you have challenged yourself academically
  • Keep a file or résumé of experiences including the significance of the following:
    • Club participation
    • Work and volunteer experiences related to your field
    • Honors or awards
  • Each semester, get to know at least one faculty member well enough that you could ask for a letter of recommendation
    • Visit your professors during office hours
    • Learn about their research interests and share your interests with them
    • Ask about other classes they teach
    • Ask if they need help with a research project or a teaching assistant for future classes
  • Get involved with a research project on campus
    • Be open to any field of study, not just the sciences or engineering or necessarily in your field of study
    • Find a research project that really excites you
    • Talk to Dr. Smith-Mason in The Honors College about undergraduate research opportunities

Be a well-rounded student

  • Get involved in campus organizations or community groups and fill leadership roles in the activities that are most important to you.
  • Take advantage of the opportunities in the area – both on campus and in the Richmond community.
    • When speakers come to campus, be there. Invited speakers are here to share their experiences with the university community.
    • Watch the TelegRAM and Honors Updates carefully for upcoming events, symposia and speakers. If you see something interesting, share it with your classmates.
    • Attend Berglund Honors Seminars regularly, especially those regarding topics outside your major field of study.
    • Ask your department or The Honors College if you can be on the invitation list to meet campus visitors in small groups or go to dinner with the faculty hosts and visitors while they are on campus.
    • Attend campus and community theater productions and musical performances.
    • VCU’s School of the Arts is one of the top-rated art schools in the country. Attend exhibitions of student and faculty works.
    • Find others who are interested in these activities and form a group that seeks out such opportunities
  • Read, read and read some more!
    • Read a daily newspaper. The Richmond Times-Dispatch is okay; the New York Times or Washington Post would be better.
    • Read a news and commentary magazine regularly. Newsweek and Time are okay; The Atlantic Monthly, New Republic or The Economist are even better.
    • Seek out books that your professors and advisors recommend. Read at least one book during each semester break.

Gain experience away from VCU

  • Study abroad
  • Volunteer in the community
    • Look for information at the Student Activity Center in the basement of the Student Commons.
  • Find an internship
    • Internships may be paid or unpaid and take place during the summer or the school year.
    • Check out the Career Center in the Student Commons
    • Talk to faculty in your field of study and check with your department. The Wilder School, World Studies, Engineering and Mass Communications also have internship coordinators.
  • Spend your summers and breaks wisely
    • Do something outside of your comfort zone. Volunteer at a health clinic in Richmond…or South Africa, build a house with Habitat for Humanity, climb a mountain, swim the English Channel or hike to the South Pole.
    • Travel to a place you have never visited

Start looking for interesting scholarship opportunities

  • There are resources in several places on campus to look for scholarship information
  • There are also resources in the community


  • Apply for large and small scholarships to become accustomed to the application process.
  • Ask faculty members and advisors to proof your research proposals or essays.
  • Practice interviewing; the Career Center in the Student Commons can help with mock interviews.
  • Ask for feedback and be a willing and appreciative recipient, even when it is not positive. We learn more from trying and failing than not trying at all.
  • Be prepared for disappointment. The odds of winning some of these scholarships are just slightly better than winning the lottery.

Preparing applications

  • Start the application process early! You are in competition with students who have been planning to apply for months and even years.
  • Give yourself enough time when writing proposals or personal statements to have them reviewed several times by professors and advisors.
  • Contact your references early and notify them of deadlines well in advance – then follow up with them. Get any necessary materials to them; at a minimum they should have a draft of your application and essays before they need to finish and submit your letter of reference.
  • Presentation is important because it shows your commitment, ambition and desire. Allow enough time to show your very best work.
  • You should plan to start working on the application for any national scholarships at least three months before the campus deadline.
  • If you are going to try to rush the process, consult with the National Scholarship Coordinator to see if it is worth your time and effort.

Soliciting letters of recommendation

  • Most scholarship applications require multiple letters of recommendation. They are looking for letters from people who know you and can speak knowledgeably about your talents, abilities and personality.
  • Get to know professors, advisors, university administrators and other employees and develop on-going relationships with them.
  • Initiate contact by going to their offices with questions or to express an interest in what they study, teach and do.
  • Professors are often looking for research or teaching assistants. This experience provides opportunities for career and scholarship networking, mentoring relationships and potential references.
  • Seek out recommenders who know you well enough to write a strong recommendation. Ask them to tell you if they do not feel they have the knowledge or time to write the strong recommendation you are seeking.

Preparing for interviews

Practice speaking in front of people

  • Take a speech or acting class.
  • Practice clearly articulating your proposal in front of friends and advisors.
  • Ask trusted advisors to practice interviewing you.
  • Make a video or audio recording to see your nervous tendencies.
  • Visit the Career Center in the Student Commons to arrange practice interviews.
  • Attend mock interviews as set up by the national scholarship coordinator.

Dress appropriately

  • Do not wait until the last minute to find that professional look.
  • Wear something comfortable and be wary of new shoes. Your focus should be on your interview, not uncomfortable clothing.

Dealing with disappointing outcomes

  • When you compete for national scholarships, the odds of being selected are not in your favor. Make sure you see other benefits before you embark on the process of applying.
  • Develop contingency plans so you know what your next steps are if you are not selected.
  • Think about how you can use your scholarship application as a basis for other applications for graduate or professional school, internships and other scholarships.
  • Seek out alternative scholarships that might help you accomplish the same goals for which you were applying for the original scholarship. For example, spending a year or two at Oxford is a fantastic experience whether it is done as a Rhodes Scholar or through some other means.
  • After the pain of disappointment subsides, consider all of the positive benefits from the application process. If you determine that it was a worthwhile experience, encourage bright, energetic undergraduates to follow in your footsteps and seek the university’s endorsement for one of the nationally competitive scholarships.


Jeff Wing, Director, National Scholarship Office
701 West Grace Street, Room 1410
P.O. Box 843010
Richmond, Virginia 23284-3010
Phone: (804) 828-1803
Fax: (804) 827-1669