Tips for Completing a Scholarship Application

Over the last twenty years, I have served on several scholarship grading committees. Who decides the winners and how? How can you maximize your chances to win scholarship money? Truth exposed below!


Follow the directions.

I know, I know. How basic is this? Seriously though, in every committee I’ve served on there have been students immediately disqualified for not following directions. For example, one scholarship application required the winner to be a member of the school PTSA. Three students were immediately rejected because they never joined the PTSA – the rest of their application packets were complete, with thoughtfully written essays. But ultimately, they didn’t follow the directions and their hard work was for naught.


Everything counts.

Spelling, grammar, neatness, all of it. For some smaller scholarships, the only thing the committee sees is the student written essay. Make it awesome and remember to have someone read it over for you before you turn it in. Many years ago, I served on a committee for Ronald McDonald House Charities and in my stack of applications there was one written in pencil and one that had food stains on it. It’s pretty hard to get beyond that, especially when the rubrics call for neatness (and they always do).


Apply for everything!

Everyone wants to win $25,000 in scholarship money, but how hard are you willing to work for $2,500? I served on a committee where the prize was only $250, but there were many of these small amounts to give away. Can you believe that there was money left over? Not enough students applied to deplete the funds! You will be able to reuse your essays and recommendation letters, so there is no reason to leave small scholarships out.


Dig deep.

You probably don’t have straight A’s – because most students don’t. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a scholarship for you out there. I remember as a student finding scholarships for which I could never qualify – I specifically remember one organization called “Moon Rakers” that only supplied scholarships to students over 6 feet tall. I bet there’s one for short folks too, but at the time I didn’t even think to look for it. There are literally scholarships for everything. Are you a lefty? Does your house of worship or community center offer a scholarship? How about the grocery store your family shops at? These might be smaller dollar amounts, but like I said in #3, not everyone is trying to get those small sums.


It’s a group decision.

Scholarship applications are judged by a committee, and are graded on their own merits not against each other. If you run a race, you are judged not only on how fast you run, but how much faster you are than the other competitors. How everyone else competes can drastically alter the outcome of your race. That’s not how scholarships work – it’s more like the way you are graded at school. If you complete a free response test, lots of students can get good grades – there isn’t just one A per class. That’s the way scholarships are graded. Each essay is read and scored individually, then another committee member reads and scores the same essay. Sometimes many people read and score each essay – the scores are either averaged or totaled, depending on the guidelines of the organization. This is why so many scholarships offer second and third place awards, or ten identical awards (see those small dollar amounts in #3 again). Larger scholarship competitions will take more into consideration than just the essay, but the scoring is done the same way.

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