April 7, 2014

Preparing the Scholarship Application Form

Filling out the scholarship application is a fact of life when seeking scholarships. Unfortunately, there is no generic form or format – each scholarship fund has its own methods and information needs. Some scholarships such as the Annual Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest offers no application form at all. Essay submissions are accompanied by a letter with a required set of information. You should plan to spend ten to fifteen hours each on scholarship applications. This estimate includes gathering materials, filling out the application, preparing the package, and writing a short essay.

Now it’s time to add efficiency to your skills because the preparation of scholarship applications is something of a production line process. Efficiency will save you time and help you avoid errors.

Scholarship Application Tips

High Demand Materials

Obtain or create a number of copies of materials that will be requested over and over again. Frequently requested documents might include transcripts, financial aid forms, copies of tax returns, rèsumès, letters of recommendation, or photographs. Your efficiency in preparing scholarship packages will be astronomically enhanced by being able to simply pluck the requested documents from the document holders filed in your scholarship three-ring binder.


In most cases, applying for a scholarship means writing an essay. Look for opportunities to use those scholarship essays to fulfill class requirements as well. If you need to write an essay for your government course, you might as well write on the topic of “a current elected public official in the United States, who is acting courageously to address a political issue at the local, state, national, or international level.” Then you can submit your homework assignment to the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest. Or if you need to read a book and write a report on some aspect of the reading, plan to read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins and submit your book report to the Annual Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest.

We particularly appreciate the requirements of the College Prowler Essay Competition. This competition requires that you submit up to three college application essays that you have already written and submitted. Now that’s a great example of the power of reuse, recycle.

The Scholarship Cover Letter

The application cover letter conveys the package from you to the funding organization. It is one more opportunity to demonstrate professionalism and knowledge of appropriate business etiquette.

If possible, make a determination to whom the letter should be addressed. Be sure you have that individual’s name and title spelled correctly. Avoid using either “Dear Sir” or “Dear Madam.”

In the body of the letter, express your pleasure at the opportunity to submit your application for the specific award you are seeking. It’s always useful to add a sentence praising the work or the mission of the funding organization.

Close the letter by expressing your enthusiasm for participating in the process and always thank the recipient for their time and consideration.

Forms and Documents

The scholarship application form introduces you to the judges. You need to make that introduction as crisp and business-like as possible.

Make copies of the application form so that you can create a working draft. Use that draft to complete the final application form.

Type the application form if at all possible. Don’t use fancy fonts; stick with standard business fonts like Times New Roman or Arial. Legibility and neatness are extremely important. Your application can be eliminated if it cannot be easily read. Put your name on every page of the application. Many funds prefer that applications be free of staples so they are easier to photocopy or distribute. That means there is the potential for parts of your application to become lost. Placing your name on every page gives your application a fighting chance of being reconstituted if a page or two gets waylaid during the process.

Answer every question. If you don’t believe that a question applies to you, don’t leave it blank – it could be judged incomplete. Don’t mark the question N/A (not applicable). The evaluators may have a different point of view on its applicability and can disqualify you for failing to complete the form. Instead, answer the question if you can. If the question is truly not applicable, write a sentence that describes your situation. For example, if the question is “What is your military history?” it is preferable to write “I have never served in the military” rather than leave it blank or write N/A.

Check, check, and recheck for typos. Enlist help in this review. It is very hard to proofread your own material. Inevitably, your mind’s eye reads what you thought you wrote, not what actually made it onto the page. A fresh reader will catch the words that you missed and find the spelling problems.

If there is one thing we learned from speaking with funders, it is that simple errors on scholarship applications will remove you from the competition much more quickly than listing too few club activities. Even if you are not class valedictorian or community volunteer of the year or a survivor of some horrific circumstances with a heroic story to tell, you can still be in the finalist round by being sure you spelled the name of the scholarship fund correctly and attending to all of the other minor details that will make your application perfectly correct and therefore worthy of consideration.

Place the requested documents in the package in the order that they are requested. This consistency makes it easier for evaluators to locate information. It also makes it easier for you to check the documents against the list of requirements.

Do not add documents that have not been requested. There are many scholarship guides in the press that encourage you to add additional materials as a way for you to show your creativity and make your application unique. Judging by the available data, if you create an error-free, neat, and timely application package, you will have already distinguished your application as unique. Additional materials:

  • Give the impression that you think the funders don’t really know what they need.
  • Can disqualify you in some competitions.
  • Makes your application more difficult to manage and consequently more likely to be eliminated.

Some advice givers swear by the “additional material” strategy. We don’t. You are better served by focusing on making your application shine, using the structure requested by the funder.

Do not staple documents together unless directed to do so. It is always reasonable to use paper clips to keep materials tidy. Do not place the application in a special folder unless directed to do so. The place to be creative and innovative is in the preparation of your essay. When preparing the applications, just follow the directions you are given.

Make a complete copy of the application before you send it. Don’t skip the transcript or the financial aid statement because you know those are included; it is always important to have a complete record of everything you send the funder in exactly the form it was received by the funder.

Use an envelope that will hold your application without folding it. As a matter of presentation, the application will look better without creases. Send the application “return receipt requested” or use a delivery service like FedEx that allows you to track the package’s path and verify who signed for it. In this way, you will have proof that the application was received by the organization. If you do not receive verification within the appropriate length of time, follow up. You won’t have a chance at the scholarship if the application never makes it to the in-box.

The Bottom Line

The scholarship application is a paper model of you. Make sure your application is professional and compelling.

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