Secrets From a Scholarship Application Reader

Ever wish you could get inside the mind of a scholarship reader and learn what makes an application stand out? You're in luck! Check out our insider tips here.

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 really hard. CollegeXpress's $10,000 scholarship is chosen by the luck of the draw, so that’s pretty easy. But the Community Service Scholarship for Multicultural Students is based primarily on volunteer efforts, and my old team and I had 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 person and share in their excitement, if only for a moment. These students do such important work, and recognizing them means a lot to us. But I digress...

Looking back at all of the scholarship applications I read over the years, it occurred to me that you, dear reader, might want to know what I was thinking as I pored over all those pages. So I decided to jot down my top tips for you scholarship hopefuls—and you should all be scholarship hopefuls!

Follow the directions

This starts with carefully reading the scholarship 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.

Related: College Applications: Follow the Directions

Cut the fluff

When it comes to scholarship application essays, we can tell when you’re fluffing things up to meet a word count. We also know when you use the thesaurus/synonym replace tool to find fancier words. And we can tell if you're "overstating" just how much you actually did. None of these things reflect well on an applicant.

At the end of the day, stick to the given scholarship essay prompt and give details, but make sure they’re meaningful details. If you're having trouble coming up with examples, ask people who know you well (like trusted teachers, guidance counselors, family, and even friends) for feedback. And, above all, be genuine. 

Edit your application

This includes both longer scholarship essay, short-answer questions, and even the basic details, like your name, address, etc. 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 a scholarship 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 scholarship apps—and any other writing:

  • Re-read any scholarship application essay or short-answer responses slowly, 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.

Related: College Application Proofreading Tips From an Editor-in-Chief

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

Based on our scholarship applicants, you’d think that valedictorians were the only ones doing community service. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but we do tend to see a lot of academic high achievers submitting applications. Not super surprising, I suppose. But I know there are plenty of high school students with tons of volunteer experience and average grades too—maybe even less-than-average grades. And we scholarship readers definitely consider them highly; in fact, they often win.

So don’t feel intimidated by the potential scholarship applicant pool. Remember: there are plenty of scholarships looking for more than a stellar GPA. If you find scholarships you're eligible for, you should apply. You truly don't know what will happen unless you do.

Do you have any scholarship application secrets you’d like to share? (Any other scholarship readers out there?) Give us a shout on Twitter @CollegeXpress!

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About Jessica Tomer

Jessica Tomer

Jessica Tomer is the Director of Communications at the Commonwealth School in Boston. You can follow her on Twitter @JessicaTomer

 

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