The Dell Scholars Program, offered by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, is a college scholarship plus so much more. Founded in 2004, the Dell Scholars Program is a scholarship and college completion program that helps students from underserved communities achieve their academic dreams. 

What’s amazing about the Dell Scholarship is that it’s not just a check to pay for college—it’s a robust support system that provides resources to students over the course of their college career and helps ensure that they earn a degree in their chosen field.

The mission of the program is to provide academic awards and opportunities to students who have overcome hardships or had barriers to academic success, but who demonstrate drive and promise. Many are the first in their families to go to college. You can read more about the Dell Scholars Program, including the core beliefs, but one of our personal favorites is:

“Students who challenge themselves academically can succeed in college, even if they don’t stand out based on traditional evaluation criteria like GPAs, test scores, and extracurricular activities”

To date, the Dell Scholars Program has helped more than 4,800 scholars. Normally, about only 20% of students who fit the Dell profile graduate college in 6 or less years. But 80% of Dell Scholars graduate in that time! 

Interested in becoming a Dell Scholar? Read on for everything you need to know about the program—including how to increase your chances of winning!

What Does the Dell Scholarship Offer?

The goal of the Dell Scholarship Program is to help students fund college and empower them over the course of their academic journey. 

As a Dell Scholar, you’ll receive individualized support systems, complete with the necessary resources tailored to you. You’ll also be part of an extensive support network made up of other students, peer mentors, and Dell Scholars staff. 

Additionally, you’re given immense flexibility regarding what you can use your award money for.

Specifically, the Dell Scholars Program offers:

  • A $20,000 scholarship (available for at least 6 years). The funds can be used to pay tuition and fees for undergraduate programs, graduate school, student loan repayment, study abroad opportunities and/or internship stipends! 
  • Personalized support resources that help reduce the academic, financial, and emotional stressors that can make it difficult to complete college
  • A laptop with a 4-year warranty
  • Chegg credits ($500 annually for four years) to be used for textbook purchases and rentals and/or textbook solutions (via Chegg Study)
  • Access to the Scholars Resources Network which connects students and their families to resources for stress management, debt management, childcare, etc.
  • A teletherapy service that connects students to professional counseling

The Dell Scholars Program aims to offer students consistent and ongoing support from the day they win the scholarship to the day they graduate, making it one of the most life-changing scholarship opportunities out there!

The Dell Scholarship Timeline

The official dates for the Dell Scholarship application in 2022 haven’t been released yet. But based on the previous application cycles, you can expect the following timeline: 

  • October 1: Application opens
  • December 1: Application deadline
  • December 10: Semifinalists announced
  • End of January: Semifinalist materials due
  • Beginning of March: Dell scholarship winners are announced

Eligibility for the Dell Scholarship Program

It’s pretty clear that the Dell Scholarship is an incredible opportunity, but are you eligible for it? 

The first thing to know is that the Dell Scholars Program isn’t as concerned with your GPA or standardized test scores as many other scholarships. They’re looking for determination and promise, traits that aren’t always reflected on your academic record.

So if you want to call yourself a Dell Scholar, you’ll need to meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Be a U.S citizen
  • Participate in a Dell Scholars approved college readiness program during your junior and senior years in high school 
  • Graduate from an accredited high school this year
  • Have a GPA of 2.4+
  • Be eligible to receive a Federal Pell Grant in your first year of college (and demonstrate a need for financial assistance) 
  • Plan to enroll full-time in a bachelor’s program at an accredited higher education institution the fall semester after you graduate from high school  

Application Requirements for the Dell Scholarship

The first step is completing the online Dell Scholars application (tips for filling this out are below!). To complete this application, you will need to know the following information:

  • Your personal information (name, address, phone number, email, etc.)
  • GPA
  • High school transcript information (courses, grades). At this stage, you only need to pull information from your transcripts; you won’t need to submit them until you’re a semi-finalist
  • Top 3 college choices 
  • ACT and SAT test scores
  • Intended major
  • Basic information about your parents (e.g. their employment status, marital status, etc.)
  • Contact information for a personal recommender (who will not be contacted unless you advance to a semi-finalist)

Once you’ve submitted your application, you may be notified that you’ve been selected as a semi-finalist (sweet!). If this is the case, here is what you’ll need to provide:

  • An official copy of your high school transcript 
  • A complete Student Aid Report (SAR), which is generated by filling out a FAFSA (here’s more information on how to complete a FAFSA). FAFSA stands for Free Application or Federal Student Aid, and it’s your first step to receiving financial aid from the government.
  • An online recommendation

Once submitted, a committee will review all of your application materials and make a final decision.

