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Top 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying to Scholarship Application

Last updated on January 25, 2024

Applying for scholarship application can make a huge difference in affording higher education, but there are some common mistakes that can sabotage your chances of getting that scholarship money. Avoid these 10 key mistakes when applying and give yourself the best shot at success.

Comparison of the Mistakes to Avoid When Applying for Scholarships

MistakeWhy It MattersHow to Avoid
1. Not researching essay requirementsEssays are a pivotal part of most applications but you need to know specifics like word count limits, or you risk getting disqualified automatically.Double and triple check essay requirements before writing so you understand length limits, topic restrictions, formatting guidelines, etc.
2. Submitting at the last minuteScholarship committees see tons of procrastinated, rushed applications. Give yourself plenty of time to put together an error-free, quality application.Start working on your applications 4-6 weeks before deadlines. That gives you ample time to get feedback, proofread, gather documents, and ensure proper submission.
3. Failing to proofreadTypos, poor grammar, and careless errors give the impression you don’t really care or lack writing skills.Easily catch mistakes by reading essays and full applications out loud. Better yet, have a few people proofread to give an extra layer of error checking.
4. Lacking specificityPersonalization and making yourself stand out is so important. Generic, vague applications come off as detached and impersonal.Research each scholarship provider so you can specifically tailor all parts of the application – especially essays – in a meaningful way. Show how your goals align with the scholarship mission.
5. Forgetting to gather documentsNothing sinks an application faster than submitting it without required transcripts, letters of rec, tax forms, etc.Create a master checklist with all required documents for each application. Start collecting these from the appropriate sources with plenty of lead time.
6. Missing eligibility criteriaEvery scholarship has very clear eligibility – GPA levels, enrollment status, major/minor, clubs, financial background, demographics like age and location, etc.Carefully review eligibility for each scholarship and only apply if you meet all the criteria. Having others review your qualifications can provide a gut check.
7. Listing irrelevant achievementsScholarship reviewers want to see achievements that truly demonstrate your merit in line with that particular award. Achievements not aligned with criteria can actually dilute your other credentials.Carefully evaluate which of your academic, professional, extracurricular and other achievements directly apply and tailor your listed achievements accordingly. Quality over quantity here.
8. Not getting recommendation letters inMost applications require at least 1 letter vouching for your abilities and character. You need to ask people early, so they have sufficient time.Give your references at least 3 weeks lead time and provide recommendation form links, your resume/transcript info, and any other materials to help them write compelling endorsements. Send friendly reminders about deadlines too.
9. Overlooking application feesWhile submitting online is easy, some applications come with small fees ($5-$25) that are easy to gloss over but will make your submission incomplete.Carefully review full application instructions so you know upfront about any fees. Have a credit card or other payment method set up ahead of time.
10. Not retaining application copiesIt’s crucial to keep copies of every completed application including essays, transcripts, and other documents in case anything goes awry.Create digital and print application packets. Confirm emailed acknowledgements and access application status portals when available.

Mistake 1: Not Researching Essay Requirements

The essay portion of a scholarship application tends to carry tremendous weight during review. Getting essay instructions wrong – especially clearly posted word counts or topic limitations – can actually get your application tossed before it even gets evaluated.

You absolutely cannot afford to rush into essay writing without double and triple checking specifics around:

  • Allowed word, character or page length
  • Preferred font style and size if submitting a print version
  • Specific question or topic prompts you need to address
  • Overall formatting guidelines

Depending on the scholarship, essays can be anywhere from 250 to 1000+ words with very explicit instructions that everything adhere to strict length parameters.

For example, the Coca-Cola Scholar Foundation essay must respond to one of five questions in no more than 550 words with size 12 Times New Roman font. The prestigious Elks National Foundation Scholarship wants a 700 word max essay in Arial 11 point font on topics related to your strengths.

If you submit a 600 word essay for the first or a 600 word essay in Calibri 11 point font for the second, it will get rejected automatically. Sounds obvious but with application pressure and frenzy, it is easy to overlook seemingly minor details which actually matter hugely.

You also need to research to understand topic limits if given, preferred content angle, whether they want personal stories or more analytical responses, and the overall message they likely want applicants to convey about themselves. Knowing their mission and values through their website content helps enormously.

