Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated August 2010
Ready to submit your scholarship application? Are you sure? We've put together a few pointers to help you make sure you've got everything you need, and haven't made any major gaffs.
In this electronic age, paper scholarship applications are increasingly rare, but most college and university scholarship application sites won’t save an incomplete application, so you will need to have all your materials ready when you sit down to start. For example, you should definitely have your resume, transcript, and test scores on hand so you don’t have to guess about numbers, dates, or spellings.
It’s also a good idea to confirm your recommenders or “referees” before starting an online application; in most cases, you will need to include their names on your form, and you don’t want to commit them prematurely. You should also be prepared to include your prewritten personal statement. Some schools may allow you to send an essay later on, but your best bet is to review the essay questions beforehand, and send everything at the same time.
Fortunately, the switch to digital often streamlines the process. Thus, one online application per school may be all you’ll need to be considered for all school-based scholarship opportunities. But be aware, there are exceptions. Further, private awards - corporate scholarships, minority scholarships, etc. - are still a separate undertaking.
Of course, if any of your applications require paper forms, common sense rules still apply. Neatly type or print all your responses. Read all of the instructions; ignoring simple guidelines like, “do not staple,” or, “include two copies” is enough to merit disqualification.
Entire books have been written on the subject of strong, well-crafted essays. We can’t teach composition in a paragraph, but we can supply some basic no-no’s that are worth considering when you’re drafting your essays for grants and scholarships.
Don't get cute: Candidates are often told that their essay is the place to come alive and really introduce themselves beyond the facts and figures of a transcript. To whatever degree this advice is true, it is not an invitation to sound cavalier or flippant. Your tone should be conversational, but still maintain notes of polish and poise.
Don't force a metaphor: Creativity is great. And setting yourself apart from a stack of faceless applicants is always a good aim. But be careful not to frame your essay with an overly abstract concept. Metaphors should be subtle, and at the same time pertinent. You have a limited amount of space; don’t sacrifice substance for two fluff paragraphs that compare your life to a salad bar or a trapeze act.
Don't exceed the word count: If you truly have a surplus of glowing achievements, then you’re already in better shape than most applicants. Don’t jeopardize your standing by force-feeding all 96 feats into a 500 word essay. Similarly, if you’re worried that your application needs a boost by way of a great essay, extra length won’t win you extra points.
Don't ask hypothetical questions: Why would a person ask hypothetical questions in an essay? What purpose would that serve? Does an essay really need to chart the writer’s thought process? Is anyone ever interested in reading about the stages of confusion? You get the idea. Hypothetical questions are annoying, and they make an essay sound like you haven’t figured out what you’re trying to say.
Don't include the definition of anything: Sorry to rain on your quotation parade, but other people have used this trick before. A lot, in fact. Definition openings sound prepackaged and phony. For example, if an essay question asks you to discuss “innovation” or your understanding of what it means to be a “teacher,” don’t waste space by spitting back a dictionary entry; this essay is about you.
Your scholarship referees should be professional people who know you well, and who believe you are qualified. Those sound like obvious conditions, but many students ignore the obvious in an effort to land high profile backings. Referees should be individuals you’ve personally worked for, or studied under – like employers, coaches, or professors. They will need to relay firsthand testimony about your attitude and abilities in order to persuade committees that you are a deserving recipient. Your mom might be Bill Gates’ florist, but judges won’t be impressed by Bill’s blind endorsement of you.
Once you have chosen a few appropriate referees, make appointments to go and visit with them. Unless geography precludes a sit down meeting, you should avoid asking for recommendations via email. Make sure you have enough time with each referee to outline your goals and your strategy. Sure, Mr. Smith is your favorite teacher, but he has lots of other students; it will help to remind him of your specific focus, the reasoning behind your top school choices, and the projects you have mastered while in his class. He will appreciate this direction when he’s writing your letter, and the committee will appreciate that your statement is in line with the opinions of others.
The school transcripts
For such a simple errand, the request of school transcripts often causes a lot of headaches. Make things easy on yourself by starting early, and by having an organized list of exactly what you need. Some scholarships don’t require any transcripts at all. Other awards require multiple copies from every secondary institution you’ve attended. Be prepared to pay the processing fees, usually $5 to $10 per transcript, and to allow ample time for delivery.
We’re not talking about the profile you create with your personal statement. We’re talking about the image you advertise on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. A recent Wall Street Journal article showed that 10 percent of admissions officers look up applicants’ profiles on the Web. It stands to reason that savvy scholarship committees could be background-checking as well. Bear in mind, scholarship recipients are often considered representatives of the group that is supporting them. Committees, especially those that preside over large and prestigious awards, might frown on a public profile that includes offensive language or behavior.
So you’ve finally heard back from scholarship committees and prospect schools. You’ve received a few awards, and you’ve been denied many more. Now is the time to take stock and reevaluate. Before you give up on your dream school, or apply for a significant private loan, compare the packages you’ve been offered.
It’s also worth noting that packages can be flexible. Your financial aid package will likely include a combination of loans, scholarships, and grants. Unlike loans, grants do not have to be repaid, which makes them infinitely preferable. Financial aid insiders report that student packages are not necessarily carved in stone. You can tactfully appeal a school’s offer by submitting evidence that the proposed aid is insufficient. And if School X is allocating more than School Y, it’s not unheard of for applicants to leverage one school’s offer against another’s.
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