Our Top 5 Scholarship Tips for Southeast Kansas Students

It’s scholarship season again in Southeast Kansas! We announced that our 2022 scholarship applications had become available in late January. Today, we’re publishing a series of scholarship tips that we hope will help area students as they complete their scholarship applications, whether ours or anyone else’s.

These tips come from CFSEK Program Coordinator Sherri Stephens, who has run our scholarships program and worked with review committees to award scholarships for the better part of a decade. In short, she knows what she’s talking about, and if you are applying for one of our scholarships, you would be well-advised to listen to her suggestions.

5.) Make your application easy to review

First, let’s talk about how you format and put together your application. Occasionally, we’ll receive an application that has been assembled without much care. The application itself may come in as a PDF, but the essay may be a Word file, and attachments might even come in as photos or screenshots of the relevant documents. This makes it harder for us—and for our reviewers—to view the application as a whole.

What can you do instead? First, convert everything you’re submitting to PDF. Second, merge those files into a single PDF document. Finally, review the merged file and make sure everything looks right. Is it easy to read through the information? Does it follow a logical order? You should take the burden of work on yourself rather than expecting the scholarship sponsor or reviewers to clean up a disjointed application for you.

Man looking at a laptop screen through a magnifying glass. Text overlay: "Five: Make your application easy to review."

Bonus tip: Choose the right font and font size

Sure, you could submit your application using a silly font like Comic Sans or a cutesy handwriting font like Mistral, but you shouldn’t. Fonts like those are distracting and make it harder for reviewers to read your application.

Unless the scholarship instructions require a different font, use a basic font like Calibri (Microsoft Word’s default), Arial (Google Docs’ default), or Times New Roman. And make sure the text is large enough to be readable.

4.) Make your application memorable

Your application will be just one of many that reviewers will be reading over. After they’re done reviewing all those applications, what about yours will still stand out to them? Here are a few suggestions to help you make your scholarship application linger in reviewers’ minds:

  • Have a reason for applying beyond financial need. Every student who applies for a scholarship could really use the money. So if that’s the only reason to apply that you mention, your application can get lost in the mix.
  • Pay attention to the spirit of the scholarship. Every scholarship has a reason for its existence. All our scholarships include hints about that reason in the scholarship overview. If you can tie your application into that reason, then you’ll help your application stand out from the crowd.
  • Tell a story. You should think of your scholarship application as an exercise in creative nonfiction, not technical writing. Use humor. Tug at the heartstrings. You’re not a robot, and you’re not writing for robots, so tell a story in your application that brings our reviewers into your world.
  • Include a headshot. If you have senior photos, you should have a headshot. If you don’t have a headshot already, ask a friend or family member to take a picture of you from the shoulders up outside or in a well-lit room in front of a plain background. Scale the photo down so it can fit alongside the text in your application; there’s no need for a full-page image!
  • If re-applying, make appropriate changes. If you’re re-applying for a scholarship that you received in the past, don’t just submit the same application as you used before. Update it. Talk about your accomplishments since you first applied. Note your appreciation for having received the scholarship in the first place. Do something to differentiate subsequent applications.
Light bulb with text overlay: "Four. Make your application memorable."

Bonus tip: Be honest

We said you should approach your application as creative nonfiction. That means you need to be honest in what you say about yourself. Telling a story doesn’t mean telling a lie. Plus, with how small Southeast Kansas communities tend to be, it’s likely our reviewers already know something about you and can spot any dishonest claims. Then your application will be memorable for all the wrong reasons!

3.) Write well

You’ve probably noticed by now that scholarship applications require a lot of writing. Writing well is another way to make your scholarship application stand out to the review committee.

Here are a few tips to help: Use the active voice. Prefer small words you’re comfortable with over big words you’re not sure about. Write short (but complete) sentences.

Review and edit your work. Is it neat? Is it organized? Take advantage of your word processor’s built-in spelling and grammar checks. If you see a squiggly green or red line under something you’ve written, double-check it to make sure there’s not a problem.

Bonus tip: Don’t use acronyms

Acronyms can make it easier for you, the writer, to refer to a business or school. But they can make it just as hard for a reviewer to follow what you’re talking about. Consequently, you should prefer to spell out the name of a business or school that you refer to in your application. As we mentioned above, you should take the burden of work on yourself instead of placing it on the review committee.

2.) Don’t wait until the last minute

A scholarship’s deadline is the last day you can submit your application—not the first. You should work on your application well in advance of the deadline. That gives you time to review and edit it.

It also gives you time to ask your parents, teachers, or friends to review your application for you. Often an outside perspective can improve your writing. And it’s usually easier for someone else to spot a typo or grammatical error in your writing than it is for you to do so—after all, you know what you meant to say.

But don’t just work on the scholarship in advance of the deadline; you should submit your application early, too. Why? Because here at the Community Foundation, Sherri gives every application a quick review as it comes in to make sure applicants have included all required information and attachments. If a student’s application is incomplete, she’ll contact the student and request the missing information or attachment—but only if there’s still time!

An hourglass with the top nearly empty of sand. Text overlay: "Two. Don't wait until the last minute."

Bonus tip: Prioritize

If you’re not a good fit for a scholarship, don’t apply to it. Instead, spend more time on the scholarships that better match your qualifications.

1.) Follow the instructions carefully

Every scholarship application has its own set of instructions. Among other things, these rules specify:

  • Who is eligible to apply;
  • What information is required;
  • What attachments must be included; and
  • How to submit the application, to whom, and by what date.

Failing to meet one or more of these requirements can result in your application being rejected without being reviewed. In fact, according to Sherri, CFSEK has to reject a handful of applications every year because they come in late or are missing necessary information.

You’re already taking time and putting in the effort to complete these scholarship applications, so it’s well worth the little bit of extra time and effort to read and follow the scholarship’s instructions.

Archaic map compass. Text overlay: "One. Follow the instructions carefully."

Bonus tip: Follow up on post-award requirements

The scholarship process doesn’t end when you’re notified of your award. For any of our scholarships, you’ll need to submit a scholarship agreement before we can disburse your funds. Plus, you may have to meet certain requirements to qualify for second-semester payments.

So, read your award letter carefully and make a note of any future deadlines. Then, make sure you meet them!

What are your scholarship tips?

Those are the scholarship tips we think Southeast Kansas students need to know, but what do you think? If you’ve been through the scholarship process before, let us know what tips you have by commenting on our Facebook page or tweeting at @CFSEK on Twitter. If we hear from enough people, we’ll publish a follow-up post on our blog. So please tell us what you think!

Last updated February 23, 2022.