Students should develop a strategy for tackling scholarship applications to avoid burning out.

Tips to Avoid 7 Common Scholarship Application Pitfalls

Rear view shot of a young woman studying at her desk at home

Don’t simply reuse the same essay for each scholarship you apply to – judges can tell.

Winning scholarships sounds pretty easy – just apply and wait for the money to roll in. That’s not how it works, of course. But you can increase your odds of success by paying attention to detail and avoiding common problems that prompt judges to judge you – and not in a good way.

You likely already know the basics: Apply on time, complete the application, don’t make spelling or grammar mistakes and meet the eligibility requirements. Even a stellar application from someone in Connecticut won’t win an award that is for Iowa residents.

 But here are seven common scholarship application mistakes students make as well as tips on how and why to avoid them.

1. Don’t wing it: One big mistake is to start applying for every award in sight. Maybe an even bigger one is applying only for one or two high-dollar scholarships.

Go into the process with a strategy.

• Many local groups offer awards – they may be small, but they can add up; plus, the competition is often lower.

• If you know your major, check out the corresponding department at your prospective school and see whether you qualify for school awards. Then, look outside your school for professional or other organizations that offer help within your major.

• Don’t count on winning that one big scholarship that will cover everything, but also don’t apply for everything in sight. Why? Scholarship application fatigue can kick in – the more you fill out, the less committed you may be to each individual application and the more likely you will be to make mistakes. Decide on the best candidates, arrange them by deadline and go from there.

2. Don’t let others do the work: Your parents may nag you about filling out scholarship applications – after all, the more money you win, the less they pay.

It may be tempting to ask your parents to fill out applications for you, but that’s a big mistake. Part of going to college is becoming an adult. Start now and take control of your future with your work.

While your parents might know the outlines of what you see as your future, they may not know the specifics needed for the scholarship application. Some scholarships also require an interview. If your parents complete the scholarship on your behalf, you could get blindsided during the interview if you’re asked about something you didn’t know was in the application.

This doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Get input on your essay ideas and the finished product from a parent, teacher or trusted friend – or all three.

3. Don’t simply reuse essays: One essay won’t suffice for every scholarship you want. Judges can tell when you’ve just changed the names of the award on a one-size-fits-all essay.

Your essay needs to reflect you and your goals for each particular scholarship. It also provides perhaps your best opportunity to make the case that you’re a winner in general and should be the scholarship winner. Make the introduction sparkle in case that’s as far as the judges get – and don’t try to impress with unfamiliar big words that you could misuse.

If you choose to recycle an essay from a previous application that you think meets the current prompt, be sure to freshen it up. You can add a section specific to the organization offering this award, for example.

4. Don’t forget to check the details before submitting: For many scholarships, you can apply online or via email. But once you hit send, you can’t make changes.

If you are applying online, check that you have entered all the information correctly before you submit. If you are emailing your application, be sure you have the correct address. And always double check that you’ve entered your own email address correctly.

Also make sure your email address is appropriate – not a novelty or nickname address like pigletgirl43@hotmail.com. You can always set up a separate scholarship email. This may also be a good time to edit anything from your social media accounts that could be construed as offensive or distasteful.

5. Don’t spend money to make money: Don’t pay for a scholarship. If a scholarship requires an application fee or any other payment, it’s almost certainly a scam. And if you’re “guaranteed” an award for a payment, run from the scholarship.

6. Don’t wait until the last minute: You may pride yourself on working well under pressure, but waiting until the last minute can leave you in a bind. For one thing, you might need transcripts or recommendations – allow plenty of time to pull together all the required elements for the application. Plus, give your recommenders the time they need to write you a recommendation.

Applying for a scholarship on the day of the deadline also can send bad messages to an organization. For one, it can signal that you’re a procrastinator – remember this is your only chance to make a first impression.
Or it can indicate that this scholarship is an afterthought and that you applied for more important awards first.

7. Don’t underestimate the power of a recommendation. When it comes to recommendations, choose wisely, selecting a teacher, counselor or adult leader who knows you well and can articulate your case clearly and powerfully.

Are there other mistakes you can make? Of course. But avoid these for sure and concentrate on selling yourself and setting up a successful future.