A little while back, I had the privilege of being on a panel of judges to select scholarship winners for the Aero Club of New England. There were 3 aviation scholarships to be awarded for various amounts, and they were all over $1000. A scholarship is something I know I could have used when I was learning to fly… and then after college continuing to pay off those student loans. But I wasn’t paying that much attention, and loans were easy to get (pre-2008).
For these 3 scholarships, we had 16 motivated applicants. The packets they had to submit came with some pre-requisites. Some were simple, like “be at least 16 years old”, “be a citizen who resides in New England”, and “demonstrate a financial need”. Additionally, an applicant must also show they intend to pursue an aviation career. For advanced aviation scholarships (Instrument or Commercial training), a candidate would need to have at least 100 hours of flight time. And finally (the one where I would have fallen short in high school), one needs to “demonstrate exceptional scholastic ability”. It’s important to do your homework kids, as that’s where the test questions come from!
The 3 judges’ job wasn’t to pick the best candidate, but to pick a top 6… for 3 scholarships. The packets we reviewed were all submitted by people who met or exceeded these requirements. This certainly didn’t make the process easy. When comparing highly qualified candidates, I felt as if I was in the Optometrists chair being asked, “Better 1, Better 2… Better 16.” Simply put, it appeared all candidates were incredible at first glance.
As I continued to read, certain packets started to stand out. Some volunteered with EAA Chapters, while others held volunteer leadership positions within the same organization. Some held line crew jobs, or washed and detailed airplanes in their spare time. There were also members of the local Civil Air Patrol or ROTC programs.
The key to this is to stand out. If you’re a bit weak in one area, show us other accomplishments and areas that you thrive: volunteer programs, community outreach, and sports (both intramural or clubs). Been working on the family car and have an interest in maintenance? There’s scholarships for that, too. Did you get your Private Pilot’s Certificate in the minimum time, or score 100% on your written? Tell us about it.
One component of aviation scholarships is the personal letter. Personal letters are your opportunity to fill in the gaps. What makes you different from the other candidates who also have the same flight experience? It’s your opportunity to paint the portrait of yourself that we can’t yet see through the common application. One applicant described the lengths they went to providing child care while working and continuing to train. Other candidates described their desire to flight train and then serve their country in the armed forces after graduation. Personal letters should not be embellished, but I highly recommend the use of a thesaurus to spice up your accomplishments.
In the end, the 3 chosen from the initial 16 were without a doubt the most qualified, but it was certainly a tight race. It was the little things that separated them, with some having just a bit more. So get out there and volunteer. Write an article. Wash a plane. Study just a bit harder. And be in that top 3… by standing out!