11 of our Best Scholarship Application Tips

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in PTK Edge™ for Transfer. Enroll in the free online course today to find more helpful info like this.

Everyone could use more money for school, and now is the time to apply. More than half a million dollars will be awarded through PTK’s scholarship application this fall — the deadline for is 5 p.m. CT on Friday, October 25.

If you’re continuing at a four-year college, now is also the time to apply for transfer scholarships. Search for scholarships at your university of choice on PTK Connect. You may also want to apply for the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation’s Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which will award up to $40,000 for up to three years.

Regardless of the scholarship you’re seeking, judges often see the same mistakes made on applications. Below are our best tips for avoiding these common application errors.

1. Don’t submit an incomplete application. Even forgetting one part of a multi-part document will disqualify you. Don’t fill in “N/A” or “none.” An incomplete application is as good as NO application.

2. Make sure you meet the eligibility criteria. For example, if an application says you need to obtain a degree in a specific time frame, make sure you will do so. The instructions are specific — eligibility criterion is different for each scholarship.

3. When writing an essay, be sure to FOCUS your essay. If you are asked to write about one significant endeavor, don’t write about several different endeavors. You may have a word limit — don’t use it writing a small amount about a lot of things you did. Take one endeavor and show how you applied your education to benefit the school, community, or society. Show originality, and be specific — show how it is original. Show how you were creative. Show how you used your education. Show how you left an impact and how your school or community will be better off once you’re gone.

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 your number of withdrawals. Remember that in academically rigorous applications, withdrawals may count against you. Don’t shy away from difficult courses, especially in math and science, as this may separate you from others.

5. Don’t embellish your story. In prestigious scholarships, you don’t want to lie on your application (even a little white lie). Applicants may go through a rigorous screening process. Even the smallest thing can cause your application to be disqualified. If you win, there will be a THOROUGH check of all information you include in your application. Don’t “fudge” facts. Be certain you can back up anything you put in your application. In addition, don’t submit any information you wouldn’t want to become public knowledge. Many applications, especially national or extremely rigorous ones, may be made available to the media.

6. Be sure to submit transcripts from ALL schools. For Phi Theta Kappa-administered scholarships, we require transcripts from EVERY school you have attended in the last five years. If they are over five years old, you don’t need to submit them. However, check your current transcript — does it show that you transferred credits? If those credits don’t show when they were taken, submit a transcript. Read the directions on the application — it’s 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 won’t have enough time to create and edit several drafts. Applications also need to be RECEIVED (not postmarked) by the deadline — so you run the risk of not even getting it in at all. Take your time to fill out applications, be aware of the deadline, and give yourself PLENTY of time to complete them. You don’t want to be one of 1,000 people attempting to access a scholarship website a few hours before the deadline — odds are that you will have trouble accessing what you need or the system will be too slow with so many people trying to do that exact thing. Remember, if you snooze, you lose!

8. Be certain to provide an email and phone number that will follow you over several months. This is especially important if you’re about to graduate from your current school. Judging applications can be a lengthy process, and your school-related email address could be deactivated in the meantime.

9. Don’t play low by writing about your sob story. While it’s true that a person who has overcome much has an impressive story, it’s not enough to win. You need the grades, you need the service learning, and you need to adequately write about your endeavor. It is impressive when people overcome terrible challenges; but at the same time, judges are more impressed with the quality and nature of your significant endeavor. If you have a good “story” but don’t have the academic rigor, endeavor, or involvement to back it up, your application won’t be competitive.

10. Letters of recommendation need to support what you write. Your letter of recommendation about your endeavor is almost as important as the essay itself. Choose people who KNOW you and can provide specific and pertinent information. Explain the criteria of the award. Give recommenders ample time to compose the letter. Remember to send thank-you letters after.

11. REVIEW AND PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD, PROOFREAD! Simple mistakes usually mean the judges will not consider your application. There are several online proofreading sites that will check spelling and grammar use, and we also recommend having someone else read over your application.

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