The key is thoroughly investigating every nuance of essay requirements rather than making assumptions or relying on past scholarship essay processes. What you could squeak by with for one may differ for the next, so treat each initial research phase like the high stakes document it is.

Jot down then organize all essay specifics into a checklist to refer to as you actually write so you have clear guardrails in place ahead of time. Setting everything up for compliance and success from the outset positions you to then focus on compelling, authentic content rather than logistics and restrictions.

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Mistake 2: Submitting at the Last Minute

Another scholarship mistake that easily crushes an applicant’s chances is waiting until the very last days or hours to submit.

Rushing to finish at the 11th hour leaves no time for review and revision cycles that could catch embarrassing errors. It also means you likely procrastinated for months up until deadline panic set in. Neither of these reflect well when hoping to get thousands in funding.

Scholarship committees see right through hurried applications full of mistakes and thin content thrown together in desperation. Make sure punctuality and avoiding procrastination are both priorities well ahead of deadlines.

Starting the scholarship application process at least 4-6 weeks out from due dates may seem excessive but is necessary to set yourself up for success. Here is why:

There is Hidden Work

While the actual form completion seems simple, collecting tax documents, getting transcripts, asking teachers for recommendation letters, writing and refining essays, gathering background materials for context, getting feedback on drafts, confirming receipt of supporting documents, properly submitting online applications and more all takes considerable time behind the scenes.

Underestimating the invisible work beyond just typing into text boxes trips up many applicants. Reward yourself by starting early so you can navigate less obvious responsibilities in an unrushed way.

Perspective Helps

Scholarship essay questions are almost always offered ahead of time. Looking at prompts initially, letting them marinate, consulting others for input, and returning with fresh eyes helps enormously compared to last minute writing.

Early starts let your thoughts on relevant experiences, lessons, obstacles overcome through perseverance, life vision tied to major, favorite influencers, big accomplishments and more crystallize over days and weeks instead of disjointed rambling.

There Will Be Errors

No matter how flawless you think final drafts look, errors and awkward phrasing always seem to sneak into anything written quickly. Having ample time means you can walk away between revisions. Coming back to reread essays days later when not already burnt out catches so many tweaks needed.

Saving the actual proofreading for only after completing all editing rounds also prevents fixing then finding more issues later. Rushing compresses steps that pay off separated by buffer days.

Peace of Mind Helps

Scholarship application stress is no joke. The high stakes combined with juggling everyday classes, activities, and life demands can overwhelm without plenty of lead time. Give yourself the gift of calm preparedness by starting early and avoiding frenzied minds leading to foolish mistakes.

Mark deadlines on your calendar then work backwards 4-6 weeks to set your own “start work by” dates. Claim control ahead of time so you never find yourself behind and scrambling among looming deadlines for multiple scholarships.

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Mistake 3: Failing to Proofread

You may have brilliant, moving scholarship essays conveying your worthiness and passion…but one glance by reviewers at careless spelling bloopers, punctuation problems, bad grammar, overly casual tone and other errors then that goes out the window.

First impressions matter immensely with these committees. They have limited time and hundreds of applicants. Shoddy proofreading signifies lack of attention to detail or poor writing skills, both immediate disqualifiers when money is on the line.

You must set aside adequate proofreading time after finishing all editing. Fresh eyes catch all kinds of clumsy phrasing, missing words, typos, and other mistakes simply rereading silently won’t reveal even across multiple passes.

Better yet, have multiple trustworthy people – teachers, parents, friends – proofread essays and full applications once you complete revisions. Outside perspectives always spot gaps. Leverage that freely offered help so applications shine.

Here are some key proofreading tips:

  • Read essays and applications aloud – Your brain autocorrects all kinds of errors reading silently. The only way to catch them is literally hearing every single word and punctuation mark to know if they flow properly.
  • Use text-to-voice apps – Convert completed essays into audio files letting an automated reader catch awkward areas. Pace and unnatural pausing indicates problem text passages.
  • Mark proofing passes – Print completed essays then proofread by hand with different color highlighters per pass. Yellow for pass #1, blue for pass #2, etc. Visual proof helps.
  • Leverage others – Ask friends, teachers, even folks at college career centers to review applications with fresh eyes. Offer to return the favor. Multiple views always, always catch things solitary reviewing won’t.

