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How to Successfully Prep a Scholarship Application

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Scholarships are terrific opportunities for students to get assistance funding their college educations. Many organizations set aside generous amounts of money with the intention of helping hopeful students pursue their educational dreams and career aspirations.

Due to the fact many scholarships are so competitive, it is important to successfully put together a scholarship application. The odds of being awarded one may vary depending on the type of scholarship and how competitive the award is prior to applying. That being the case, you want to get it right and put your best step forward. 

Find Scholarships

Students who want to stand out from the other applications to increase their chances of receiving an award should pay close attention to the types of scholarships they are applying for and then follow the organization's instructions carefully.

The first step is to find scholarships, and a quick Internet search will yield thousands of scholarship opportunities, however, this way of searching is not always the best way to go.  The application process often involves a lot of work, so it is essential to try and focus on opportunities you might actually have a chance of winning. Ideally, efforts should be focused on opportunities you are best suited for in terms of eligibility. Only apply to scholarships where you match the organization's criteria.

Credit: Minnesota State College Student Association https://www.flickr.com/photos/mscsa/19458207188/

Finding the right scholarships can be pretty time consuming, but well worth the effort as it ensures your time is spent on the right types of applications. High school students can start off with their guidance or career counselor in school who can provide good direction where to start; adult students can check with in with a financial aid counselor at their college.

Other resources are online scholarship search engines. There are several good websites which provide free resources which can help students match with the right scholarship opportunity. Do your research carefully because, unfortunately, there are many scholarship scams on the web that are designed to steal personal information or cheat students out of money for services that can be gotten for free.

  • Do no pay for any scholarship search
  • Only list with reputable search engines
  • Never share credit or debit card information – some claim they need this to “hold” your scholarship
  • Don’t listen to claims of “we do all the work”
  • Claims of having “exclusive” information on scholarships
  • Guarantees of winning a scholarship – this isn’t how it works
  • Any unsolicited offer of free money to use for education
  • Beware of aggressive sales pitches to attend pricey seminars

The Internet makes it very easy to find scholarship opportunities – for free. Several reputable websites do provide free searches, but you’ll have to sign up and give some information in order to get customized results.

Google search results for free scholarship search engines
Credit: Screen shot I took from Google search results

Do several web searches, these are a few sources to check out, but there are several other scholarship search engines I've used in the past.

Follow Application Directions

It is important to follow the organization's directions for the application to the letter, this cannot be emphasized enough. Many scholarship applications are precise in nature and applicants should read the directions carefully to ensure directives are fully understood prior to putting the application package together. It helps to create a checklist and then mark off each stipulation and as you collect information to include in the application.

Fill Out Application

Scholarship applications should be error-free, grammatically correct and all application boxes filled in with an eye for accuracy. Do not leave any blank spaces, unanswered questions and be sure to proof read the entire package once it is finished. If possible, have someone else give a look-over and/or read the information back to you to ensure everything is correct and in order. If any mistakes are made, this can immediately put your application at an immediate disadvantage and/or disqualification.

Craft a Well-Written Essay

This is not a given, but many scholarship applications require a written essay to be included along with the application. If the topic is precise, be sure to address the criteria exactly and thoroughly answer what is being requested. Be concise and to the point, but offer adequate detail to address the topic provided. For “hot” topics, remember to choose words carefully, if the subject is one that tends to be volatile in nature, this can come off as judgmental or offensive; be diplomatic and demonstrate a good level of critical thinking.

Some essay requests are more flexible in nature, and many ask applicants to write about themselves. This can be harder than it sounds because many people find once they sit down to write about themselves, it is hard. The trick is to balance modesty with self-praise. As challenging as it can be, this type of essay is a good opportunity to make yourself shine.

Credit: StartupStockPhotos via Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Reference Letters

Many scholarships will request reference letters to accompany the application. If these are asked for, be sure to have the letters ready to be included at the time the application is filed. Do remember to give the person(s) you intend to ask for recommendation letters plenty of notice before the application due date arrives. It is considered bad form to ask for a “rush” letter if it can be avoided.

Include a Cover Letter

Even if a scholarship application does not require a cover letter, it is a good idea to include a well-written one. The letter is a nice augment to your application and is a way to present yourself in a good light. It just might make the difference in terms of competition if all other things are considered equal. The letter should be professionally written, avoid bragging or including a sob story of why money is needed for college. The letter should be clear, concise and share a bit of information about yourself and future goals. Always remember to thank the organization for the opportunity to apply for its scholarship.

Once your application package is pulled together, seal the envelope and be sure to include enough postage and get it out for delivery as soon as possible, but at the very least, before the due date. Most organizations are very firm on their application due dates. Don't delay!

USPS mailbox
Credit: Leigh Goessl

If you are lucky enough to be awarded a scholarship, always remember to follow up and thank the organization, person or committee sponsoring the scholarship. It is not only good etiquette but reinforces to the people who selected a winner they made a good choice by awarding a student who is a professional.



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  1. "How to Spot Scholarship Scams." College Board. 26/02/2016 <Web >
  2. "Avoiding Scholarship Scams." College Board. 26/02/2016 <Web >
  3. "Scholarship and Financial Aid Scams." U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 26/02/2016 <Web >

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