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How to Read a Scholarship Application: Why you should read the fine print

Some scholarship applications provide valuable guides and, if you’re not reading the fine print, you’ll miss it.

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Do you know some scholarship applications tell you exactly what the committee is looking for?

For example, in the 2018 Essay Contest, “What Was the Dumbest Thing You Ever Did with your Money”, the application had a section that stated the essay will be evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Funny (20%)
  • Creativity (20%)
  • Knowledge of savings and money management (20%)
  • Organization (20%)
  • Grammar/Spelling/Punctuation (20%)

If you didn’t read this part of the application, you might not know to make your essay humorous, and have little chance to win the $5000 award.

How to Read a Scholarship Application

Some scholarship applications provide valuable guides and, if you’re not reading the fine print, you’ll miss it. That’s why I suggest students and parents read the entire application first, before starting to write anything.

The fine print (or the not-so-obvious parts) of the scholarship application can be a wealth of information.

The most visible information will usually tell you information like who is offering the scholarship, who is eligible to apply for the scholarship (for example, Canadian citizens or permanent residents, age or grade, what kind of post-secondary program you need to be applying for, etc.). It will also give you the basic required items you need to supply, such as a list of activities, an essay and/or a reference, and it will state the deadline.

This is what I want you to think of as the first layer of information. However, there is sometimes additional information that could be critical—or at least very useful—to your success, and that information is located in what I call the second layer of information.

This second layer of information may be the fine print, or if you’re looking at the information online, it may be located in the links that are on the first layer. If there are links, I encourage you to click on them to take you to that second layer of information.

In the second layer of information, you may find pieces of information that will be very helpful when completing your application. Some scholarship applications provide further instructions on the essay. Some will even provide a scoring sheet (or a kind of grading rubric, like in school) that will give you really great insight into what the scholarship committee is looking for.

For example, there is a scholarship for students living with Chron’s and Colitis called the AbbVie IBD scholarship where applicants are required to write a 500-word essay. The first layer of information on the website provides applicants with a few questions to answer in their essay. However, just beneath that on the page is a section called “Selection Process”, and in it, there is a link that takes you to a sample of a scoring sheet, and criteria definitions, which is a list of the criteria your essay and personal recommendations will be rated on.

It contains information like:

Has the applicant conveyed their goals, both academic and personal?
Does the essay include a ‘wow’ factor?
Does the reference include examples of the applicant’s determination, positivity and leadership?
Has the reference known the student for an extended period of time?

These are not requirements, but they are obviously some of the things the selection committee would like to see in the applicant’s essay and references.

This is the kind of information you can use to tailor your application to the criteria, and ensure you’re giving the selection committee the kind of information they want. In other words, this is the kind of information that can help you win the scholarship.

So don’t be too quick to start writing that scholarship application. Read the entire application first, including the second layer of information, to possibly find valuable information that will help you win the award!

Janet MacDonald is a Scholarship Consultant at MycampusGPS. She teaches students how to prepare their best scholarship applications through her online program, “How to Write Winning Scholarship Applications”. She also wrote the guide, “How to Find Scholarships in Canada”. Janet offers one-to-one scholarship consulting for high school students, and scholarship essay writing workshops. Janet’s blog is one of the top education blogs in Canada.

Modified on January 09, 2019

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