Careless errors due to skipping proofreading undermine even the most outstanding applications and essays. Such mistakes imply you may lack discipline or attentiveness …not what scholarship providers want to see splattered throughout submissions seeking thousands in academic funding.

Build this simple but easy to overlook step into your application checklist and timeline. Protect your previous effort investments by polished editing flows prior to finally submitting.

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Mistake 4: Lacking Specificity

Scholarship organizations can easily sniff out generic, vague personal statements and essays using some boilerplate language clearly recycled across applications. Avoid this by tailoring content through purposeful personalization and specificity.

Really showcase why you deserve their particular scholarship over the many other applicants. Make it abundantly clear you know who they are through aligning your background, aspirations, and ambitions with their core mission and values.

Convey a sense of passion and authentic understanding for what makes them unique. Back this up with specific reasons their version of assistance matters so profoundly to you and your goals.

Beyond just essays, customize full applications:

  • Highlight supporting personal achievements reflecting attributes and criteria they screen for
  • Reference particular scholarship title vs a generic “To whom it may concern…” essay salutation
  • Include recommendation letters from those who know their priorities
  • Weave mentions of their organization throughout
  • Align any supplemental content included with their geography, priorities, etc.

The more you can provide explicit, meaningful customization tying together their reason for being with your own, the better chance your application has for rising above generic submissions easily dismissed.

Do your homework so you can then do targeted tailoring conveying sincere interest and fit. Set yourself apart from the masses applying without personal resonance. Specificity matters greatly.

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Mistake 5: Forgetting to Gather Required Documents

Nothing torpedoes an otherwise strong scholarship application faster than failing to include all required accompanying documentation like transcripts, letters of recommendation, financial records, proof of community service hours, examples of work samples relevant to major, etc.

Yet this happens all the time from simply overlooking certain forms or letters in the furious rush to finalize applications right before pressing submit at the last minute. Such a foolish unforced error.

Scholarship providers inevitably provide clear indications and reminders around required supplementary materials that must be included alongside essays and actual applications. Prevent easily avoided rejections by creating organized processes and checklists so nothing slips through the chaotic cracks.

Here are some tips to gather a complete application package:

  • Create master checklists – Maintain a scholarship materials checklist listing every required document with columns to track request date, due date and date received. Cross check continually.
  • Set calendar reminders for requests – Give yourself lead time cushion to ask teachers, employers, coaches for needed letters or transcripts.
  • Leverage recommendation platforms – Services like RecLetter allow you to request all letters through one portal with deadline reminders, status checks and more.
  • Use shared drives to collect – Set up a master folder accessible to parents, counselors, teachers where relevant application materials and supplementals can be uploaded over time.
  • Triple check portals – Log into scholarship provider portals frequently to confirm receipt of transcripts, letters and other supplements you arrange to have sent separately.

Following checklists, sending early requests in organized waves, leveraging collaborative digital tools, confirming document arrivals and retention, and rigouous triple checking prevents the enormous frustration of incomplete sunk applications.

Be the scholarship applicant who submits polished, compliant master packets ahead of deadlines versus the slacker asking for deadline extensions after forgetting key pieces.

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Mistake 6: Missing Eligibility Criteria

Every scholarship under the sun – big and small – contains clear eligibility must-haves for who can apply ranging from:

  • Minimum GPA
  • Enrollment status
  • Academic major
  • Financial need brackets
  • Club memberships
  • Community service requirements
  • Athletic participation
  • Artistic talents
  • Geographic location
  • Age range
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Program accreditations
  • Future vocation plans
  • Organizational affiliations

Applicants love emphasizing achievements and aspirations through essays without first confirming they meet baseline eligibility factors. This wastes immense amounts of time preparing applications bound for instant rejection.

Others somehow interpret flexible levels like “must demonstrate financial need” to mean they can stretch definitions when they clearly fall outside bounds. False hope crushes progress.

