Once you've developed profiles on several scholarship search engines and have checked for scholarship opportunities in your community, it's time to get down to the business of filling out those applications. Before you do, Scholarship America's Scholarship Management Services® division—which has been evaluating scholarship applications for 35 years and last year alone processed more than 350,000—offers some advice to consider.
These tips are all pretty much common sense. No single thing will make an application stand out—but if you follow all of these suggestions, your application will be noticed for its completeness and professional presentation.
1. Be prepared:
Keep a notebook throughout high school (or even earlier) of all your school, volunteer, and community activities so you have a handy reference.
Along with the notebook, keep a file of commendations, letters of recognition, and award certificates.
Read and follow instructions carefully. Before you start, read through all application materials, including the description, eligibility criteria, application form, instructions, and deadlines.
Make sure you fit the eligibility requirements.
Carefully review what supporting documents are required and collect all the information before you begin.
Be aware of the focus or emphasis of the scholarship criteria: is it volunteer service, academic achievement, a specific talent, ethnic background, or financial neediness? Make sure your responses speak to the focus and emphasize your qualifications in this regard.
If you have any questions regarding requested information, call or contact the provider for clarification. However, don't probe the provider for advice on what you can do to increase your application's chances.
Brainstorm your qualifications/experiences with a friend, parent, teacher, or mentor.
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2. Be complete:
Students should complete the application, not the parent or mentor.
Complete all sections of the application legibly and provide essays and supporting documents in the requested format. Neatness is key and appreciated by the reviewer!
Report all test scores for consideration.
Include all activities, awards, and honors that apply. If questionable, go ahead and include the information, as the reviewer can only consider what is on the application.
Paid work experience can be valuable, so include that information on your application as well.
If an essay or written statement is required, follow instructions carefully with regard to length, format, and organization. Answer the essay questions clearly and in the order they are listed. You can start with a catchy sentence or two, but don't be so creative that your responses are lost in the essay. Always use the word or page limit as your guide to how long your essay should be.
If you are applying online and submitting your responses electronically, slow down and double check your entries for accuracy. We see more careless errors and typos on electronically submitted applications than on paper. Use standard capitalization; do not use text-message abbreviations. Consider your electronic application a formal, professional document.
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3. Be careful:
Allow ample time to complete the application thoroughly and to review, proof, and revise it before sending.
Have someone else review, proof, and check the application and supporting materials for accuracy and completeness.
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4. Be on time:
If a recommendation is required, be sure the person you ask to write it knows you well. Also, make sure it's sent in on time.
If the application asks for a recommendation for the scholarship, do not send a college admissions recommendation.
If your recommender or school sends any documents separately, make sure they are also sent on time.
Send required information only; do not include unnecessary materials such as photos, binders, decorated portfolios, and documents not requested.
Send in the application on time and in one neat package. Avoid sending materials piecemeal because this will make it more difficult for the reviewer to collate your information. It could also disqualify your application.
Janine Fugate joined Scholarship America in 2002. She is an alumna of the College of Saint Benedict, Saint Joseph, Minn., and is currently pursuing a Master of Public Affairs at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Fugate is the recipient of numerous scholarships at both the undergraduate and graduate level.