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A Day Reviewing Scholarship Applications & What I Noticed

Last week I was asked to review college scholarship applications for a large college to determine which young adults were deserving. I’ve participated in many scholarship reviews but this one made me realize I needed to share what was good and what was missing.

1. Tell a Meaningful Story & Be Vulnerable

Seems simple, but when you are reviewing thousands of applications, you need to grab attention immediately and you must make them care. Don’t tell a story they are expecting, add details that makes it unique to you. Obviously, there are many first-generation applicants with stories that were very similar, but the ones that brought tears to my eyes were the ones where I “felt” the words. They often shared how, although their situation was beyond horrific, it did not defeat or define them. They shared what they learned, were determined to not repeat it and make things different/better. WHY is your story unique? WHY should I care? And WILL it be a story that stays with a person after they read your application.

2. Spelling and Punctuation

Have someone look at your application before submitting. We gave points for these two simple words, Spelling and Punctuation. I could tell some applications were completed on their phones, with little detail to making sure simple things like an “i” was capitalized. I gave some leeway to people who I knew English wasn’t their first language, but even so, having someone like a teacher review it could mean the difference between getting the scholarship or not.

3. GPA

I truly believe GPA is just a number and the “average students” rule the world. But when you’re a

pre-med student with a low GPA, something is wrong. Many applications had lofty goals but their GPA didn’t align. Obviously, I didn’t know the whole story unless they shared it but it concerned me because I wasn’t seeing the opportunity for success when their GPA wasn’t keeping up with their dreams. The GPA had a very heavy weight to it in the rubric, so for many, this knocked them out of consideration. With aptitude testing, young adults learn how their brain works so they are successful in a career that comes naturally to them. I could see young adults who were getting their degree right but for some, I could see they were completely off track.

4. Extra-Curricular Activity

I was shocked at how little extra-curricular/volunteer experience students had on their application. Even if a student worked, that was considered; however, the students who stood out were the ones giving of themselves to outside interests. GPA’s are good, not only for scholarships, but ultimately employers. People are looking to see how you are different from the other 2K applicants. I see this with my college students. They get to college and are worn out from building their High School resume. They forget to take the 4+ years to really become a global citizen. This is what makes you unique. Everyone has a degree. Everyone has a GPA. Everyone has normally had some work experience. But where you volunteer shows who you truly are and what makes you care. Pick wisely but pick something.

The experience was incredible and I’m still thinking about some of the stories I read. People who have come here from another country and have overcome odds that no one should ever need to experience. Military members who had given their VA benefits to their children because their first priority was their future. They did this above their own interests, so they now needed assistance. Moms who became mom’s very young and never took time for themselves, but now they see how critical education is. The stories were endless. I walked away knowing that although everyone had a story about why they were applying for financial consideration, what they all wanted most was a better life through education. They all recognized the power of “education” to change the trajectory of their entire family legacy.

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