This note is intended to give you some guidance about applying for a Mathematics Scholarship for undergraduate studies at Colorado State University. Some of it might be helpful as well for some other Scholarships but it clearly will not be suitable for each and any Scholarship in existence outside the department.
Typically there are more requests (and more need) for scholarships than we have money to award. It therefore is necessary to make a selection. The aim of this note is to explain a bit the criteria by which we do this selection. As we are a university, a large part of the decision is academic performance and promise. Your application therefore must allow us to judge this. While we appreciate good character, this is not the focus of the decision. We are looking for someone who will use mathematics professionally, not a candidate for sainthood.
These criteria do not mean that you must have been the best in your mathematics classes, but they should show a genuine interest in and engagement with mathematics. We would rather award a scholarship to a student who shows genuine mathematical learning than to a (hypothetical) lazy genius. However in our experience past grades in mathematics-relevant disciplines also are an indication of mathematical learning and we will consider your past performance as part of the evaluation. If there is something that can be explained about your past performance, please do so!
There are three parts to your application: Basic data, your personal statement/goals and two letters.
The basic data should be straightforward, as the application form prompts for it. Please be aware that some scholarships have particular conditions. Some of these (such as financial need) can be confirmed by this data (that's why we ask for it). Others (such as particular interests outside mathematics) need to indicate eligibility as part of the personal statement. We are not allowed to bend the rules and award a scholarship to an ineligible individual.
Next, the application asks for a personal statement and goals. Tell us what intrigues you in mathematics, what you want to learn, and what you want to do with your mathematics degree. Are there parts in mathematics that particularly intrigue you? Do you want to get the skills for particular tasks?
Be yourself. If you want to build a software company tell us so. If you want to teach certain populations of students tell us that. There is no need to pretend goals you think would be more worthy than others. In the end, your value to society will be highest if you go on doing something you do well and that you want to do.
The personal statement does not need to be “War and Peace” -- most applications are clearly under a page, but a statement that is only two lines (or even empty) does not give any support to your application.
From your transcript we know roughly what courses you have taken. But you might have done (in these courses or extracurricularly) mathematics related things you particularly liked or which go beyond submitting homework and writing exams. If so, tell us what this is, not just by name but in a brief -- one sentence or less is usually sufficient -- description. (Even if everyone in your high school knows what the WBGRF club is, we might not know. For example you could say instead that you participated in WBGRF, an after class program that does scientific experiments.)
Before submitting, read through what you wrote in full. We are not nitpicking on language, but your writings should be appropriate for a college student.
Also keep in mind that you are applying for a Mathematics scholarship -- if your goal is to cure cancer you should tell us in particular how your mathematics education will contribute to it.
Finally, your application should include two letters of recommendation. They don't need to be long (If the writer can express their assessment successfully in one sentence there is nothing wrong with it) or of a particular form, but they should be recent and be written by people who can judge your mathematical skills and aptitude. (That means that former employers, piano teachers or clergy in many cases are not good references. It also means that once you have been in college your old high school references become less valuable and should be updated by recent ones.)
At least one of the letters should be by a teacher or faculty member who has seen your mathematics (or related) performance in a class in the last year. If you were at CSU in the last year the best choice is faculty members in the Department of Mathematics. (A good letter from mathematics is usually stronger support than a glowing letter from someone outside mathematics.) If you already held a mathematics scholarship we are unlikely to extend it for another year without such a letter.
There is no need to be embarrassed or shy about asking your teacher for a recommendation letter. If the faculty member feels they cannot give a reasonable assessment they will tell you so instead of submitting a bad letter.
Wishing you all the best for your Application!
Dan Bates & Patrick Shipman (Co-Undergraduate Directors, Department of Mathematics)