Navigating the Scholarship Application Process: Dos and Don'ts

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Nearly every incoming college student desires a cost-effective way to obtain a college degree. And it is no secret that colleges are expensive, and the fees tacked on can make the prices seem insurmountable. To start, there is tuition, room, board, required books, and possibly even more fees depending on which extracurricular activities you decide on when you get to your university. That is a significant reason the prospect of scholarships has become so popular. However, finding and applying for scholarships can be daunting. That is why we at NSHSS have compiled a list of five dos and don'ts to remember when seeking your next scholarship.  

This guide can help weather the storm of what it means to apply for a scholarship, how best to weed out the false scholarship opportunities, and how you can secure a top spot of contention among the hundreds, sometimes thousands of students who will be applying for the same scholarship right alongside you. With these tips and tricks, you’ll discover a whole new approach to deciding what scholarships can work for you and how best to obtain them effectively.  


1. Get Familiar with the Different Scholarships. 

Commonly, a prospective student will generally apply to two different types of scholarships. They are need-based and merit-based. While many scholarships can fall under both categories, they can differ in more ways than one. A need-based scholarship is based on a given student's economic background. Your university will use FASFA resources to approximate what scholarships best fit your financial needs and match you with possible scholarships through the university. Merit-based scholarships focus on your academic and extracurricular achievements from previous education. While Merit-based scholarships will consider your financial history, they are more likely to base their decision on your academic performance.  

These two parameters still leave plenty of choices for the student searching out scholarship opportunities. So it is crucial that once you understand a scholarship's basic criteria, you investigate further to see what types of academic achievement they are looking for. Most university websites and scholarship databases will provide a thorough questionnaire for each student. These questions allow the database to narrow down the scholarships that best fit the student, thus giving them a more straightforward opportunity to find the right scholarship. For instance, if you perform poorly in math but excel in writing, you should focus on writing-based scholarships. It is important to consider your academic strengths, reflected in your grades when applying for any scholarship.  


2. Get Organized  

Entering into college for the first time can be a lot to tackle. That's why it's crucial to stay organized on all the little things you, as the student, must keep track of. This is true for the scholarships you apply to. It can be easy to apply to a unique scholarship you might run across one day but forget about it a month later and miss a follow-up email. Some scholarships will begin accepting applications and essays months in advance, and it is on each student who applies to keep track of how, when, and where they applied for that scholarship. This will help secure your chances of knowing how much money you have acquired through your efforts instead of letting specific responses fall through the cracks. Your university can provide a complete list of all the scholarships you have applied to through their database, including when you applied and when they will contact you. But that still requires you to list and stay on top of all those dates.  

You must also keep track of what you submit on your applications. Each scholarship application has different requirements, including the word count of your essay, specific instructions on where/how to apply, and any extra materials to be included alongside your essay. It is very easy to lose out on a chance at a scholarship you otherwise would be perfect for based on a lack of required information. You must be professional, approachable, and organized to prove that you are worth the money.  


3. Express Yourself Professionally  

Most scholarships are designed to engage with student outreach and create a community. This means that most companies or organizations want to get to know the student with whom they spend their money. That is where you, as the student, shine and show them the great things about you. The written essay is a fairly standard requirement on scholarship applications, and it can be daunting in the midst of everything else on your plate, but it is no less critical. Putting time and effort into expressing yourself, your interests, and your hard work into an essay gives them a better reason to trust you with their generosity. Let the essay shine a light on you. But don't let it become a spotlight. Like the essays written for your college applications, they express depth and maturity to represent someone grown up and ready for their next step into college. And keep in mind that quality takes time.  

Be sure to put a lot of time and attention into your essay. Sometimes, the essay prompts can be pretty random depending on which scholarship you’re applying to, but they are all equally important regarding the financial possibilities. It is essential to begin your essay early and read it over more than once before submitting it. This will give you time to sit with it, consider your written content, and check for any grammatical or spelling errors. A key to appearing professional is providing the best-looking work on the first try. But do not be afraid to be yourself.  


4. Recycle the Good Stuff 

Often, when applying for scholarships, you might find yourself repeating the same information over and over again. You’ll fill out your name, phone number, email, etc. The same can be said about what you include in your essays and other portions of your applications. It can become redundant after a while. But have no fear; there is a solution. Recycling your old essays can be a valuable way to save time and stick to what has worked in the past. But you have to understand how to do it correctly. Recycling an old essay is not the same as reposting a carbon copy of an essay into your new application. You can take meaningful, trusted information about yourself and your experiences and reuse those sections in a recent essay. You still must write an essay that adheres to the standards set by the specific scholarship application, but this does not mean you have to come up with something new every time. There may be particular passages from old essays or descriptions of previous volunteer jobs that were worded wonderfully in a past essay. Pulling out those old sections and recycling them into a new essay will give you a foothold in your latest essay. But be careful.  

