Secrets from a Scholarship Application Reader

Editor-in-Chief, Carnegie Communications

May   2014



In case you haven’t had the pleasure of choosing a merit-based scholarship winner before, let me tell you: it’s hard, you guys. It’s seriously hard. (Of course, I know it’s hard to be on the other side too, searching for scholarships that fit and then applying to a bajillion of them!)

Our $10,000 scholarship that so many of you are familiar with (and probably hoping to win! Stay tuned . . . ) is simply luck of the draw, so that’s pretty easy. But our Community Service Scholarship for Multicultural Students is chosen based primarily on their volunteer efforts, and my team and I get the honor of reviewing those applications. To narrow down the applicants to just a handful of finalists, let alone the ultimate winner, is crazy difficult. But it’s all worth it in the end when you get to call that one person and share in their excitement, if only for a moment. These students do such important work, and recognizing them is incredibly gratifying.

But I digress. The other night as I was reading applications, it occurred to me that you, dear reader, might be interested in some of the thoughts going through my head. So I decided to jot down my top tips for you scholarship hopefuls—and you should all be scholarship hopefuls!

Follow directions

This starts with carefully reading the application directions and making sure you know exactly what is being asked of you. Then, follow through. For example, if the directions call for a 500-word essay, shoot for 500 words. Not 1,000. Not 100. Also, I know it’s tempting to include other “supporting” items with a scholarship application, like certificates of achievement or extra recommendation letters. But, I promise, if we wanted to see that stuff, we would’ve asked for it in the first place. And when it comes to providing proof of involvement, a list will typically suffice, rather than copies of certificates (or, heaven forbid, the originals!) unless expressly stated otherwise. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Cut the fluff

When it comes to scholarship application essays, we can tell when you’re waxing poetic because you’re trying to meet a word count—or possibly aggrandizing the nature of your involvement. Related to the “follow the directions” tip, make sure you stick to the given prompt. Give details, but make sure they’re meaningful details. Be genuine. We also know when you use the thesaurus/synonym replace tool to find fancier words. Be careful with that, as not all “synonyms” are perfect matches for what you’re trying to say, which leads me to my next point . . .

Edit your application

Especially any essay or short-answer components. I know catching errors can be hard. Even I miss mistakes, and I supposedly do this stuff for a living! But you should still try to submit as perfect an application as possible. Misspelled words, misused homonyms (words that sound the same but have different meanings and spellings, like “their” and “there”), and missing words altogether just look bad. Here are some tips, from one editor to another, that can help you clean up your applications:

  • Re-read any scholarship application essay or short-answer responses slowly (and I mean s l o o o w l y), carefully, and preferably a few hours or even days after you finish your first draft. Fresh eyes are the best eyes.
  • Read the text out loud to yourself. (I love this trick! So simple, so effective.)
  • Ask someone else to edit your work, like a family member, a friend or sibling (one already in college, maybe?), or an English teacher or professor.

Apply—even if you’re not an A+++ student

This is merely an observation, but based on our scholarship applicants, you’d think that valedictorians were the only ones out there doing community service. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but there does tend to be a lot of academic high achievers submitting applications. Not super surprising, I suppose. But I feel quite confident that there are plenty of students with tons of volunteer experience and average grades out there too—maybe even less-than-average grades. Why aren’t they applying for these scholarships?! Don’t feel intimidated by the potential applicant pool. There are plenty of scholarships with other criteria besides a stellar GPA.

Do you have any scholarship success secrets you’d like to share? (Any other scholarship readers out there?) Let us know in the comments! And you can learn more about our Community Service Scholarship for Multicultural Students here. Next year’s applications are due by April 1, so you have plenty of time to prepare!

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »

About Jessica Tomer

Jessica Tomer

Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief at Carnegie Communications. She is responsible for developing and copyediting content for Private Colleges & Universities, Public Colleges & Universities, Graduate Colleges & Universities, American Colleges & Universities, and CollegeXpress magazines. Like many of her fellow Emerson College alumni, Jessica is a news junkie and true bookworm.

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