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How I won a full design scholarship

Getting a scholarship is easier than you think. Half the job is applying in the first place. In 2003, I completed high school (HSC). Although I was aiming to study design at University, I applied for the Diploma of Graphic Design Scholarship at a private college; Martin College, Sydney. Let’s be honest, I didn’t think I’d even be considered. It’s crazy how we self sabotage ourselves without even knowing it. The assumption for not being good enough could have jeopordised my entrance into the design industry. 


Whether you’re in high school, tertiary education or considering studying, it pays to do your research. Find out all the institutions you would like to study at, then enquire to every single one of them regarding any scholarships they offer. You want to know:

  1. Application open and closing dates
  2. Application mandatories and criteria
Here is a very transparent look at what happened in my case:

  1. I wrote a cover letter in July with my application and submitted it on time. It was a formal letter selling myself according to their criteria and pleading my case as to why I felt I deserved the scholarship.
  2. I received a personal phone call asking to come in for the first round interview.
  3. The first round interview was quite tamed and casual actually (although I was dressed for a wedding). There were about 20 interviewed. The questions were quite generic and the conversations steered to what I was all about. My interests, hobbies and passions. We flicked through my portfolio (which was a simple collection of my drawings and art works I had done in high school – nothing special). It went for about 20 minutes and that was it. I left feeling strangely calm, not knowing If I made enough impact, or any impact at all.
  4. A week passed and heard nothing, so I made a follow up call which they appreciated. They were still deciding.
  5. At some point between me stressing over upcoming final HSC exams (which weren’t til months away) and quitting my part time job at the local fruit smoothie shop due to “grade 12 HSC stress” I received a phone call from Martin College with news that I made it to the second round. Excited and nervous at the same time, I wondered how many rounds are there?! I soon found out there were three.
  6. The second interview had the same two people as last time plus the Head of Faculty staff for Design joined us. It was pretty similar to the first interview with more focus on my goals and dreams. To see if the college would also be a good fit for where I wanted to go in life.
  7. A third and final interview happened. They said it was between myself and another candidate, so they called me a week after the second interview to come in one last time. This time it was an interview with the Head of the College Alumni. This was an interview I had never experienced before. The questions were very personal and had nothing to do with academics or creative abilities. It became about character, culture, family values, up bringing, child hood and belief systems. The interview itself was kept incredibly professional and the questions just served as triggers for me to dig deep with my answers.
  8. The day my UAI was announced (three months AFTER my third interview) I received a phone call congratulating me and awarding me the full scholarship for the Diploma of Graphic Design. I couldn’t believe it.


I was never the smartest, fittest, tallest or most popular in school. I was however incredibly curious. Always exploring and trying new things. My parents also instilled the value of hard work. I grew up being average in most areas no matter how hard I tried. Maths, science, soccer, tennis, swiming, languages, literature, you name it. This however exposed me to massive diversity. My natural talent always lied in art. Although I was passionate about creating things, I also embraced new ideas through a broad range of activities.

Having decent grades, my involvement in extra curricular activities and a very basic portfolio to show for, all helped me make the initial in-take of scholarship candidates. However, It was the fact that I was all rounded and diverse enough to be an ambassador of the college that I was awarded the scholarship.


First of all, there is nothing perfect in this life. Take one step at a time. It’s like an Olympic high jumper aiming to break the world record in the first heat when all that is required is to jump over half that height. In the scholarship application process, If you aim for perfect before being competent, you risk the loss of sincerity. The panel of scholarship judges want a person who is relatable to his/her future peers. Someone who is very much human, but is a good example of motivation, persistence and leadership.

Many times it’s more than enough to be competent. You’d be surprised how many people can’t answer a phone call adequately and professionally. I was one of them.

So apply and have confidence in your abilities, as average as you might think you are, you may be just what colleges or universities are looking for. There are scholarships out there for everyone. It’s not always about the smartest, but many times about the go-getters. The hungry and restless. The ones who demand the very best for themselves and their future.

Make your own luck.

“The best way to make your dreams come true, is to wake up”
– Muhammad Ali

For more, pick up a copy of Ram Castillo’s internationally and industry-acclaimed book ‘How to Get a Job as a Designer, Guaranteed’.

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Author: Ram Castillo

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About Ram Castillo


Ram is an award winning Design Director, Blogger, top ranking Podcaster, Speaker, Instructor and Author of two internationally acclaimed books 'How to get a job as a designer, guaranteed' and 'How to get a mentor as a designer, guaranteed'. He's based in Sydney, Australia and in 2012, started the blog which helps thousands of design students and graduates be employed. Ram has since been featured in Communication Arts, HOW magazine, Herman Miller, deFrost*, and Apple.

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