Once you’ve started your scholarship hunt and are ready to start applying, you need to do a few things to make your application stand out among the rest – or at least not sink to the bottom of the pile. Let’s start with the basics.
Housekeeping: Keeping Your Application on the Committee’s Desks
Some fundamental strategies (if they can be called that) will keep your scholarship hopes alive while those of others languish for no reason other than failing to adhere to some simple application etiquette. First of all, type your application. Type your application. T-Y-P-E it! Many scholarship committees have adapted to the age of the Internet and allow for online submission. But a few still require the old, print out and fill out and mail out routine. In the case where an application is in an editable format (such as .doc or fillable PDF), complete it on the computer before you print it out. If it’s in a read-only format, try to copy and paste the text into a Word (or other text processor) document, fill it out and then print it. If there’s no way around simply printing out the application with blank spaces, you’re going to have to find someplace with a typewriter (ask your parents; they’ll know what one looks like). Your public library is a good bet. So are college libraries and office-service stores like FedEx Kinkos. It’s a pain, yes. Do it anyway. Wouldn’t it just suck to have your otherwise brilliant application ignored because no one wanted to decipher your chicken-scratches? Yep. And you can bet that the winning (yes, it IS a competition) will be typed.
You know what spell check is. Use it. Have your friends read your application, have your parents read it, give it to your English teacher so she can enjoy it over the weekend. Make sure your scholarship applications are free from spelling and grammatical errors (this is a BLOG, do as I say – not as I do!). Seriously, the first pass through the application pile is going to winnow out the chaff on aesthetic bases. You have to be as error-free as you can to stay with the pack. The errata-laden laggards will be left in your dust, and will likely not be given a second look.
Once you’ve completed the application, make sure you have a copy of the questions, your answers and your essay. If you are granted an interview, you will likely be questioned on the substance of your application. Having a review copy available will help you prepare for the interview and help prevent you from contradicting yourself. Moreover, this will allow you to reuse bits and pieces of your present application in future applications, thus making your whole scholarship campaign a little more streamlined.
Have you heard of the Darwin Awards? They’re presented annually to people who die in stupid ways: natural selection favors the smart and prepared. Avoid being a Darwinian scholarship applicant: when you mail your applications, make sure you have the correct postage on the envelope. It’s worth a walk/drive/bike ride/pogo stick to the post office to avoid this scenario: brilliant, shoo-in application and essay mailed a couple days before deadline; deadline passes; brilliant, shoo-in application and essay returned to your mailbox, marked “Insufficient Postage”; deadline missed; application, hard work and scholarship hopes rendered moot. Have each application weighed and metered at the post office.
Okay, now that you’ve taken the steps necessary to make the first cut or two, it’s time to start breaking away from the crowd. You need to utilize everything you have to differentiate yourself from other scholarship hopefuls and put yourself in the finals. If you think of the scholarship process as an analog to American Idol (or other competition program): typing and grammar are the audition rounds; now you’re in Vegas Week and must make that final cut so that your application and essay can go head to head with the other finalists in the competition.
These are things that you need to think about before you even start the application process. Consider your unique qualities. What is it that sets you apart from everyone else that you know? How are you more talented? What can you do better or differently? What do you regularly receive compliments on? What moves you, brings you to tears or causes you to have permasmile? Is there anything that makes you so mad that you feel you absolutely, positively have to act – NOW? Start with these things. Maybe jot some notes down before you even begin researching the scholarships out there so that they don’t color your perspective. Then, with each application, review your notes and see if you can create a blend, wherein you bring your perspectives to bear on the application material.
In the next installment of this post (I guess that would just be another post, wouldn’t it?), we’ll take a look at some specific strategies you can use to stand out among the scholarship herd.