College Life

EXACTLY What Scholarship Committees are Looking For

It can take hours to fill out a scholarship application but only minutes for the judges to weed out their favorites. Be sure your student’s application makes the cut with our tips on scholarship applications.

Before starting, students should verify they qualify.

Scholarship committees sift through dozens, sometimes hundreds of applications. An easy way for them to narrow the pool is by eliminating applicants who don’t meet the minimum requirements. For instance, if the scholarship requires a 3.0 GPA, the judges will probably be stringent on that. The same goes for background requirements, extracurriculars and choice of major. For the best chance of winning, students should focus their time on the scholarships in their wheelhouse.

First impressions matter.

In case this needs said, coffee stains are a big “no.” A sloppy, unorganized application probably won’t make it through the first round of selection, let alone be the top contender. It’s also worth the time to proofread, as grammatical errors and misspelled words stand out, and not in a good way. If possible, students should always type their applications, rather than writing by hand, and keep the font consistent. Hiring a graphic designer isn’t needed, but it’s important to pay attention to neatness.

Stay on top of the deadline.

High school is a busy time for students. From keeping up with school, juggling extracurriculars and balancing a social life, it’s easy to lose track of things. However, scholarship committees generally won’t accept a late application, despite the large number of students who try. A scholarship binder can help your student stay organized and never miss an important deadline. Students also benefit from submitting their application early. Unforeseen circumstances happen, like poor internet connection or a broken printer, so it’s better if your student isn’t waiting until the night the scholarship application is due.

Read the instructions (all of them) and stick to the guidelines.

When filling out a stack of with near-identical scholarships, many students forget to read the fine print. (Let’s face it, most adults are guilty of that too!) Students must take their time and make note of the rules for each scholarship. Also, include all of the documents requested, no more and no less. Don’t miss out because of a technicality. Things that can disqualify your student include:

  • Word count. Students should get as close to the word limit as possible, but not go over.
  • Introducing themselves. In the essay, students should skip this; it’s cliché and may actually disqualify them. This is because many scholarship committees have blind readings so they eliminate essays that include names or other identifiers. Instead, students should get right to the point.
  • Prompts. If your student is asked to list 3 things and they only list 2, they may be disqualified for not following the rules, plain and simple.

Display a student’s best qualities.

Our next tips help to separate the good applications from the great. Scholarship committees generally look for three main characteristics in students: academics, leadership and service. Students should demonstrate their achievements in those areas, giving concrete examples. For the essay, it’s easiest to do so by “reusing and recycling.” This means it’s fine to use some of the same content from a previous essay, as long as it’s tailored to the current essay prompts. Doing so speeds up the application process and helps students showcase their strengths.

Give it a personal touch.

Your student’s personality is what can make their application memorable. If they have a creative or funny side, the essay is a good place to show it. It’s important they write it themselves and try to be as original as possible. This also means not citing other works, such as in quotes, and using original content instead.

When the college budget is tight, scholarships are a great way for students to finance their education. However, the competition is steep. Students should apply for as many scholarships as they can find (and qualify for) and continue applying each year of college. For South Dakota and Minnesota students, a good place to start is with our iHELP scholarship – and there’s no essay needed. We’ll also be announcing a scholarship in January that parents can apply for, on behalf of their students. Stay tuned to our social media channels for more information.
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