Carefully researching then recording eligibility checkboxes for each scholarship on master tracking worksheets prevents wasted energy. If you meet thresholds, proceed confidently. If not, keep seeking alternatives.

Many universities also post aggregate databases spanning hundreds of scholarships with flag indicators for key qualifiers. Use these centralized resources across multiple providers to screen more efficiently.

While an initial eligibility scan may lump you into potential applicant status, take time to dig deeper into nuanced secondary requirements around things like:

  • Number of community service hours
  • SAT score minimums
  • Application focus area like arts, entrepreneurship, sustainability
  • Attendance at partner network institutions
  • Program accreditation
  • Essay question flexibility

Catching any conflicting fine print early allows pivoting your limited time towards legitimate applicant opportunities vice simply aspirational award pools better suited to others. Confirm you unequivocally meet all clearly defined eligibility factors before investing further efforts.

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Mistake 7: Listing Irrelevant Achievements

Scholarship applications always entail sections summarizing key personal achievements – whether academic honors, sports accolades, community service hours, creative works, club leadership, entrepreneur ventures, or other displays of grit.

Some make the mistake of simply dumping collectively onto applications every accomplishment from high school (or earlier) orientations

Some make the mistake of simply dumping collectively onto applications every accomplishment from high school (or earlier) without regard for fit or relevance. But more is not necessarily better when scholarships have specific assessment criteria.

Generic laundry lists across scattered domains unrelated to scholarship priorities actually dilute your candidacy versus selectively highlighting only your most relevant, meaningful achievements tailored to who is reviewing and their particular awards values.

For example, listing your Eagle Scout rank or art competition awards likely will not impress a scholarship focused on women pursuing technology degrees and demonstrating entrepreneur leadership potential. Tailor content accordingly.

Like your essay and supplementary documents, carefully evaluate which achievements directly map to defined review criteria and showcase those first and foremost:

  • Mostly academic merits sought? Lead with GPA, test scores, subject awards.
  • Innovation grants on tap? Feature related proposals and pursuits.
  • Back stories and obstacles overcome important? Emphasize relevant challenges and resultant perseverance.
  • Seeking future educators? Include teaching assistant detail.

Analyze what accomplishment strengths make you uniquely qualified for that particular scholarship versus abridged lifetime histories. Adhere to “quality over quantity” principles highlighting only most applicable achievements demonstrating your merit against their specified screening factors.

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Mistake 8: Not Getting Recommendation Letters In

Most reputable higher dollar scholarships require at least one letter vouching for applicant character and abilities from non-family sources like:

  • Teachers
  • Counselors
  • Coaches
  • Community activity leaders
  • Employers

These hold tremendous sway verifying not only accomplishments but also how hardship overcome, values consistently modeled, and future potential appears through respected third parties.

Waiting too long to ask letter writers doing you a huge favor leads to them hurriedly typing generic endorsements that fail resonating beyond template pleasantries. Give them plenty lead time – at least 3 weeks – and helpful background materials so they can best customize meaningful responses.

Here are some recommendation letter tips:

  • When asking verbally, follow up immediately via email recap with links to formal request reminders listing due dates
  • Provide your resume, essay drafts, transcript, special award details to make their job easier
  • Send polite check-ins if not received within 1 week to avoid surprises
  • Show sincere gratitude for their assistance verbally and through thank you notes
  • Pay the goodwill forward by offering to someday write letters for others

Having strong letters of recommendation influence decision makers carries such import. Yet many unwisely wait until the last minute to awkwardly ask. Avoid this through early formal requests, gentle nudges, and showing your appreciation.

Give your referral advocates plenty runway to do you justice describing impact and promise so applications convey robust, complete pictures of applicants through both your words and theirs.

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Mistake 9: Overlooking Fees

With so many components involved compiling scholarship applications – forms, essays, transcripts, letters, tax documents, etc. – it is easy to gloss over small administrative fees some charge to actually submit for consideration.

$5 or $20 may seem nominal but failure to include payment alongside all other required materials by deadlines will sink progress. Read all guidelines carefully at the outset so these do not surprise later.

Have a designated credit card, debit card or other online payment method ready to use specifically for fees. Scrambling to track down proper accounts or missing cutoffs while entering payment details causes ridiculous rejects.

