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3 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Applied For Scholarships

Posted by how2winscholarships on April 11, 2014 at 8:55 AM

Today's post is a guest post from Jose (JR) Vazquez, The College Money Man.  Enjoy!

Applying for scholarships is a process that takes time and energy and comes with a learning curve. No book can give you 100% insight on this topic, and I always encourage parents and students to search everywhere for all the data worth having on how to get it right. But if I had to choose three things I wish I had known when I started, it would be these:

  • Don’t Recycle; Repurpose
  • Find the Right Recommender, for the Right Scholarship
  • Let Others Proofread Your Essay

Don’t Recycle; Repurpose!

It is often said that the essay you took hours to write can be used multiple times with different scholarships. I read that as well when I first started. However, what I didn't know (mainly because I didn't take the time to check further), was that scholarship essays do not all want the same things.

Many scholarships do ask for the pro-form a standard essay: Life-Story, Accomplishments, Goals, 1-3-1 format. However, some require summarization in under 500 words. Others want only your goals, or how your experiences led you to your major/career path of choice. You have to be ready to keep your main essay on standby, and truly tailor it to the scholarship you are applying for. Often it can be as simple as moving around the order of sentences, or removing unnecessary content. Whatever you do, never use the same essay, the same way, every time without some alterations. It’s not about recycling your essays; it's about re-purposing to the needs of that scholarships.

Find The Right Recommender, For The Right Scholarship

Let be honest: Not all recommenders are equal in the eyes of others. You may think your Pastor is a stand up guy and that a recommendation from him is gold.  For some essays that may be true. But think about this; imagine for a moment you want to apply to a scholarship from an organization with a more secular audience. Let’s say, it is a business organization that focuses on offering scholarships to people in marketing fields. The letter of recommendation sent needs to focus on your aptitude in school, in business, and your work ethic. That’s pretty straight forward right? However, now you have to pick the recommender.

It’s important to keep in mind, that it doesn't matter that your local Pastor is well respected in the community. If a letter of recommendation is written by both that Pastor, and the President of the local chamber of commerce, and they match word for word, which one do you think the judges would give preference to?  We often forget our audience will read more than our essays. Even after you take the time to tailor your essay to your audience, its important that the letters of recommendation back up and support your essays and stay on message.

Let Others Help Proofread Your Essay

The only thing I can guarantee anyone reading this now is that the first draft was not perfect. Nor was the second, nor third drafts. To be honest, it could still be mistake ridden right now. However, I have far less at stake here than I do when applying for a scholarship. I cannot tell you how many hours I spent combing through my essays and materials looking for typos, only to find them a week or more after the application was submitted! My mistake was in not having the humility to trust someone else to read my work! I just couldn't abide the idea of being criticized. The problem was, is I didn't see the value in allowing others who cared about my success get involved. Boy did I screw that up! I can't imagine how many scholarships I didn't win based on minor errors.

I have literally sat in rooms with scholarship judges as they read essays. Both as a judge, and as a fly on the wall as a part of a psychology project I did as an undergraduate. Trust me when I say judges see every error applicants make in fine detail. Nothing escapes them. So when you or your college bound teen writes their essay, be sure to check it, then let two to three others do so as well. It’s better to compete on the merits, than on grammar.

A Little Wiser, A Lot Older

Now that I am lot older and little wiser, I learned the hard way the importance of these three lessons. Once I did however the aid came in like a flood in my Sophomore,  junior, senior, and graduate years. If you simply take the lessons I learned the hard way, and apply them from the start, you or your college bound teen may have better results than I did the first time around!

Jose "JR" Vasquez (AKA The College Money Man), earned three degrees without paying for them out of pocket. With over $250,000 in financial aid and scholarships to his credit, JR decided to take the lessons he learned and distill them on his blog at In addition he hosts the College Money Man Podcast, which is released every Wednesday on iTunes and Stitcher Radio.  If you have any questions, feel free to check him out at his ASK JR page, and leave a comment.

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