Every scholarship organization wants to feel they are being taken as seriously as others. They will sniff out when an essay has been copied and pasted into their application. Refrain from assuming that just because you wrote a good one, no one can tell a copy from an original. Be respectful and professional to each new application by starting your essay from scratch, only pulling the best parts of old essays to be used again.  


5. The More the Merrier 

The search for scholarships can be as daunting as actually applying for them. You might find a few, apply to half, and feel that was enough. But you must apply to as many as possible, as long as you fit within their parameters. This consistency will help build your chances and even the odds against you. For as many scholarships as you might find, hundreds of students just like yourself are submitting applications. It is not enough to stand out and do your best work; you must be willing to do that repeatedly. Repetition gets results over time. This is part of why looking outside your university's scholarship database is good. There are so many more scholarships available if you can find them. It's finding the ones that apply to you that can be hard. Eventually, with enough commitment, you will find some that take an active investment in your future.  


Alright, now for some Don'ts 

For all the good that scholarships can provide students, we must outline some of the past pitfalls students have fallen into. We would like to make you aware of these roadblocks on your path so that you can avoid them moving forward.  


1. Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute 

One of the issues that students face is time sensitivity when it comes to the requirements of starting college. We can have something on our plates and let three weeks go by before we realize it’s due the next day. We’ve all been there, and it happens to the best of us. But bear in mind the risk that procrastination will be to your future when securing a financial base in college. As mentioned above, scholarships can begin accepting applications months in advance, and those dates can crop up very quickly. It's best to keep your scholarship calendar updated and check it regularly.  


2. Don’t Give Out Bank Information 

This is important when detecting a false organization just trying to scam you. The easiest way to tell is by seeing the type of information they are requesting. It is a scam if they want your social security number, bank account number, or credit history. Any legitimate scholarship will have access to your government-secured FASFA and can find the information there. If a scholarship tries to charge you to apply, that is a tell-tale sign to avoid that specific scholarship. The very definition of a scholarship is financial assistance, so there should be no reason they need to charge you to apply.  


3. Don’t Go for the Biggest Number 

Every scholarship you will find will offer a different amount of money. However, even though one organization provides only half of another, the organization is still worth taking seriously. A scholarship worth lots of money also means many applications and higher competition. You should work hard and be diligent no matter the size of the scholarship. With enough smaller-sized scholarships that you win, you can add that money up quickly. And the beauty of scholarships is that there is no limit to how many you can apply to. So, look for the ones that fit who you are and what you can do instead of basing your decisions on which one will pay you the most.   


4. Don’t wait till Senior Year  

The longer you wait to begin filling out scholarship applications, the harder it will be to find funding by the time college begins. You can continue your scholarship search at any time during college, as many people do, but the earlier, the better. As with college applications, junior year is a great year to begin finding scholarships. This provides ample time to find out which selected you, which ones did not, and how much you still need come Senior year. Plus, most scholarships repeat every year, so if you do not get a scholarship one year, you might get it again the next.  


5. Don’t Be a Cliche 

Scholarships are designed so that you can make yourself stand out. You must look at scholarships as a way to show, not just tell, these organizations why they should invest in you. Do not waste essay word count on quotes from other famous people, self-deprecating sentences, or bland generalizations about yourself. Show in your essay just how specific and unique you are and why that matters to the people reading the essay. Sometimes, it is hard to sell yourself, but the best way to do it is by just being honest and taking pride in what you have accomplished.  


These Dos and Don’ts are all a part of one important thing to remember when applying for scholarships: do the best job you can. By being professional, honest, and hard-working, you can craft a fantastic application for all those eagerly awaiting scholarships just looking for somebody like you. It is not easy to go through this period of life when college, scholarships, and money become such big question marks on your horizon. By keeping these points of reference in mind, you will be more than capable of doing an excellent job and showing others the same. With enough determination, you will find somebody, or a few people, who want to invest in your future. But, as always, it begins with you.  

We at NSHSS are proud to support students seeking scholarships to other resources. But we know that scholarships are just one part of the whole college experience. Preparing yourself for these next steps can make all the difference. To help you in your journey, we have provided a variety of webinars that tackle specific questions and concerns that may arise during your first steps into college. These resources are a guidebook to aid you in your quest. We strive to see students succeed. And we know that you can!