Note some schools cover fees for scholarship offerings they administer directly. Where this holds true, ensure you follow proper verification and reimbursement procedures for qualifying applicants.

If money presents real burdens even for small fees potentially opening doors to thousands in aid, communicate with scholarship administrators humbly but directly to explain hardship. Some grant waivers while others connect with alternative funding sources for applicants demonstrating valid need.

Do not let unexpected minor monetary barriers derail bigger opportunities if the rest of your application stacks up strongly. Be proactive addressing these early once aware but also know requesting gracious assistance gets met positively far more often than assumed.

Investigate, plan accordingly and set yourself up for seamless fee navigation well before getting to final submission stages. Avoid letting simple technicalities and assumptions around quick payments tank progress after dedicating extensive efforts getting everything else application-wise in exemplary order.

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Mistake 10: Not Retaining Application Copies

Technological advances make submitting various application components like essays, transcripts and letters of recommendation digitally easier than ever. Allow this ease to also provide assurance through keeping copies of absolutely everything you send.

Despite online confirmations for uploads, attachments and form data submitted, glitches still periodically happen between inputs and outputs. Without retained originals, improperly processed or mysteriously disappearing required pieces sink hopeful applicants.

Avoid potential “proof of proper submission” debates by taking a few easy safeguard steps:

  • Save application portal receipts – Download or screenshot application system confirmations when available after finishing submissions.
  • Create application packets – Compile all individual application requirements into single files per scholarship to archive offline as durably back-up versions whether you submit physically or electronically.
  • Use registered mail – When required to submit some paper-based materials by post, splurge for tracking and delivery confirmation to have peace of mind.
  • Follow up – If permitted, check directly with scholarship administrators gently to confirm whether your application status appears complete on their end.

Don’t assume technology will work smoothly or records will be maintained securely on their end. Losing access to crucial one-off essays, forms and supporting documents will undermine the tremendous efforts taken compiling everything flawlessly upfront through no direct fault of your own unless you retain full copies.

Spend a little extra time giving yourself redundant reassurance multiple ways. Safeguard what you produce through backups, confirmations, receipts and inquiries for full control avoiding potential submission blackholes.

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Final Tips for Avoiding Scholarship Application Mistakes

YouTube Video Tips for 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Applying to Scholarship Application

The key to avoiding common scholarship mistakes comes down to:

  • Thorough initial research so no surprises sink progress later
  • Starting (and completing) applications very early before scrambling stages set in
  • Obsessive attention checking every “little” detail to consider how pieces interrelate into full pictures
  • Tailoring content purposefully to individual scholarships rather than batch efforts diluted of personal touches
  • Confirming external share access to safely retain comprehensive document copies as insurance if issues emerge

Putting in diligent legwork avoiding unnecessary errors nets huge returns. Develop deliberate processes and habits addressing oft-overlooked scholarship mistakes frequently tripping up otherwise strong applicants.

What other common scholarship application errors doom applicants that you would warn others to avoid from firsthand experience? Please share any advice in comments below to collectively improve all our odds!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How many scholarships should I apply for?

Applying for at least 10 scholarships improves your odds statistically but there is no magic number target. Focus first on quality matches, then quantity. Pursue enough aligned options balancing likelihood of award against application time investments.

When do I need to apply by?

Every scholarship sets its own application deadlines but most target ranges fall between early November through April. Aim for at least 4-6 weeks before posted due dates for each specific award. Earlier better!

How do I find legitimate scholarships?

Always verify legitimacy and seek endorsements from guidance counselors before applying or paying fees. Scholarships.com, Fastweb, and Niche offer huge reputable databases of national and local scholarships to identify options.

How much should essays be customized?

While an essay may convey core strengths for you broadly, uniqueness matters hugely. Tailor content clearly demonstrating sincere passion and fit for factors individual scholarship providers prioritize versus generic just to meet word counts.

What makes an application stand out?

Flawless mechanics like essays meeting exact requirements, inclusion of all documents, tidy formatting and lack of errors provide foundations. Customization through matching achievements, aspirations, recommendation letters, and essay content directly to each scholarship’s unique priorities makes applications leap off the pile.

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