There are plenty of articles about finding scholarship money, filling out the applications and what mistakes to avoid when you do that. There are far fewer sources of help, however, for understanding the application process itself and dealing with the assumptions and mindsets that lead scholarship judges to pick one certain applicant over another. Here are some tips for approaching the application process with an understanding of the human side of the equation.
If it were simply a matter of the best students with the highest grades, the best test scores and the most class presidencies getting all the best scholarships, there would be no reason for any other students to bother applying. But even a brief look at the reality of how college scholarships work in this country will show that this isn’t what happens. There are many more variables in the application process than grades and test scores.
First of all, colleges, corporations, trade associations, labor unions and all the other sources of college scholarship funds have experts in the fields of education, psychology and business advising them on the scholarship awards process. They all know that there are more “kinds” of intelligence that the type that gets good grades and does well on tests. There are also many talents and abilities that show up in ways that cannot be graded in the traditional way.
Therefore, each scholarship fund has its own priorities, its own scale by which it measures students and its own criteria for making its choices. Of course, there is a lot of overlap among them, and the basics remain true to a great extent – for instance, that it is better to have good grades in addition to any special qualifications and abilities than just one or the other. However, there are a lot of ways that scholarship judges form an opinion of a student, and it is important for applicants to understand their mindsets as much as possible.
It is very important, therefore, for students to do their “due diligence” and investigate the scholarship funds they are thinking of applying to. For a career as a graphic designer, for example, it would be important for the student to show a portfolio of original work, a history of internships and part-time jobs at design studios and a record of volunteering their services to local churches, non-profit agencies or small businesses. For students hoping to enter the medical sciences, similar volunteer work as well as special-credit course study would be important for judges to see.
A student has to use a great deal of common sense in the application process, understanding that judges for the various scholarships are interested in not just school performance, but the student as a member of their community – and a potential member of a particular college and professional community, too. This is where questions of citizenship, character and commitment can tip the scales in favor of a student who may have slightly lower grades or test scores, and against a high-GPA student without a well-rounded application.
The scholarship application process is not a horse race, a chess match or a ball game. Awards do not necessarily go to the student with the “highest numbers.” Judges want to ensure that they are choosing the students best suited to a certain college and course of study, and ones most likely to come out the other side of college ready to succeed in a particular career. In this sense, understanding the application process means understanding what is important to the judges. More often than not, it means the well-balanced, thoroughly prepared applicant will be a better fit than a one-dimensional high achiever. As Aristotle said, aim for balance in all things.