How to Answer the Most Common Scholarship Interview Questions

You’ve gotten to The Interview for your scholarship. That in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. This process has given you experience that will be useful down the road when you’re applying for other scholarships and grants, and even jobs. But before you can claim your award, you also have to answer some scholarship interview questions. You definitely need to prepare for this.

Here are ten of the most common scholarship interview questions.

1. Question: Tell us about yourself.

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This open-ended question allows you to direct the conversation. Because it is so broad, your first instinct might be to also answer broadly. Don’t. Plan out what you might want to say as if it were a college prompt. Like a good essay, you can start with something general about yourself and then narrow to a specific anecdote or point. This is also a good opportunity to highlight a set of skills you have.

Example: I’m someone who is really passionate about the ocean. That’s why I plan on majoring in marine biology and becoming an NOAA scientist one day! I’ve already earned my scuba certification and have gone on a number of dives. When I’m not in the water, I really enjoy reading poetry or volunteering at our local library’s summer literacy program for kids.

Why it Works: This response covers a lot of things in a small amount of time. It highlights that the student is thoughtful when it comes to their academics and future plans, and also that they’re willing to go the extra mile.

  • Long-term goal: Become a scientist.
  • Short-term goal: Major in marine biology.
  • Accomplishments relating to the goals: Earned scuba certification.
  • Values: Volunteers time to help others.
  • Personality: Enjoys poetry.
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2. Question: What is your greatest strength/weakness?

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This shows that you are a self-aware person. When talking about your strength, don’t be humble. Give examples so that it’s not just you talking yourself up. For the weakness, try to paint it as something about yourself that you are attempting to improve, or an obstacle you want to overcome. Again, give examples.

Example: I’d say that my greatest strength is my tenacity. When I do something, I want to do it right, so I’m willing to put in the time and effort to see it through. Once, for a school project, we had to build a model of an atom and we chose to build the element hafnium. Hafnium has an atomic number of 72, which meant the model was going to be huge. The teacher offered to let us switch, but I decided not to. So I stayed after school for an hour each day for a week to finish it. I’m happy to say I got an A+ on the project.

Why it WorksA specific example is key here. Not only did this student pick a positive attribute to highlight (tenacity), they also backed-up their claim with a story about how their tenacity benefited them.

Example: Frustration is definitely something I’m trying to work on. If something doesn’t click with me right away, I can get irritated with myself. I understand that it takes time to get good at something, so I’m trying to learn to be more patient. For example, I’ve been taking up watercolors as a hobby, but since it’s a new skill, I’m not really good yet and tend to dislike whatever I create. To counterbalance that, I’ve been watching tutorials and trying to repaint things and make them better.

Why it WorksAgain, a specific example helps show the interviewer that this student isn’t just saying things. Recognizing their fault (frustration), and taking lengths to work on it (watching tutorials to improve their skills), shows that the student is introspective and willing to better themselves.

3. Question: Why do you deserve this scholarship?

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This one’s a toughy. Be honest and open. You applied for this scholarship for a reason, and now you also need to put it into words. (For a more involved answer, read our guide on what to say when you are asked why do you deserve this scholarship.)

Example: Ever since my cousin was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, I’ve wanted to become a pediatrician. Medical school is expensive, and this scholarship will help me accomplish my goal of becoming a doctor and helping sick kids like Maise.

Why it Works: Not only did this student outline a noble goal (becoming a pediatrician), they also acknowledge how the scholarship will help them in their goals. The personal touch of the cousin helps cement the story in the interviewer’s mind.

4. Question: What are your career goals?

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For this question, they are looking to see if you also have a plan. What are you going to do after college? If you can showcase how this scholarship will also get you closer to your career goals, that’s a good move.

Example: My ultimate goal is to own a farming operation. My grandparents had a small farm, and I always loved visiting when I was a kid. Through that, I learned the importance of growing food for a community. I want to study agricultural science at Iowa State University since its ag science program is nationally renowned. Once I graduate, I plan to work at a local farm and earn enough to start fields of my own. I even have plans to donate some of the crops to homeless shelters in honor of my grandpa.

Why it Works: The student has clearly outlined their long term goals and detailed what short term goals are necessary to accomplish their dream. Many scholarship sponsors value community, and this student mentioned appreciating community as well–and backed that claim up with plans to donate food to the needy.

5. Question: Who has been a role model for you?

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Make sure you consider this one beforehand. The people you admire says a lot about you, and you need to be able to explain that. Is it a famous person? Is it a family member? A teacher? It’s important to remember your role model’s character flaws as well, and how they are also inspiring in spite of them (or maybe because of the way they’ve overcome them).

Example: My camp counselor Kai was always someone I looked up to. He was always incredibly positive and friendly; he had a talent for making people smile and feel welcome. One summer, I got stung by a bee and Kai got me to stop crying by telling corny jokes while he bandaged me up. He was always the first person to offer to help out, and really went above and beyond the call of duty. He’s even a volunteer firefighter! Kai’s enthusiasm and positivity made a huge impact on my childhood, and I hope I emulate that to the people around me.

