Best Practices: Avoid Common Errors in Scholarship Applications

With approximately $520,000 available on Phi Theta Kappa’s Fall Scholarship Application for students preparing to complete a certificate or associate degree or planning to transfer to a four-year college or university, it is imperative that your scholarship application be as error-free as possible.

“This is your one chance to make a good impression on the judges,” said Christin Grissom, Director of Scholarship Operations. “You want to make sure your thoughts are well organized and your application is grammatically correct, and you’ll want to ensure that you’re presenting yourself and your accomplishments in the best possible way.”

Here are 11 tips to keep in mind that will help you avoid some of the more commonly made scholarship application errors.

1. Do not submit an incomplete application. Even forgetting one part of a multi-part question or document will disqualify you. Avoid answering questions with an answer of N/A or none. An incomplete application is as good as NO application.

2. Make sure you meet the eligibility criteria. If an application says you need to obtain a degree in a specific timeframe, make sure you will do so. The instructions are specific – eligibility criteria are different for each scholarship.

3. When writing an essay, be sure to focus your essay. If you are asked to write about one significant activity, focus your essay on one strong activity rather than mentioning several activities. You may only get 500 words – do not use them writing a small amount about a lot of things you did. Take one activity and show how you applied your education and leadership skills to benefit your college, community or society. Show originality, be specific, show creativity, and show how you used your education, how you left an impact and how your college or community will be left better off once you graduate.

4. Review your transcript. Make sure you know how many credits you’ve completed, how many of those courses are remedial/developmental, your GPA and number of withdrawals. Remember that withdrawals may count against you if the scholarship program is academically rigorous. Do not shy away from challenging courses, especially math and science, as completion of courses like these can help strengthen your application.

5. Do not embellish your story. Avoid embellishments in your application, as scholarship entries are often fact checked. For example, All-USA applicants go through a rigorous screening process by USA TODAY. Even the smallest embellishment can cause your application to be disqualified. If you win, there will be a thorough check of all information included in your application. Do not “fudge” facts. Be certain you can back up anything you put in your application. In addition, do not submit any information if you do not want it to become public knowledge. Many applications, especially national or extremely rigorous, may be made available to the media.

6. Submit transcripts from all schools. Phi Theta Kappa’s Fall Scholarship Application requires transcripts from every school you have attended in the last five years. If they are over five years old, you do not need to submit them. However, check your current transcript – does is show that you transferred credits? If those credits do not show when they were taken, submit a transcript. Read the directions of the application – it is always better to err on the side of too many transcripts than not enough.

7. Haste makes waste! Applications filled out and submitted close to the deadline are usually incomplete, and you will not have enough time to create and edit several drafts. Applications need to be COMPLETED by the deadline – keep technology challenges and timing delays in mind to minimize the risk of not having your application completed on time. Take your time to fill out applications, be aware of the deadline and give yourself plenty of time to complete them. Remember, if you snooze, you lose!

8. Be certain to provide a phone number or an email that will follow you over several months. If your contact information changes, be sure to contact the scholarship provider to ensure that you receive future communications about the status of your application.

9. Avoid writing sob stories. While it’s true that a person who has overcome much has an impressive story, writing about a sob story without articulating how the situation encouraged you to identify and address a need is not enough to win. You need the grades, the service learning and involvement to strengthen your application. Articulate the impact of your story, how you have overcome and what you have done to address the situation. Judges are impressed by the quality and nature of your story as well as the steps you have taken to impact others and leave a legacy.

10. Proofread Multiple Times! Simple mistakes are easy to overlook but can hinder the strength and impact of your scholarship application. Contact others to help proofread your application, and use online proofreading sites to help you check spelling and grammar usage.

11. Student Assessments need to support what you write. Your Student Assessment about your significant activity is almost as important as the essay you write. Choose a recommender that can provide specific and pertinent information to back up the activity you discuss in your essay. Explain the criteria of the award. Give recommenders ample time to compose your assessment and remember to send thank-you letters afterwards.

The deadline for the Fall Scholarship Application is December 1.

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