If you're looking into scholarship programs to help pay for your college education, the famous Coca-Cola scholarships are a good place to start. Why are they famous? Well, the Coca-Cola foundation offers some of the most generous awards out there to graduating high school seniors. They tend to be very competitive, so if you want a shot at the scholarship, you should learn as much about them as you possibly can.
In this post, I'll talk about some of the logistical concerns you might have about the scholarship— things like deadlines and eligibility requirements. But more importantly, I'll also offer helpful tips and strategies to give your application the boost it needs. Read on to optimize your chances of winning one of these competitive scholarships!
What Is the Coca-Cola Scholarship?
There are a few different types of Coca-Cola scholarships, but the one you'll likely be most interested in is called the Coca-Cola Scholars Scholarship. This scholarship is a merit-based award given to graduating high school seniors who are enrolling in college.
Each year since 1989, 150 high school seniors per year have received $20,000 through this award program. If you've looked into other scholarship programs, you might recognize that the Coca-Cola Scholars award amount is pretty generous. $20,000 can cover a significant portion of your cost of attendance!
As you might expect, the scholarship is pretty competitive: the top five colleges that scholarship recipients attend are Harvard, Stanford, Duke, Yale, and Princeton. Applicants are evaluated on leadership, academics, and service. Many scholarship recipients also demonstrate a passion for social justice.
How Do You Know If You're Eligible?
In order to qualify for the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation Scholarship, you must meet all of the following requirements:
- Be a current high school senior attending school in the US
- Be a US citizen, national, permanent resident, refugee, asylee, Cuban-Haitian entrant, or humanitarian parolee
- Anticipate receiving your high school diploma during the current academic year
- Plan on attending an accredited US post-secondary institution (two- or four-year college)
- Able to show proof of a minimum overall B/3.0 GPA in high school courses
- Cannot be a child/grandchild of any employee, officer, or owner of Coca-Cola bottling companies, the Coca-Cola company, Company divisions or subsidiaries
If you meet all of the above criteria, you're on the right track to submitting a successful Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation Scholarship application.
What Information Do You Need to Apply?
The next step to submitting a successful application would be to gather all necessary materials and information ahead of time. You'll need all of the following to complete an application:
- Your high school transcript and academic record—You'll need this to report courses and grades starting with your freshman year.
- Contact information—You will need to provide the names, emails, and phone numbers of your guidance counselor and principal.
- List of clubs and organizations— The application will ask you to provide a list of school and non-school related activities in which you've participated since your freshman year, along with any corresponding leadership positions. The application asks about the following specific domains:
- School activities: student council, class officer, academic/honor societies, school newspaper or literary magazine, school yearbook
- Performing arts: drama, theater, dance
- Speech, debate, or forensics
- Music: band, orchestra, vocal
- Visual arts
- Other: any school-related clubs, organizations, or intramurals
- List of honors and awards—You'll have to list any accolades you've received while participating in any clubs or organizations, and the level of each award (local, state, regional, or national) since your freshman year.
- List of volunteer activities—You'll be asked about all of your unpaid community service activities for each grade in high school. Be prepared to provide the number of hours you spent in each activity in addition to any honors or awards you received for your participation.
- List of paid work experiences—If you have an updated resume, you're already set! Be prepared to provide the number of weeks employed, average number of hours worked per week during the school year, and average number of hours worked during the summer for each job.
Because this isn't a need-based scholarship, you won't have to worry about submitting any financial information. You also don't need to worry about reporting any standardized test scores!
How Do You Submit a Coca-Cola Scholarship Application?
You have nothing to lose by submitting an application. Even if you're worried you won't receive an award because the scholarship is so competitive, think about how a few hours of your time could lead to a $20,000 scholarship. It's a no-brainer!
The application window typically opens in early August and closes in late October. This year's application period is from August 1, 2021, to October 31, 2021.
You'll have a lot more fun this upcoming Halloween if you submit your application in advance of the deadline.
When Do You Find Out Whether You've Been Selected?
There are several stages to the scholarship recipient selection process. First, about 2,000 semi-finalists will be selected by mid-November. If you make it to this stage, you'll be asked to submit additional scholarship materials by late December. These materials will include essays, a recommendation, and a current high school transcript.
A program committee then reviews semi-finalist applications in January to narrow it down to 250 regional finalists by the end of the month. Regional finalist interviews (over the phone or via Skype) take place in February.
The scholarship winners are finally selected and notified after regional interviews. Scholarship recipients are invited to participate in a Scholars Weekend in Atlanta at the end of March or early April.
How Can You Use the Scholarship Funds?
If you win a Coca-Cola Scholars Scholarship, you can use it for any school-related expenses, including tuition, on-campus housing, books, fees, or even a computer.
The scholarship is pretty flexible. You have between four and 10 years to use the full award amount and can choose to defer the award anytime within that 10-year time frame (like if you want to take a gap year or study abroad).