Why it Works: Describing a person you admire shows what traits you yourself value. In this case, the student clearly was affected by positivity, altruism, and friendliness, so much so they desired to be more like Kai. It shows interviewers what that student will strive to embody. Scholarship sponsors want to award students who are deserving, after all, and who will act as a good ambassador of the sponsor’s mission or ideals.

6. Question: Tell me about a mistake you made.

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Like naming a weakness about yourself, they’re looking for self-awareness of your flaws. No human is perfect. More importantly, they’ll also want you to explain what you’ve learned from your failures. How have you also grown as a person because of that experience?

Example: In seventh grade, I vandalized our rival school by spraypainting our logo on the windows. In retrospect, I’m glad I got caught, even though I got in so much trouble at the time. In addition to being grounded and forced to clean the windows on a Saturday, I was suspended from extracurricular activities, which meant I couldn’t go to baseball competitions with my team. My coaches and teammates were really disappointed; I knew I’d let them down. I learned a valuable lesson from that mistake: that not only will my actions have consequences, but they can have a negative impact on the people I care about. Ever since then, I’ve definitely thought things through before doing them.

Why it Works: Admitting fault requires introspection. This student not only confessed to vandalism but followed it up with the lessons they learned from it. Additionally, they specified that the mistake and lesson still have an impact in their daily life–it wasn’t a one-and-done lesson, it honestly changed their life.

7. Question: Why did you choose this school?

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As it’s highly unlikely you just picked a school at random, you should be able to answer this pretty easily. Was it because of a certain program offered? Did a family member also attend? Has this always been your dream school? Expound a little on your answers – they’re looking for someone with passion, who is also going to commit to earning a degree at that institution. They want to know your answer to “why you want to go to our college”.

Example: My mom, aunt, and two cousins all went to the University of Iowa, so I’ve basically been a Hawkeye since birth. But what really drew me to Iowa was its spectacular writing program. I went to a couple of summer writing camps there and they cemented my dream of wanting to be an author. When I toured the campus it just felt like home. I also sat in on an English class and clicked with the professor right away.

Why it Works: Speaking of English, do you remember ethos, logos, and pathos when it comes to being persuasive? This response has all three.

  • Ethos (establishing authority on a topic): They have a long-standing familiarity with the university through family and the personal experience of the summer camps.
  • Logos (logical points): The student establishing their goal is to be a writer, that they attending writing camps, and that the university has a well-known writing program.
  • Pathos (an emotional connection): In addition to the family connection, the student emphasizes that the campus felt like home and that they connected with the teaching staff.

8. Question: What activities are you involved in?

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Like with your college application, you’ll want to demonstrate that you do more with your time than study. This is a great opportunity to showcase your willingness to work with other people, show that you have a good work ethic at your job, and also talk about your involvement in groups. You shouldn’t list everything; you’ll want to talk about the groups you’ve contributed to. Be sure to mention the activities that are also related to the scholarship, if any.

Example: Mock Trial is my main extracurricular activity at school. I’ve been part of our school’s debate team since 8th grade and loved it so much I plan to become a lawyer someday. When I’m not studying for class or a competition, I volunteer at the local animal shelter by walking the dogs. A few of my debate team friends volunteer with me.

Why it Works: This student showed their dedication to an activity–Mock Trial–by explaining how long they’ve been involved, and how it affected their personal goals. The student also added a non-academic activity to show their personal values and willingness to lend their time to help a cause they admire.

9. Question: Tell me about a personal achievement that makes you proud.

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If your proudest moment is that time you burped the entirety of the ABCs forward and backward, you might want to re-evaluate. Talk about something you struggled with. Maybe it was when your coach moved to a starting position. Maybe it was first A on a paper that you worked hard on.

Example: I’m a naturally shy person with debilitating stage fright. I also love poetry. Those two parts of me clashed when my English teacher suggested I enter a poetry recital contest. I really wanted to do it, but I was so scared I’d freeze or mess up I nearly backed out. To work on my stage fright, I practiced reading poems out loud to the book club. Over time, I grew more comfortable standing in front of people, and the more I practiced the poem, the easier it was to remember. If you’d told me at the beginning of the year I’d go to nationals and recite a poem in front of an auditorium of 10,000 people, I wouldn’t believe you. But I did it. I even got fourth place!

Why it Works: The example highlights the student’s passion (poetry) and challenge (stage fright). It emphasizes how the student worked to overcome an obstacle and ultimately accomplish an incredible goal.

10. Question: Is there anything else you want to add?

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Always take this question seriously. They are giving you the opportunity to talk about anything you feel wasn’t sufficiently covered by the other interview questions.

Example: Yes! I’d like to say how grateful I am for this scholarship opportunity. Your organization is all about recycling and keeping our community clean and green. I’ve loved volunteering during the beach clean-up days for the past four years. I can’t wait to join our start a recycling group at college next year.

Why it Works: It’s important to thank the interviewer for their time and efforts, and being grateful for the chance at the scholarship is part of that. Additionally, this student brought their response back around to the sponsor’s own goals and values, which shows that the student is an ideal candidate that matches the organization’s own mission.

Good luck with all future scholarship interviews! You’ve got this.

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One thought on “How to Answer the Most Common Scholarship Interview Questions”

  1. Avatar Clemantina says:

    Interesting

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