What Is a Scholarship Pageant?

Mary McMahon

A scholarship pageant is a competition offering scholarships to participants. It is run much like a traditional beauty pageant where participants are judged on presentation and appearance, but may include a service and talent element. Organizations around the world host scholarship pageants offering a variety of prizes. Competitors may be eligible for prize money even if they do not win, and the amount of funds available can vary. Some pageants offer cash for school, while others require participants to designate a specific educational institution as a payee.

A scholarship pageant is a beauty competition that offers scholarships to the winners.
A scholarship pageant is a beauty competition that offers scholarships to the winners.

Competitors in a scholarship pageant typically need to present themselves in several different events where judges have an opportunity to score them. These may include swimsuit competitions as well as evening and formal wear events. A talent portion may provide an opportunity to demonstrate a skill. Participants also undergo interviews where they talk about their interests and goals. In some organizations, regional pageants feed to larger competitions which eventually terminate with a national or international competition.

Scholarship pageants often include additional elements like talent and service competitions.
Scholarship pageants often include additional elements like talent and service competitions.

Participants in a scholarship pageant need to adhere to strict rules published by the parent organization. These can include eligibility requirements, which may limit participants by age and educational status. Some are limited to specific communities, often with the goal of promoting higher educational attainment among minority groups. People may need to agree to certain conduct restrictions as well, which may include limitations on personal relationships and activities like having children out of wedlock. Such restrictions are designed to protect the integrity of the sponsoring organization.

Judges score scholarship pageants on multiple factors including physical appearance, poise, personal conduct, and presentation.
Judges score scholarship pageants on multiple factors including physical appearance, poise, personal conduct, and presentation.

For each event, individual rules may dictate the boundaries of appropriate behavior and presentation. A scholarship pageant typically limits the type of makeup and hairstyles used, for example. Some may allow very elaborate and glitzy costumes, hair, and makeup, while others insist on a more natural look. Specifications about hemlines and garment sizing can also be included, sometimes in the interest of creating a uniform look and feel. Swimsuits, for example, may need to be in the same color range.

Participants in a scholarship pageant are judged not just on physical appearance, but also poise, personal conduct, and presentation. Judges may also consider the goals and service records of participants. Someone who wants to be a doctor and has worked in hospitals and clinics, for example, has a demonstrated track record to support her claims. Pageant organizers as well as notable public figures may serve as judges, providing a range of scores for each candidate to ensure the fairest possible scoring.

Community service is factored into scholarship pageants.
Community service is factored into scholarship pageants.

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Discussion Comments


I think these kinds of pageants are good because they encourage people to concentrate on more than one aspect of their life. My best friend was a winner of a beauty scholarship pageant and she is one of the most accomplished people I know.


I don't know why everyone is so upset about scholarship pageants. There are also contests and programs for scholarships that judge based on other merits. People can apply for those. If it's about fairness, some people give scholarships to only people from their town, or people who promise to go into a specific field, is that fair?

The way I see it, the money is theirs and they can decide to distribute it however they want. If they want to give it to the prettiest girl in the room, it's up to them. The point is that the money is going to a good cause and that's all that matters.


It's great to give young women scholarships for education, especially when the cost of education at a good institution in the US has sky-rocketed. But I don't understand the concept of judging someone's looks and beauty for an academic scholarship. What does their looks have to do with their intelligence, ambitions and talents? Do shorter or less prettier girls not deserve an education?

If the point is to help girls go to school, why not simply judge them based on their goals, grades and the way they express themselves?


@Scrbblchick -- Since my daughter got a $5,000 scholarship in a pageant, I can't be completely critical of them, but she had to work to earn her entry fees and pay for her gowns. Her dad and I couldn't afford it.

We were thrilled when she placed and the $5,000 will just about buy her books for two semesters and will pay her apartment rent. So that's a big load off our shoulders. But I understand where you're coming from. I've heard some awful things come out of pageant moms' mouths. Some of these people seriously need to get a life! I've never been around the judges, but I'm sure if I'd heard one of them make a nasty comment about my daughter, I'd be in jail for murder.


I don't care how much talent a girl has, or how she has achieved academically, or how service and community oriented she is. I don't care how much the pageant reps say they are focused on scholarship, not beauty. It doesn't matter. A physically unattractive girl isn't going to win a pageant. I'm not bitter or anything. I'm just a realist.

I was asked to judge one years ago and I swore I'd never do it again. There was a young lady who was active in her church and community, volunteered, had a beautiful singing voice and was a straight-A student. No kidding. She was born with a severe cleft lip and the plastic surgery couldn't hide it completely. She didn't even make the Top10, and she was easily the most accomplished contestant in the pageant. The catty comments from the other judges were sickening. I wanted to smack them.

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