Strategies: How to Increase Your Chances of Winning a Coca-Cola Scholars Scholarship
According to the Coca-Cola Scholars program, scholarship recipients are strong leaders who are committed to "making a significant impact on their schools and communities."
The most successful applications will embody the values that the Coca-Cola Scholars program prioritizes: leadership, service, and community commitment. Ultimately, scholarship awards are investments not only in a particular student but also in that student's community.
Scholarships will have the greatest impact when they're awarded to students who are invested in "paying it forward," or giving back to others. Corporate scholarships assume that the most successful students and professionals will demonstrate very strong leadership skills and academic potential.
The following strategies will help you highlight the qualities that make you most attractive to the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation.
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If You're a Younger High School Student ...
Demonstrate Academic Excellence
You probably noticed earlier in this post that Coca-Cola scholarship winners tend to be going to some pretty great schools. Corporate scholarship programs like this one want to invest in students who show the most promise and potential.
One way you can demonstrate your own potential is to earn exceptional grades—this will obviously serve you well when it comes to applying to colleges and other scholarship programs.
In addition, take AP or advanced classes if they're offered. You'll be a more impressive applicant if your academic record shows a more rigorous course load. Unfortunately, the more challenging the courses, the more difficulty you may have in school. While this is okay (your grades don't have to be perfect!), make sure to seek out extra help in weaker subject areas. Meet with your teachers or tutors to stay on top of your game.
Develop Leadership Skills
Leadership roles will help you stand out, in a good way.
As with academic performance, leadership skills development indicates that you're likely to be successful as a student and as a professional. If you actively seek out leadership roles, this will demonstrate to the Coca-Cola Scholarship Program that you're proactive and take initiative.
Commit to clubs, groups, or activities early on that align well with your interests and passions. It's generally better to be heavily invested in a few activities. If you make too many commitments, the caliber of your participation (and the opportunities for future leadership roles) will suffer. Focus on quality over quantity.
Here's an example of what I mean: as a kid, I attended one particular camp every summer. It was something I really enjoyed, and it was great to go back year after year. When I aged out of the camp, I was given the opportunity to participate in the program as a camp counselor—I got to continue doing something I loved because I had shown that I was committed to it long-term, and I was "promoted" to a new and exciting leadership position. I likely wouldn't have gotten the position of camp counselor so easily if I hadn't already spent years at the camp.
You can also demonstrate leadership and initiative in more creative ways. For example:
- Spend more time in your community service activities than is required of you. The scholarship evaluators will know if you need to volunteer a minimum number of hours to graduate, and they won't be impressed if you barely meet that minimum. Going above and beyond any required minimums demonstrates true initiative and a strong commitment to your community (qualities that will make you really stand out as an applicant).
- Actively seek out awards and honors, especially for your community service activities. You'll have to provide a list of accolades and honors for your scholarship application—if you're already dedicated to service, it's worth your time to seek out opportunities for acknowledgment. Check with your school guidance counselor or do a Google search for awards in your area.
If You're Ready to Apply for the Coca-Cola Scholars Scholarship ...
Keep Coca-Cola Scholars Values in Mind as You Fill Out Your Application
Remember that successful applicants are students who not only excel academically but are also involved in their school communities. Through participation in classes and extracurriculars, scholarship winners show that they are passionate and service-oriented.
Embrace the Lack of First-Round Essays
Unlike many scholarship applications, the Coca Cola Scholars application doesn’t require any essays in the first-round of the application process. Any application for which you don't have to write an essay must be an easy application, right? In reality, the Coca-Cola Scholarship application is trickier than most because it doesn't give you a chance to explain either your academic performance or your participation in extracurriculars.
Essentially, you can't talk about your passions, well-roundedness, intelligence, or commitment to service to make yourself stand out from the thousands of other first-round applicants. The only thing you can do is show—through your grades and your participation in various activities—how you embody the qualities that the Coca-Cola Scholarship values in its award recipients.
You'll notice on the sample application that questions about leadership roles come before any questions about your grades; clearly, they're a very important part of the application. Unfortunately, there's not much you can do to talk up your community commitments or leadership experiences if you don't have a well-developed resume; the application is pretty cut and dry.
Of course, if you make it to the second round of the application process, you’ll get to explain why you’re a great fit for a Coca Cola scholarship in some required essays. To stand out in the essay-free first round, though, make sure that your resume is comprehensive. Make a list of every single activity, event, club, and organization you've ever been a part of and consider whether you could count it as some sort of leadership or community service experience.
Scour your brain—don't leave anything out! Remember that camp I was discussing earlier? I didn't think to consider it as volunteer work or community service—I had done it for years and considered it a privilege to work as a counselor. Luckily, someone less naive than me hinted that I should include it on my resume under "Volunteer Experience."
Submit a Polished Finished Product
Have someone you trust—a teacher or guidance counselor, for example—look over your application before you submit it to make sure it's as polished as possible. Your reader might have suggestions on additional things you should include (or leave out).
There are tons of scholarships out there! If you need help looking for more, take a look at our expert guide to finding scholarships for college.
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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.