Tips and Strategies For Winning the Dell Scholarship

Review the Sample Application Thoroughly

On their website, you’ll find a sample Dell Scholars application that you can review before it’s actually time to fill it out. The more familiar you are with it, the better able you’ll be to fill it out accurately and in a timely manner.

Reviewing the sample application ahead of time will help you determine what information you still have to gather and will help familiarize you with the essay prompts (more on this in a moment).

Possess the Dell “GPA”

The Dell Scholars Program requires a 2.4 minimum GPA, but it looks for something much deeper than that in students. They believe that potential is reflected in more than just numbers, and have created their own, unique “GPA.”

To be a strong candidate, you should demonstrate the following “GPA”:

GRIT by overcoming personal challenges in your life related to your family, school, or community

POTENTIAL by participating in a college readiness programs and seeking out academic rigor

AMBITION by dreaming of obtaining a college degree

These attributes constitute the backbone of your entire application. If you show that you possess these qualities, you’ll have a much greater chance of winning!

Nail the Short Essays

Like many scholarships applications, this one asks you to write several short scholarship essays.  These essays require thoughtfulness and effort, but they’re a fantastic way to demonstrate your “GPA” (girt, potential, and ambition). The stronger your essays, the more you’ll stand out.

There are 6 brief essay prompts to answer, each with a character limit of 1200-1800 characters. That’s an average of about 250 word, or about one paged typed, double-spaced.

It may sound like a lot of writing, but each essays isn’t very long. Also, keep in mind that these character counts are maximums, meaning you can write less if you’d like. What this means is that you will have to get to the point quickly and stay focused on answering the question at hand.

Here are a few quick essay writing tips:

  • Read each of the questions thoroughly so you are sure you understand what is being asked. It really helps to read them out loud! Most of these questions have 2 parts, so read carefully, and make sure to address all sub-questions.
  • Answer each question as succinctly as possible, trimming any unnecessary words or details, and be as specific as possible.
  • Be honest, be passionate, and be yourself in your essays. This is your chance to shine!
  • Make sure to proofread and edit your essays before you submit them!

Want more tips? Here’s some great advice for writing scholarship essays that will help you win big.

Now let’s take a quick look at each of the essays included on Dells Scholars application.

#1 College major essay

Prompt: What inspired you to choose this major and study the degree you are planning to enroll in? How do you plan to use that degree to fulfill your goals for after college graduation?

For this essay, make sure to create a vivid picture of exactly what you’d like to use your degree for. Avoid overly broad or general responses like “changing the world” or “helping people.” HOW would you do these things?

Include specific career paths you’re interested in.  For example, instead of saying you’d like to become a nurse, tell the readers what kind of nurse. Do you want to work with children? The elderly? Physical therapy patients recovering from sports-related injuries? Be precise in illustrating what your future will look like with the degree of your choice.

#2 2-year college essay

Prompt: Please tell us the reasons you are considering a 2-yr college as one of your top 3 college choices

Okay but what if you weren’t considering a 2-year college? Because the Dell Scholars application includes this question, we recommend that you include at least one 2-year college on your list of choices. Plus, it’s always a good idea to apply to a variety of school types.

There are TONS of reasons why a 2-year college is a great choice:

  • They’re often close to home/easy to commute to
  • They offer flexible class schedules for students who also hold jobs
  • The tuition is often drastically more affordable than at 4-year colleges
  • It can be much easier to transfer to the 4-year college of your choice after you’ve taken some coursework at a 2-year college
  • 2-year colleges give you a chance to explore your interests before committing to a 4-year university

#3 Top schools essay

Prompt: Please tell us what reasons you considered in selecting each of these schools as your top choices. Elaborate on the factors you considered, such as academic fit and financial affordability.

On your application, you will choose 3 schools from a drop-down menu and this essay provides you a chance to explain why you’re applying to each.

When writing about “academic fit,” you can consider:

  • Specific courses you would like to take and/or instructors you would like to work with
  • Academic support systems available (like writing centers, peer tutors, etc.)
  • Programs that are particularly strong at a given school or majors that aren’t offered elsewhere
  • The opportunity to participate in internships
  • Academic organizations or clubs on campus
  • Resources like computer labs or research labs

Remember, avoid vague statements like, “X school has a great literature program.” Instead, elaborate on the aspects of the program that appeal to you. We suggest that you take a close look at each of the program websites at the schools you’re applying to for more information.

