The Scholarship Review Process
You can’t afford to get disorganized when applying for scholarships. A scholarship application consists of identifiable and distinct parts. If you start preparing your scholarship applications the summer before your senior year (as is ideal), the busiest part of your application preparation will occur during the fall and wrap up before winter break. High achievers, however, often get started as early as their junior year. Fact-finding, compiling, organizing, test-taking, and reflecting upon your goals are processed in a series of steps or stages. On one side of the scholarship process, everything seems focused on you. On the other side of the application, you sense unknown territory when it comes to how your application is reviewed.
The scholarship review process can indeed be like entering unfamiliar territory, especially if you have not bothered to learn as much as possible about the scholarship and the funding organization. The more information you have about the school or organization, their history of notables, and any personal success stories of those who won their scholarships, the more you can learn how to make yourself match their criteria. Beyond that, every scholarship review board comprises temperaments, talents, and agendas that you do not control. For that reason, we want you to see inside the review process as much as possible.
The first phase of the scholarship review is the hardest because the review process is designed to eliminate or disqualify as many applicants as possible right off the top. This is true of many different types of situations in which people compete for a job, a promotion, or an award. The sheer number of applicants for one award demands that criteria be in place to help the reviewers literally cut the stack.
The criteria function as a scoring process in which the reviewer evaluates a “first pass” of your application with a checklist. The checklist will record high or low marks on the basis of your GPA and the overall appearance of your application. Listen up! Your application will initially be screened very intensely on the basis of appearance, spelling errors, correct grammar, letters of recommendation on official letterhead, and complete answers to all questions. Questions left blank will disqualify your application during the first phase. Reviewers will hair-split over missing information or poorly written essays. Don’t give them a reason to disqualify your application.
So what do you need to do to increase the chance that your application will get through the initial screening? Proofread your application very carefully. Fill in all the blanks. Sharpen your writing skills so your ideas are fully illustrated and provide the reviewers with the insight they need about you. After you have checked through your completed application, ask someone you trust (e.g., a teacher, parent, or advisor) to read it also. A second pair of eyes will spot things that you overlooked.
Reaching the second phase of the review process means that you possess the conviction and the strength to go the distance. The second phase is still essentially an elimination phase. The fact that your application was not disqualified during the first phase means that you will now be ranked along with all the other applicants who, like you, are someone the reviewers want to look at more closely. The number of applicants who make it to the second phase is also greatly determined by the actual number of available awards. What makes you an interesting candidate to a panel of reviewers?
Reviewers are looking for essays that reveal how your strengths are applied in difficult situations. For them to know you, they need to be able to relate to you as someone who stands up to challenges, who goes the extra mile, and has what it takes to make a difference in their program. In short, reviewers are looking for potential leaders and role models for other students. Do not provide them with a shopping list of your interests and awards. Allow yourself to be somewhat transparent so that, regardless of your situation, you can exemplify the kinds of values and goals they esteem.
So who reviews your application? Surprisingly enough, a variety of people come into play throughout the review process. At the initial stage, paid administrative staff apply their checklist of criteria and red pencil to your application. Do not second-guess the responsibility they have to ensure that only the best applications go through. During the second phase and interview phase, a combination of advisory staff, program heads, and faculty come together to discuss, question, and consider the finer points of each remaining application.
The scholarship review process is unquestionably subjective, but your awareness of the unfamiliar territory will help you. The more you understand the practical, and yes, critical side of the review, the better your chance of winning an award.
Applying for scholarships is only the beginning, and winning a scholarship is going to be tough. The road to winning a scholarship is filled with challenges for most people. No one is telling you that this is simple. Interestingly enough, the greatest challenge for the majority of prospective scholars is developing a writing ability that provides a composite glance of your strengths, motivations, interests, and life goals to a review committee that wants to know if you are someone who shares their values, is not afraid to take a stand, and most importantly can serve as a role model for other students.
The reason this part of the process is difficult is because we rarely think about ourselves in this way. This does not mean that getting in touch with who you really are is a forbidden topic. You do, after all, want to establish an attitude of victory, not defeat, when it comes to winning a scholarship. To help you along, a self-assessment checklist is provided to encourage you to spend some time with yourself. How often are you asked to go and find a quiet place, turn on some peaceful music, and get to know yourself better? Not nearly enough. With that said, the knowledge you gain about yourself will only work to your advantage, regardless of where you go and what you do in life. Self-knowledge doesn’t end with the scholarship application, or even college. What matters is what you do with that knowledge to carve out your dreams and find your place in this world.
To get started, plan to spend more than one session working through the self-assessment. What you do not want to end up with is a shopping list of “things” that are mysteriously related to the person called you. You want to spend some time connecting lived experiences with how you answer these questions. How you work your way through the self-assessment process empowers you with the descriptive language and concrete examples you need to expand upon later in your written essay.
The self-assessment checklist is divided into two major sections: Interest-Aptitude and Creating a Self-Portrait. Answering the questions can be accomplished by working with pen and paper or on the computer. Some people need to draft on paper, whereas others prefer to draft on the computer. Either option is perfectly acceptable, but if you are comfortable with the computer go ahead and create a file for this as a word processing document. Document files are easier to edit and/or completely rewrite if necessary. As this is a preliminary checklist designed to help you organize how you will write about yourself later, be as honest and confident as you can be. You do need to present yourself in an award-winning light, but remain authentic.
A. What you do or excel at doing
- What hobbies, special interests, or unique skills do you have?
- Have you participated in volunteer work? If so, where? Doing what?
- Have you held any after-school jobs? (No job is unimportant.)
- Have you completed advanced classes in school? What subject?
- Have you earned any awards or received special recognition? What? When?
- How did winning this award impact your life? Did it?
- What are your favorite classes?
- Have you participated in dramatic, musical, or art performances?
- Do you play a musical instrument? For how long?
B. What you want to do or dream of doing
- Do you dream of attending a private or public college/university?
- Are you planning to attend a local campus or go out-of-state?
- What is your anticipated plan of study or career interest?
- What do you see yourself doing in five years?
- What special goals or ambitions do you need to make the reviewers aware of?
Creating a Self-Portrait
- What is your greatest accomplishment?
- What makes this accomplishment meaningful to you?
- What traits help you achieve your goals? Give examples of how you turned a challenge into a victory.
- How do you describe yourself? Provide examples to illustrate.
- What is your passion? What really makes you come alive?
- Why do you want to attend college?
- What about the tough times? What did these moments teach you about yourself and others?
- What person in your life do you admire most? Why?
The more you can clarify and illustrate your strengths, accomplishments, goals, and expectations the stronger your chances of winning a scholarship will be.