By Sara Lindberg
Scholarship season is in full swing and students are up to their elbows in applications. Parents often feel helpless with this process because it can be so hard to know what the scholarship providers are looking for.
Students and parents can google search for hundreds of scholarship tips, but often the insider scoop is what can make it or break it. I have a unique perspective on the scholarship application process, both as a school counselor and as a provider.
When my family decided to start a scholarship for first-generation college students 8 years ago to honor my dad’s memory, I was suddenly put in the position of sitting on the other side of the table. After guiding students for years on the application process, I was finally able to be the one reviewing and awarding the money.
There are many tips I have learned along the way that will help students with the scholarship application process. The following list contains tips that are both well-known and some secret insider information that I thought might be helpful from a school counselor perspective.
1. Have your teen create an activities resume.
This tip is not exclusive to seniors, younger students can also begin this process. This resume becomes a 1-2 page document that houses all of their awards, activities, work experience, clubs, etc.. When it comes time to do that tedious section on the application, it is already done. Some scholarships may even allow you to include it as an attachment instead of transferring it over. This is also a great tool to have in front of you for the activities and awards section on college applications.
2. Ask this question before you sit down to pound out the application.
Specifically, I’d recommend students reflect a bit on the following question: “If you had $1,000 to give to someone what would you want to know about them?” Consider those thoughts as you fill out the application and write your essay. This is your chance to shine while at the same time show humility and grace.
3. Read all of the eligibility requirements and directions FIRST.
Do not apply for a scholarship unless you meet ALL of the requirements.
Where to find scholarships to apply for? The Internet is a great place to start (FastWeb.com and Scholarships.com are two of the leading scholarship search engines), as well as your student’s college counseling office.
4. Ask for letters of recommendation at least one month in advance.
Tell the person you are asking that the deadline is 1-2 weeks before you actually need it. If you find yourself in a time crunch and need the letter quickly, bring chocolate as a peace offering!
5. Change the greeting in your letters to match the scholarship you are applying for.
If you have a counselor write you a letter, often times it is addressed “To Whom It May Concern.” When you apply for a specific scholarship, go back to the counselor and ask them to change the greeting to reflect the name of the scholarship you are applying to or the name of the person who will be reviewing your application.
6. Write a great essay.
Do not slap this together at the last minute. For some scholarships, this can be the deciding factor. Use good writing and convey a strong message. Have someone other than your parents review and edit your essay before you submit it.
7. Complete all parts of the application and make sure it is legible.
If you have the option to do it online or type on a typewriter (yes those archaic things still exist), do it! Hand-written applications are difficult to read.
8. More is not necessarily better.
If the application asks for two letters, don’t send five. If the essay requirement is 500 words or less, don’t extend it, not even a bit. Scholarship coordinators and providers have several applications to review and they really don’t have time to read all the extra documents. This is also a good test to see if the students can follow directions. I have seen students who meet every criteria for a scholarship be disqualified for providing extra documents.
9. Ask your counselor to review your completed application prior to submitting it.
Give them at least a few days lead time and make sure to tell them when you need it back. Put a post-it with the date on the front of it and schedule an appointment for the day you need it back. I am the first to admit that I am terrible at managing piles of paper. If a student brings me an application packet with all pages clipped together and a colorful post-it on the first page, it will definitely stand out amongst the other piles on my desk.
10. Keep copies of everything you submit.
Also, keep all the pieces of your application together in one place in case you are asked to provide a particular document again.
11. Submit or mail your application at least a few days prior to the deadline.
This allows for any mishaps that may happen. You would not believe how many students report that their packet was mailed back because they wrote the wrong address.
12. Parents, students must do their own work.
I left this tip for last in hopes that it will leave a lasting impression. If by chance, your student applies for a scholarship that has an interview process, how do you think they will do if the parents filled out the application? The students must do the work. As a provider, I want to know that I have awarded money to the person who wrote the words that compelled me to help fund their education.
Sara Lindberg is a school counselor and writer whose work has been featured on the Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Role Reboot, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @FitMomWay.