#4 Personal challenges essay

Prompt: Describe the most significant challenges you may face transitioning to and while in college and what steps you may take to address those challenges. As appropriate, include skills/strategies you learned in your College Readiness Program that have prepared you to be successful in college.

There are many universal challenges when transitioning to college. For instance, dealing with time management, stress management, test anxiety, etc. You can discuss these, but also include more personal challenges if possible. Do you have any learning disabilities? Health issues? Will transportation to and from classes be challenging?

In the second part of your response, precisely explain the techniques you’ve found most helpful in high school that you anticipate using in college. Do you keep a detailed assignment notebook? Use active reading strategies? What’s the #1 tip you’d give another student for juggling the challenges of school?

#5 Responsibilities essay

Prompt: Please provide more detail about either your home, work, or volunteer responsibilities (whichever you spend the most time doing) and how you make sure it doesn’t prevent you from completing your school work.

We all have incredibly busy lives, so you’ll want to make sure you paint a clear, detailed picture of what your daily obligations look like. Whether you care for your younger siblings, work part-time on evenings and weekends, or volunteer at your church, make sure to include any and all responsibilities that fall on you.

In the second part of this response, provide a specific, actionable way you will prioritize your school work. Don’t just say, “I will make sure to complete all of my school work.” Instead, tell the readers how you will do so. Do you have a special, quite place to study? A schedule you intend to implement? The essays readers want to see grit and ambition, so share the best strategies you’ve got!

#6 Financial hardships essay

Prompt: Describe the financial hardships you had to overcome in your life thus far (including housing, living, or family circumstances) and how you plan to manage any ongoing financial responsibilities you’ll have while in college. (When writing your essays, please note that if you write about child abuse or neglect, the Dell Scholars program may be required to report the information to the appropriate child protective services agency.)

Financial hardship is a sensitive topic, but it’s nothing to be ashamed about. Don’t be afraid to include all of the factors that have made your financial situation challenging. The key here is honesty.

And again, you’ll need to include a plan for how you’ll manage financial hardship during college.

Overall, note that for all of these essays there are really two parts: 1) explaining a situation, and 2) either elaborating on it with examples, or providing a plan of action.

Know Your Federal and State Aid Eligibility

The Dell Scholars application will ask about your eligibility to the following government support programs. It will help to have this information ready to go:

  • Free or Reduced Cost Lunch Program (example: National School Lunch Program (NSLP)) 
  • Food Stamps/EBT or other food assistance program
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) or other utility assistance programs
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Reduced Housing/Housing Assistance (example: HUD Section 8)
  • Social Security Death or Disability (not standard retirement)
  • State or Federal Health Insurance (example: MediCal, CHIP)
  • The Medicaid joint federal and state program

If you don’t know offhand if you’re eligible for any of these programs, the first step is to talk to your parents or guardians, who may have a better idea.

You can also use this website about government benefits to determine which federal or state aid you qualify for.

Choose Your Personal Recommendation Wisely

For the first stage of the application process, you will only have to include your recommender’s personal information. If you proceed, they will be contacted for a formal recommendation.

Choosing the right person is key, because they’ll provide insight about you from a different perspective.

Our #1 piece of advice for choosing a recommender is to select an individual who knows you well. This person should be able to speak to BOTH your academic potential and your character. A teacher or school counselor is always a good choice.

Your recommender must be at least 21 years old and can’t be related to you.

We also suggest that you choose someone with excellent written and verbal communication skills, who will do a good job articulating your strengths as a candidate!

Finally, make sure to ask your recommender ahead of time if they are willing to help you in this way, so they’re not surprised if the Dell Scholars Program reaches out to them! It’s a good idea to provide them with your resume or a list of your accomplishments to ensure they know how to write a strong scholarship recommendation letter.

Want Even MORE Scholarship Opportunities? Look No Further! 

The Dell Scholars Program is one of the best scholarships out there, but it’s definitely competitive. The good news is that there are TONS of other scholarships out there you can win, and Scholly will help you find them!

Scholly Search is a hyper-personalized scholarship database that finds and matches you with scholarships tailored just to you based on all of your unique qualities. This saves you the headache of digging for scholarships and drastically increases your chances of winning!

You can also check out our expert tips for winning scholarships and guides on how to win other competitive scholarships like the National Merit Scholarship and the Burger King Scholarship.

Good luck and happy applying!