As a consultant to scholarship providers, I often have behind-the-scenes access to scholarship application and selection processes. In addition, I’ve been a scholarship judge; I’ve trained pre-college advisors on how to help their students be more successful in the scholarship process; and I’ve worked directly with students in scholarship “boot camps” where they learn how to become better candidates for scholarships. In all these scenarios, I have noticed common mistakes made by students, that if left unchecked can hinder their chance of winning a scholarship.
Here are six common mistakes, and suggested solutions, to improve your scholarship applications.
Mistakes and Solutions:
Mistake #1: Applying for scholarships that do not match who you are and what you represent.
Solution: Write down everything about yourself, your family, your history, etc. Use this to do research about who you are and what you’ve accomplished before you look for scholarships. Only apply for a scholarship if you match the criteria. Some students mistakenly think that they should apply for a scholarship even if they don’t match the criteria “just in case” the scholarship provider doesn’t have any matching candidates and they might win – but that rarely if ever happens.
Mistake #2: Burdening the people who can help you with last-minute, vague requests.
Solution: Plan ahead and be clear about what you are asking people to do. Need letters of recommendation? Provide the mailing address or website for submissions, key points about yourself, and specific instructions and deadlines (with ample notice) to your counselor, mentor, coach or anyone else who has agreed to support you. It will be easier for people to help you if they know exactly what you need and you give them time to do a good job.
Mistake #3: Ignoring the instructions and questions. One of the most common complaints I hear from scholarship providers is that students don’t answer the question they were asked. You increase your chances of winning scholarships if you follow the instructions and answer the questions that are asked. Judges often use points in assessing applications and if they do, you will lose points if you can’t provide the information they want in their requested format.
Mistake #4: Cutting and pasting an unoriginal essay into all of your applications. Keep key phrases about yourself and your skills in a main document. Borrow from that to build a new essay that is specific to each scholarship. Personalize your answers or essay for each scholarship provider to the degree that is possible. Recycling is good, but exact replication is not. Make sure you change the introduction and closing – don’t embarrass yourself by having the name of a previous scholarship in the new essay.
Mistake #5: Not proofreading properly and thoroughly. If you proofread your application once, that is not enough. I encourage students to read everything three times with a critical eye and preferably ask someone else to read it, too. It’s amazing what you will find if you come back to the application at different times of the day, or on different days. We all make mistakes but try to catch them before you send in the application. Your application is your first impression to the judges.
Mistake #6: Shortchanging yourself and your accomplishments. Students who brag all the way through their application are rarely appealing. However, students who conceal information about their fabulous accomplishments have little chance of winning. Some students are excellent scholarship candidates but they are very humble and may even be uncomfortable documenting all of their accomplishments. If you need help thinking of your accomplishments ask a friend, family member or coach to brainstorm with you. The judges only know you by what is written or expressed in the application. Remember to include everything about yourself that is compelling and relevant to that scholarship.
Whether you are a student, parent, counselor or advisor, you may consider using this as a handy checklist to review before anyone submits a scholarship application. Good luck to you!
About Kimberly Stezala
Kimberly Stezala, M.S., is President of Stezala Consulting, LLC, a company that assists scholarship providers, schools, foundations, and educational organizations to improve their outcomes through objective analysis and consulting. Clients partner with Stezala Consulting on program planning, design, and growth; data analysis, research and evaluation; content development/writing, and general program improvement. Ms. Stezala earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as well as a professional certificate in nonprofit management.
Ms. Stezala is also known as The Scholarship Lady®, based on her scholarship expertise, which is shared at www.scholarshiplady.com. She has been a speaker for the National Scholarship Providers Association, TRIO/Upward Bound programs, and many state and local groups.