Top 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for College Scholarships

Top 6 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for College Scholarships

Zina Kumok

Zina Kumok is a personal finance writer and speaker with a background in financial literacy, student loans, credit scores, and investing. She's a three-time nominee and finalist for Best Personal Finance Contributor at the Plutus Awards. Zina paid off $28,000 in student loans in three years. Holding a bachelor's degree in journalism from Indiana University, she has worked for newspapers, magazines, and wire services. Her byline has appeared in Indianapolis Monthly, the Commercial Appeal, and the Associated Press, and as an expert, she's been featured in the Washington Post, Forbes, Fox Business, and Time. Additionally, Zina is a Certified Financial Health Counselor and Student Loan Counselor.

Getting a scholarship to college can feel like an uphill battle when you're competing with students who are just as qualified and talented as you are. And in some cases, you may be going up against students with even better GPAs and test scores.

While you can’t control the scholarship award process, there are some basic things you can do to avoid being discounted from the selection process entirely. Keep reading to learn about the most common scholarship errors and how to avoid them.

6 Easy Ways to Lose a Scholarship

Missing the deadline

By far the easiest way to lose a scholarship is to miss the deadline. Many scholarships have online-only applications that will automatically close once the deadline has passed. Even if the application is still available past the deadline, you're unlikely to be considered for the award if you’re late.

Even if you have a family emergency, medical illness or another extenuating circumstance, it may not sway the judges to let you turn in a late application.

Not following the essay prompt

Many scholarships have specific essay questions that you must answer to be considered for the award. And if you're trying to reuse an essay you've already written, you might run into trouble. The scholarship committee might see through your attempt and reject your application outright.

Make sure you’re answering the question asked - not what you want the question to be. If you're at all confused about the essay question, ask an English teacher for help.

Failing to meet the word count

Many scholarship essays have a minimum word count that you must hit. If your essay is below that threshold, scholarship coordinators may automatically discard it.

If you’re having trouble filling up the word count, don’t write a bunch of fluff just to get the right length. Instead, take some time to brainstorm with a friend, parent or English teacher. Let them read the essay and see what’s missing.

Including poor grammar and bad spelling

Even if you meet the scholarship criteria to a tee, your application may be discarded if there are spelling and grammatical errors. There are many spell-check programs available, so there’s never an excuse for multiple typos. If you’re using Microsoft Word or Google Docs to write your essay, run spell-check before turning the essay in.

Unfortunately, grammar errors are harder to spot. Before submitting the piece, ask someone else to review the final version. You should also print out the essay and read it aloud to spot any mistakes that software won’t catch.

Not attaching the required documents

Many scholarships require that students submit a high school transcript, a copy of their SAT or ACT scores, a headshot and other documents. If you're applying for an art scholarship, you may have to submit a portfolio of your work.

Make sure you understand exactly what the scholarship requires. For example, if you have to submit a high school transcript, does it need to be on official letterhead? Should it include your midterm grades? Does it need to come from the school directly? Some scholarships may be more specific than others.

Using the wrong format

Some scholarship applications require that students submit their documents in a certain file type or size. This is usually done to make the sorting process easier. If you use the wrong file type or size, it can make it impossible for the committee to go through your application.

For example, submitting an Apple Pages file instead of a Microsoft Word Doc could mean that the scholarship committee can't even open the document. Most scholarship committees do not have the resources to reach out to every student who doesn't use correct formatting.

Scholarship applications may also have size requirements for documents and photos. For example, a picture may need to have a certain pixel size or be in a JPEG or PNG format.

How to prevent mistakes on your scholarship application

Reach out for help

Many scholarships, especially those from major corporations or large organizations, have a dedicated tech support email you can contact if there are any problems submitting your application. Other scholarship websites will have a coordinator that can handle basic questions.

If you run into a problem, ask for help sooner rather than later. If you wait too late, you may not get an answer back until the deadline has already passed. If the deadline is coming up and your question still has not been answered, submit the application anyway. Then, if the scholarship coordinator gets back to you, you can prove that you completed the application by the deadline.

Start working on scholarships early

Mistakes often occur because students rush around trying to submit an application at the last minute. When you find a scholarship you’re a good candidate for, go through the requirements and figure out what you need to submit. Then, write down how long it will realistically take to produce all of the documents.

Give yourself more time than you'll need to complete every task. You may want to allot even more time if the scholarship is due around finals week.

Double check everything

Most scholarships have a terms and conditions section that includes more information on the eligibility requirements. Before starting an application, read through this section to confirm that you’re eligible for the award.

Once you've completed your application, go over the scholarship rules again. If you're feeling frazzled or distracted, ask a parent to help you compare your application to the list of requirements. Having fresh eyes can help you catch something that you might have otherwise missed.

Reach out if you made a mistake

If you have already submitted your application and realize that you've made a mistake, contact the scholarship committee or coordinator as soon as possible. Fix the error, explain what happened and try not to make any excuses or assign blame to someone else.

Don't assume that it's too late to address the error. Reaching out to the scholarship committee shows that you're not afraid to own your mistakes - a quality that some scholarship committees may be looking for.

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