April 7, 2014

Evaluating Opportunities

You now have a long list of scholarship opportunities. The next step is to determine your highest priorities for pursuing college scholarships. It’s true that in the ideal world, you would apply for every suitable award. However, we need to take into account that the rest of your life will probably get in the way of scholarship essay writing so it’s best to prioritize now.

Scholarships: Factors To Consider

Ranking System

We rank college scholarships based upon six criteria. We have used a ranking system of 1 through 5. In each category, higher ranking numbers means greater priority. Refer to the table in this chapter for ranking examples.


Are you a good candidate for this award? If it’s a national award and anyone who breathes and goes to high school is a candidate, you should rank the award a 2 or a 3. If it’s an award with specific criteria, and you don’t exactly fit but really want to go for it, rank it a 1 or a 2. If it’s a highly specific award, and there aren’t all that many people who will fit the eligibility criteria, rank it a 4 or a 5.


What does the competitive field look like? National awards with broad eligibility criteria should be ranked 1. Regional or local awards will be proportionally less competitive, based on the number of applicants.


This category is a subjective assessment of how the deadline fits into your life. We find that deadlines in September are difficult because it’s the start of the school year. You may find that deadlines around particular holidays are difficult. Or you may play a seasonal sport and find that fall, for example, is really hard for you. If the conflict will make it very hard to make the due date, it’s a 1. If it’s generally an easier time of year, rank it a 5. Use 2, 3, or 4 to adjust the ranking according to your personal life schedule.

Difficulty of Preparation

Some scholarships require “the usual stuff” – application, transcript, and essay. That’s pretty standard and should be ranked a 4 or a 5. However, other scholarships can involve a great deal of effort such as the preparation of a project to be accomplished, letters of recommendation, and an interview. The difficulty level is really your subjective assessment of how hard or easy the scholarship application will be to prepare.

Number of Awards

The more awards that are available, the greater the opportunity for you to receive one of those awards. Use the following system as a way to rank this criterion.

  1. 1 – 4 award(s)
  2. 5 – 10 awards
  3. 11 – 15 awards
  4. 16 – 20 awards
  5. More than 20 awards

You may find that there is not sufficient information to understand how many college scholarships are awarded. In that case, do one of two things – go with your impression (does the material make it sound like several are given or does it sound pretty limited) or rank it a 3 and remember that this scholarship analysis has an artificial number in it.

Amount of Award

Although every bit of money helps, it makes sense to focus more attention on $5,000 awards than $500 awards, unless the other criteria suggest a different approach. Use the following ranking system.

  1. Up to $500
  2. > 500 – $1,000
  3. > $1,000 – $3,000
  4. > $3,000 – $5,000
  5. > $5,000

Use your judgment in situations where the amount varies. You may find that using the maximum in each case is the best approach for you. Refine this system the way you need to for greatest utility. Just be sure to apply your criteria consistently.


Total the points for each scholarship. The system ranks the highest priority scholarships by the most points. Here’s a way to use the points to prioritize your list.

  • 22 – 30 points:      A Priority – Must apply
  • 15 – 21 points:      B Priority – Should apply if at all possible
  • 6 – 14 points:        C Priority – Would like to apply if there’s time

Be sure A’s and B’s are taken care of first.

Reality Check

Okay, now that you have prioritized your scholarship workload, go back through the list and see if it makes sense to you. For example, is there an award that’s a C priority that you intuitively believe should be a B or an A? Are there other seemingly miscategorized scholarships? If so, go back and try to understand how the rankings worked and why there is a discrepancy. If you still feel that something is categorized incorrectly, change it. Remember that this evaluation tool is precisely that, a tool, not a law or a boundary. Use all of the tools in this book (and in most how-to books) thoughtfully.

An Example

We completed our analysis in Microsoft Excel so that we could then sort the results by priority and by due date.

Interestingly and no great surprise, the As on the list are those scholarships that are local plus an esoteric scholarship that not many students would be eligible for and carries a high award.

How does your list look?

Read Next Article: Preparing the Scholarship Application Form