Money Smarts Blog

What not to do on a scholarship application

Dec 6, 2023 || Laura Ashby, Financial Coach

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Scholarship season is here! And that means all you need to do is throw together a couple applications and wait for the money to roll in, right? If only it were that easy.

Yes, the basics are well, basic. Turn it in on time, proof read for grammatical errors and make sure you meet the qualifications. But that’s no guarantee you’ll be rewarded for your time spent.

Every year those of us reviewing applications see the same mistakes over and over, even in applicants who probably thought they were in a shoo-in thanks to their good grades. Here are six mistakes you can make on your scholarship applications to guarantee you don’t win anything:

  1. Let your parents do it for you
    Your parents are probably eager for you to win some scholarships. After all, the more you earn the less they’re on the hook to help you pay for. But don’t let their eagerness and polite encouraging turn into a total parent takeover.

    A scholarship is meant to be a reward for your hard work. Letting someone else talk about your accomplishments and goals is a sure-fire way to come off as generic or boring to the people reviewing your application.

    Have questions about your application? Don’t let your parents ask those for you either. There’s a very good chance whoever you talk to about your application will also be grading it. Letting your mom call for you tells us you’re too immature to do it yourself. Not a good look.

  2. Write a generic, “one-size-fits-all” essay
    We know you’re filling out a lot of applications, and a good chunk of them are asking for an essay describing your worthiness, accomplishments or goals. And writing one essay that works for all of them probably sounds pretty good about now.

    Don’t do it.

    The goal here is to make yourself stand out. Writing an overly general essay about yourself that tries to answer three different questions is a sure-fire way to blend in.

    Can you edit your essay and use it for a couple different applications? Probably. Should you turn in your “about me” essay for an application that asks how your field of study will impact future generations? Absolutely not.


  3. Talk about yourself instead of answering the prompt
    See above.

    If the application is asking about your greatest accomplishment, tell us about that. But if it’s asking about the most important issues facing your field of study, please don’t tell me about the time you won a gold medal at the science fair.

  4. Choose any random person to give a letter of recommendation
    When you ask someone to provide a letter of recommendation, they’re going to write good things every time right? Maybe not.

    You’d be surprised how many times recommenders sneak in some information about an applicant’s bad attitude, tendency to push work off on others or habit of bailing on their commitments.

    Even worse than a bad recommendation is a generic one. Reviewers can tell when a recommender uses a form letter and just changes the name for every student. At least the bad ones are memorable.

    When you ask someone to provide a letter of recommendation, make sure it’s someone who knows you well and will speak to your positive qualities.

    If everyone on your track team is asking the coach for a letter, consider asking someone else. Most people don’t have the time or attention span to write that many individualized letters.

  5. Wait until the day the application is due to start
    You can just pound this thing out in a couple hours, right?

    Unlike that essay you wrote last semester in three hours the night before it was due, scholarship applications require work on behalf of people other than yourself. Your recommenders would probably appreciate more than a few hours to submit a letter for you, and few application programs allow applicants to upload these things themselves.

    Even if you can upload everything yourself, that paper probably wasn’t very good and your application probably won’t be either if you don’t put some time into it.

  6. Miss the deadline
    Every year we get emails and phone calls from applicants and recommenders alike asking for an extension because they weren’t able to submit everything in time.

    While we’d love to make an exception and allow everyone a second chance, that’s not how this works. Applications, including ours at IHMVCU, are open for several months. If you can’t manage to finish in that time span, you’re out of luck.

Overall, these mistakes are pretty easily avoidable. With a little time, planning and effort you can increase your chances of actually winning a scholarship instead of just applying for a bunch you were never considered for.

Ready to start? Apply for IHMVCU’s Cash for Class Scholarship now. But don’t wait – applications close at midnight on February 29.

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