written by
Rohan Krishnan

How to Win the Vanderbilt Merit Scholarships

Advisor Tips Admissions Tips 5 min read

Vanderbilt is one of the few private elite academic institutions that offer significant merit scholarships that are independent of a family’s financial status. As a result, the Vanderbilt merit scholarships are highly competitive, with less than 1% of applicants receiving a scholarship. 

Prospective applicants can apply to three merit scholarships: the Cornelius Vanderbilt scholarship, the Chancellor scholarship, and the Ingram scholarship. 

As a recipient of both the Cornelius Vanderbilt scholarship and the Chancellor scholarship, I believe I can provide some useful strategies to help maximize your chances of winning these competitive scholarships.

Aerial view of Vanderbilt University
Image courtesy of Vanderbilt University

Each scholarship provides full-tuition support with a hefty stipend for service projects or study-abroad programs. The deadline for applying for these merit scholarships is December 1st, so be sure to start your application early

This informational essay was written by Rohan Krishnan, Yale University Class of ‘24. If you want to get help writing your application essays from Rohan or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

As you probably know, excellent SAT scores and a stellar GPA are not sufficient to win a Vanderbilt merit scholarship. Approximately 25% of admitted students score at least a 1540 SAT and/or a 34 ACT; many are valedictorians or in the top 5% of their class. Still, less than 1% of applicants receive a merit scholarship! Consequently, successful applicants should not only have strong test scores but standout essays and extracurricular activities.

Each scholarship committee rewards different values and characteristics, so approach your applications with this in mind.

  • The Cornelius Vanderbilt scholarship rewards students who possess all-around academic excellence and passion. 
  • The Chancellor scholarship rewards students who have engaged in significant and meaningful community service projects . 
  • The Ingram scholarship rewards students who have a sense of entrepreneurship and show leadership potential. 

The Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship

The Cornelius Vanderbilt scholarship was created in honor of the university’s founder, Cornelius Vanderbilt, to bring intellectual and community leadership to the Vanderbilt campus and to the world around them. This scholarship is considered to be the most prestigious merit scholarship at Vanderbilt; recipients have access to exclusive networking opportunities and one-on-one attention from faculty. There are usually 50-60 Cornelius Vanderbilt scholars in a freshman class.

The Cornelius Vanderbilt scholarship is designed for the highest achieving students who can demonstrate a deep passion and commitment to a specific area of interest. As a result, your essay supplement should highlight your most significant interest, demonstrate your commitment to it, and explain how you would pursue that passion at Vanderbilt. 

Also, the Cornelius Vanderbilt scholarship committee will be looking for applicants who have more unique interests. If your essay supplement is about your passion in computer science or pre-med, be sure to illustrate your own distinctive approach to these interests.

Students laying on grass at Vanderbilt
Stablenode | Wikimedia commons

The Chancellor Scholarship

The Chancellor scholarship is an award designed for students who demonstrate a commitment to community service. The scholarship rewards those who have worked on community or school projects that pertain to diversity, social justice, or disenfranchised groups. It is typically awarded to 20-25 incoming freshmen each year.

Like Cornelius Vanderbilt scholars, Chancellor scholars also get exclusive opportunities to meet alumni and one-on-one time with faculty. Scholars also have the opportunity to attend MOSAIC Weekend, where they take classes, meet professors, and bond with fellow freshmen students.

Successful applicants partake in community service that helps foster diversity or social justice. The Chancellor scholarship is not for community service generally; it’s meant to reward efforts that help promote or strengthen a marginalized group of people. For example, I worked closely with a refugee organization in my local community to tutor refugee students and fundraised thousands of dollars for youth refugees.

The Chancellor scholarship requires applicants to submit a recommendation for the scholarship. Your recommendation should be written by someone who can highlight the work you did to promote service and social justice. (An adult who oversaw your project is always a good choice). The recommendation is crucial: it will demonstrate that your project is legitimate and that you have a genuine interest in your service work.

Your essays should reflect how you developed an interest in your service project and should share some anecdotes about your experience working with or for a specific marginalized group. Again, focus on showing a sincere interest for your service project while highlighting your leadership abilities and desire for social change.

Man typing a blank google doc on a laptop
Glenn Carstens-Peters | Unsplash

The Ingram Scholarship

The Ingram scholarship is designed for students interested in pursuing careers in business and other professional careers. The scholarship is typically awarded to about 50 incoming freshmen each year. Recipients have access to an alumni network of Ingram scholars who work to connect them to internship and job opportunities.

The Ingram scholarship committees look for individuals who have committed many hours to a specific project that is business-related. Additionally, the Ingram scholarship also seeks to reward students whose work intersects business interests with those of the larger community (in fact, one of the supplemental essay questions pertains to this exact scenario). 

For example, one Ingram scholar proposed donating left-over cafeteria food to impoverished communities in need of nourishment. Ingram scholars are typically driven and focused students who are eager to dedicate time and effort into business projects and establish a professional career.

Ingram scholarship applicants are required to provide two additional recommendations. These recommendations should be from a mentor or advisor that can attest to the student’s interest and commitment to a specific project or to the student’s passion for business and community. Like the Chancellor scholarship, the recommendations are designed to help the committee evaluate a student’s authenticity in the projects they have taken on.

Your essays should showcase your experience learning and practicing business in your extracurricular activities. Explain why you are interested in pursuing a career in business and how your interests would fit in at Vanderbilt once you arrive on campus.

I wish you all the best of luck in your applications!


This informational essay was written by Rohan Krishnan, Yale University Class of ‘24. If you want to get help writing your application essays from Rohan or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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