"Judging Scholarships, Part I"
Article By: Laura DiFiore|
Founder of FreSch!, a leading free scholarship search and information
and respected scholarship expert and judge.
You fill out the application,
mail it in, and it seems to disappear into never-never land, lost forever, never
to be seen or heard from again. Why? Understanding the basic Judging Process may
help improve your odds of winning.
All organizations that offer
scholarships have their own way of judging the applications they receive. Please
understand that this article is intended to be more of an "overview" based on a
variety of judging committees rather than a description of how any one
particular scholarship contest is judged.
1. "Weed out the Junk"
Some organizations open up applications as soon as they are
received. Others will simply let the applications pile up in a corner of the
office, waiting until the deadline date.
Some organizations are very
organized. They enter each application into a log book as it arrives, assign it
a number, and keep track of it.
Others are not very organized - remember,
many of these organizations are SEVERELY under-staffed, under-funded, and
overworked. Some applications might, unfortunately, be lost, probably ending up
in the same place that your socks go after they enter the dryer.
way, often the person opening the applications is a secretary, volunteer, or
maybe even stay-at-home Dad watching the afternoon soap operas. Quite often, it
is NOT a scholarship judge who actually opens the envelope to give your
application the "first look."
As each application is opened, a "quick
check" is made of the application.
- Is the application neat?
- Are all
required documents included? References, transcripts, photo, etc.?
- Are all
This "quick check" is exactly that: QUICK. If your
application has been looked at for 30 seconds at this point, you are
Important: This stage is also where MOST applications end up in
that big "NO" pile, never to be seen again. In many cases, up to 90% of
applications are "killed" right here - after 10-30 seconds of
Seriously. Up to 90% of applicants are removed from the
running after 30 seconds of consideration. For the percentage impaired, if the
organization received 1,000 applications, up to 900 of the applications received
lost the game right here.
When determining the acceptability of each
application, many organizations use a "checklist" or "point system" - often
both. Here's an example of a checklist used by a scholarship committee that I
sat on last summer. First, the administrative assistant looked at each
application. If the answer was "yes" for each question, she sent the application
to Tom Atkins, who was the head of the Judging Committee. If there was a single
"no" - she threw the application out. Yes, into the garbage. She didn't "judge"
the STUDENTS - she "judged" the quality of the APPLICATIONS and decided which
applications the judges would actually judge.
She rated each
application with "yes" or "no" for the following:
- Two reference letters
- Personal statement
- Studying engineering or computers?
- Volunteer work?
- Active in school?
- From Colorado?
Think it's not fair that your application "lost"
after just 30 seconds because of a single typo or a small wrinkle? Wrong. It's
totally fair. It's unfair of you to not take the time to make your application
neat, clean, and simply perfect. Remember, lots of students do take the time to
make their applications neat and clean. It is unfair to those students to spend
a single minute on the students who do not take the time.
application will be considered against the scholarship's primary requirements.
For example, if the scholarship considers academic achievement, the committee
may quickly check your GPA at this point.
And if your GPA is in the 2.0
range, it's probably dead.
If it's in the low 3.0 range, there is still some
If it's in the upper 3.0 range, it's definitely alive!
aware that just because you do not have a terrific GPA does not mean that you
have no hope for scholarships that are primarily based on academic achievement.
The trick is to improve your odds of winning by applying for smaller
scholarships and local scholarships, ones that do not receive a lot of
applications. With a low (2.0 range) to a good (lower to middle 3.0 range) GPA,
you have almost no hope of winning a big national scholarship based on academic
achievement that receives 20,000 applications. But if you apply to a local,
smaller scholarship that receives 10 or 100 applications, you have much better
chances of winning, especially if your GPA is in the 3.0 range.
Tacoma, Washington shares her experience:
"One thing I am concerned with
is that some students might get the message that if you don't have a really high
grade point average, don't bother. I am a single parent going to school full
time and can only manage to hold a 3.45 GPA. I have been lucky so far though and
have received $3,500 in scholarships, so I know that not having a perfect grade
point won't hold you back from winning all the time."
Whatever the main
considerations are for the particular scholarship - be it grades, financial
need, major, religion, hobbies, professional associations, or whatever - if your
application doesn't match up to ALL of the basic requirements of the
scholarship, it's history at this point.
"Hmmm... hey, this application
seems good, Jason, 4.2 GPA, very nice! Lots of volunteer work, helps his mother
at her catering business, very nice... oh... he's studying Ghost Chasing, we're
looking for Basket Weaving majors, oh well, too bad..."
If you don't pay
attention to the requirements, the judges are not going to pay attention to your
How to "beat" Stage One:
- Be neat! No coffee stains. Type your applications - avoid handwriting. No
spelling errors. None!
- Be complete! Include all required supporting documentation, references,
- Be accurate! Make sure you match all the requirements. If the scholarship is
for English majors and you are studying Computer science, don't apply!
- Think about how to make your application stand out. Consider putting it into
a plastic folder. If not forbidden, include school newspaper clippings about
you, additional recommendation letters, or other things that help you shine.
- Remember that appearances count. People say that this is common sense and
everyone knows that appearances matter. My response: If everyone knew that they
needed to be neat on their applications, then why do so many applications look
like they were written in a fast-food kitchen?
"Judging Scholarships, Part II"
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