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!

Like what you’re reading?

Join the CollegeXpress community! Create a free account and we’ll notify you about new articles, scholarship deadlines, and more.

Join Now

Tags:

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

 

Join our community of
over 5 million students!

CollegeXpress has everything you need to simplify your college search, get connected to schools, and find your perfect fit.

Join CollegeXpress
Christina

Christina

High School Class of 2021

CollegeXpress helped me find Allegheny College with the super-user-friendly search tool for both schools and scholarships. Using CollegeXpress, I was able to search for programs I was interested in studying and find colleges that offered those programs. Also, once you search for the college, CollegeXpress can get you connected!

Caitlin Eaton

Caitlin Eaton

$10,000 Scholarship Winner, 2021

I first discovered CollegeXpress during my sophomore year of high school while researching colleges that interested me. My SAT prep class the following year further familiarized me with the opportunities available through the organization. CX has personally helped me by exposing me to a diverse selection of schools as well as scholarships and life tips that have provided valuable guidance in my college search.

This scholarship will help me adjust to college life without worrying as much about tuition. This gives me more room to truly explore and benefit from all aspects of higher education. I plan to study Conservation Biology and work protecting species/ecosystems. I’m looking forward to getting field experience and seeing firsthand the problems research is solving.

Dani York

Dani York

High School Class of 2022

CollegeXpress helped in my journey by comparing multiple colleges for my final decision. While looking at different colleges, I was able to compare the tuition expenses and that landed me with the college that I’m currently enrolled in, Western Kentucky University. Thank you!

Rayan Hamdan

Rayan Hamdan

High School Student

I joined CollegeXpress just a few months ago. I had been struggling with severe anxiety, causing me to not be able to tour schools and make sure a college would be perfect for me. I came across CollegeXpress one day when I was searching for colleges online, and it completely changed the game. I was easily able to choose colleges that would suit me, and I also entered a few giveaways! Thank you so much!

Anthony Vidal

Anthony Vidal

High School Class of 2023

CollegeXpress has helped me in a series of different ways when it comes to finding scholarships and learning information about different universities. I actually found my dream university through CollegeXpress and am working on getting there.

College Matches
X

Colleges You May Be Interested In

Western Kentucky University

Bowling Green, KY

Marymount University

Arlington, VA

Wheaton College

Norton, MA