7 Keywords to Include When Finding and Applying for Scholarships


Popular terms you’ll want to explore when applying for awards, scholarships, and bursaries.

There are many scholarships out there, and nearly as many scholarship administrators. Sometimes it feels like they’re all looking for something different! Knowing what to include in your application so you stand out is key.

Why keywords?

Applying for a scholarship is like applying for a job. You want to show off your skills, competencies, and personality, while remaining relatable, sympathetic, and honest. Tall order! Unfortunately, you can’t guarantee your application will even be read by a human. Some big awards have automated processes to narrow down applicants, meaning a computer scans your essay and resumé for desirable keywords.

To give yourself the best odds, you need to include some popular terms — but make sure your application isn’t just a word cloud! Clarity of expression is important, too, especially if a human really is reading your work. Nonetheless, let’s look at some strong keywords to include when you’re searching or applying for scholarships:

Popular keywords on ScholarshipsCanada.com

These are terms that appear again and again across listings on ScholarshipsCanada.com. The more you can include — while always being honest — the better your odds of winning a scholarship. Drum roll please… 🥁 🥁 🥁

  • 1. Leadership
  • 2. Volunteer
  • 3. School or community involvement
  • 4. Academic achievement
  • 5. Athletics
  • 6. Financial need
  • 7. Extracurricular activities

(Be aware these are in no particular order! They’re all important in their own ways.)

Keyword breakdown

Let’s take a quick look at each of these in turn.

1. Leadership

A leadership role can be anything from student council president to treasurer of your school’s anime club. Anyone can develop and demonstrate leadership skills.

You don’t need to change the world, but if you can show that you have a strong perspective and the capacity to help guide your peers, you’ve definitely shown leadership skills — so feel free to use this keyword.

2. Volunteer

Many Canadian high schools require 40 hours of volunteer service to graduate, so you may already have some experience here. If not, get out and volunteer!

From food banks to hospital visits, there’s plenty of opportunities, no matter your busy schedule. Many virtual volunteering opportunities exist alongside in-person roles, so explore what’s available in your area.

Plus, you’ll be making the world a better place, so there’s that.

3. School or community involvement

This fits well with volunteering, though the focus is closer to home.

If you’ve started a recycling program at your church or mosque, you’re involved! Maybe you deliver the morning announcements at school, or shovel your elderly neighbour’s snow. Look at that, you’re building community!

Essentially, this keyword indicates that your eyes are open and you’re engaged with the people around you: you’re not just a bump on a log.

4. Academic achievement

This doesn’t just mean high grades — though that is included — but rather, a sense of progression.

Maybe you started out the semester with pretty rough marks, but you’ve worked hard and you’re doing better than you ever have. That’s quite an achievement!

Don’t feel like you’re unqualified just because you don’t have straight As. In fact, many administrators prefer a zero-to-hero story!

5. Athletics

Though some scholarship admins have awards explicitly for top athletes, many more just want to see people get active and have fun with sports.

Whether you’re into team sports — a great way to build leadership and community, hint hint — or you prefer solo pursuits, if you regularly take time to get moving, include this keyword. If you don’t, well, maybe it’s time to start.

6. Financial need

This one is tough for many. It can be hard to know just what financial need means — and the definition varies person to person.

Still, most of us have some need, or we wouldn’t be applying for scholarships. So if you’re struggling financially, mentioning your challenges can be a good way to get your application noticed.

(Remember that “bursaries” are designed explicitly for people who need financial help for school; the main criterion of a bursary is always financial need.)

7. Extracurricular activities

This is a bit of a catch-all term that includes much of the above. If you’ve got an impressive list of clubs, study groups, sports, and hobbies, you may want to group some together as other extracurriculars.

Important stuff like leadership roles and volunteer positions should get an explanation, though, and so should anything you’re really enthusiastic about.

Your extracurricular activities can say a lot about you, so don’t be afraid to share your passions!

Bonus: 15 strong verbs to use in your applications

Let’s look at a few strong verbs you can use to punch up your application. These are words conveying motion, action, and purpose. Include them strategically: think about how your experiences connect with some of these words, and let them guide and inspire you when you write.

Remember, a scholarship application’s a lot like a job application, so think about how you’d impress a potential employer with your initiative and drive.


  • explain
  • listen
  • promote
  • influence
  • mediate

Problem Solving

  • analyze
  • plan
  • recognize
  • examine
  • prove


  • budget
  • calculate
  • project
  • account
  • balance

There are plenty more great keywords and verbs out there, but when you’re applying for scholarships, the number one thing you should do is be honest. Frame your experiences in a positive light, and focus more on where you will go, not where you’ve been. After all, scholarships are for your future!

Start exploring scholarships now

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