By Peter Olsen
The job of filling out scholarship applications is a necessary and important one. The thought of it can be scary, however, knowing that there is so much at stake. Whatever you do, don’t procrastinate so much that you miss the deadline!
The first thing to do when applying for scholarships is to make sure you carefully read and understand the instructions – because if you don’t follow the directions, the scholarship committee will immediately have a negative first impression. Incomplete applications are often rejected, too, so it’s best to answer all questions even if they don’t apply to you. Writing “not applicable” or “N/A” is better than leaving a question blank and risking the possibility of looking like you didn’t fill out the application completely.
Be truthful and don’t exaggerate on your application. While listing specific skills that you have, consider whether you can answer questions about those skills if asked to explain what you know. In other words, don’t make it sound like you’re an expert when you’re really just an amateur. If, during an interview, the selection committee detects that you’re not being honest, you will most likely be disqualified.
Neatness counts, so print carefully or type your application. It’s a good idea to make a photocopy of the application and practice on that first. Then you can easily make changes and corrections, and see how your words will fit in the available space. When you’re sure it’s the way you want it, you can re-copy your answers onto the real application.
Many scholarship applications require a written essay on a topic such as “Describe your most meaningful educational learning experience.” A memorable, well-written essay can have a big impact on whether you win a scholarship. The key to writing a good essay is to write about something of special interest to you. If you are passionate about a topic, you will be able to write a better essay that engages the reader. Be especially creative in your opening paragraph to attract the reader’s attention.
Make sure your essay has a clear thesis statement, and a unifying theme that shows not only where you have been and what you are doing now, but how these experiences relate to your future plans. Writing an outline first will help provide focus and structure to your essay. That way instead of rambling from one thought to another, you can present your ideas in a manner that support one another, building up to a strong and positive conclusion.
Be specific, not vague or abstract, and use concrete examples. If you have done significant volunteer work, don’t just say “I like helping others,” but describe particular actions that you have taken. Also discuss the effects of your volunteer service on the community, as well as on you personally. The scholarship committee likes to see tangible results, and evidence of how you are developing your abilities and applying your skills. Address the difficulty of the endeavor and explain how the outcome will be long-lasting.
Proofread your application and essay carefully. Check for correct spelling and grammar, making sure you have used proper academic vocabulary. It always helps to have another person – such as a parent, teacher, or tutor – read over your application. They can catch any errors you may have missed and make helpful suggestions. But remember, this is your scholarship application and it has to reflect your voice and who you are. So you can have others edit it – just don’t let them re-write it.
Peter Olsen, 19, a homeschool graduate, was awarded a Presidents’ Scholarship at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, AZ.