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Five Scholarship Myths

Five Scholarship Myths

Don't let these works of fiction keep you from winning awards.

By Ben Kaplan

February 03, 2013

I’m about to dispel five widespread myths about winning scholarships. Myths that have, unfortunately, prevented many deserving students from winning money for. By learning the truth behind these myths, you’ll gain a better understanding of the essential “rules” of the college scholarships game.

MYTH #1: “Only students with high academic achievement win merit scholarships.”

The Real Story: Scholarships are awarded to students with all sorts of talents and interests. In fact, many of the best scholarship programs are designed for students who devote time and energy to such diverse fields as music and the arts, foreign languages, community service, science, leadership, writing and oratory, to name just a few. Typically, these programs are entirely “grade blind”—meaning that grades are not used as a judging criteria.

Furthermore, many scholarships that do take into account grade point averages (GPAs) only use such quantitative measures as preliminary cutoff points. For instance, some scholarship contests specify that applicants have a minimum 2.0 GPA. Once you’ve cleared this minimum bar, grades don’t impact your chances of winning.

Finally, even when GPA is used as an evaluation factor, it’s only one aspect of your application. Scholarship programs aren’t myopic: They want to recognize students with all sorts of achievements and backgrounds. They realize that applicants have much more to offer than simply the grades that appear on their transcripts.

MYTH #2: “Scholarship applicants should seek to compile the longest list of extracurricular activities.”

The Real Story: As is the case in many other aspects of life, winning scholarships is about quality, not quantity. Some people think that to win these awards you must devote your entire high school career to participating in extracurricular activities. On the contrary, most scholarship winners distinguish themselves by the devotion they have demonstrated to a particular activity or activities, rather than by the sheer quantity of their involvement. Winning scholarships isn’t about having the longest list of extracurriculars. It’s about communicating who you are and what you care about through the activities you participate in and enjoy.

MYTH #3: “Scholarship contests are conducted on a level playing field.”

The Real Story: Each scholarship contest has its own biases. This is not to say that scholarship judging is unfair. Rather, it’s just that each scholarship program is looking for students with particular qualities. The subjective process of valuing certain qualities over other ones tilts the playing field far from level. In this way, the ideal application you submit for one scholarship contest may, in fact, place you out of the money when submitted to another. Because of these biases, it’s essential to define each scholarship’s “ideal applicant” and to emphasize personal attributes consistent with this definition.

MYTH #4: “Applying for scholarships is just like applying to college.”

The Real Story: Actually, scholarship contests demand a modified approach from the college admissions process because scholarship contests are characterized by substantially more head-to-head competition. While college admissions officers compare students primarily to a standard, scholarship contests directly compare students to one another. Because of this more competitive environment, students who devise creative techniques to stand out from the crowd have a distinct advantage. In this way, a good scholarship application (which distinguishes you from everyone else) will likely be a good college application—but the reverse is not necessarily true.

MYTH #5: “The track record you’ve already accumulated determines whether you’ll win scholarships.”

The Real Story: What you do after you decide to apply for scholarships is just as important as the record you have already accumulated. This holds true regardless of how much time you have until a particular scholarship application is due. Content strategies, for instance, increase your chances of winning by adding depth and breadth to your existing record. Likewise, packaging strategies help make your application stand out from the crowd by creating a cohesive message that highlights talents, communicates passions, and emphasizes potential. So don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your die has already been cast. What you do now will make all the difference in the world.

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