I have been serving on scholarship committees for quite a few years. Most recently I have journeyed over to collecting applications and then allocating them to others to score.
No matter what side of the track I have been on, I have learned some truly invaluable lessons that I wanted to share with parents and students, particularly Native students, as it relates to scholarship applications!
- Points. Most scholarship scoring works on a point system. A certain number of points are allocated for various parts of the application. The better you do, the more points you get. If you do not submit that particular piece, you get zero points. Pretty simple!
- Y’all Lazy. I am always astounded at the sheer amount of applicants who simply turn in partial applications. Almost ALWAYS ruining their chance of receiving a quality score. This is particularly sad when you KNOW the student could have submitted a strong application. Ensure that you review the application requirements in depth and submit ALL parts.
- Blank Spaces. Honey, this is the most annoying. There should be NO blank spaces on an application unless you absolutely positively have no idea what the answer is. In a recent scholarship review, there was a space and points awarded for students to list their “major or intended area of study”…. a vast majority of students left it blank therefore losing points!
- Optional. If you know me, then you know my take on the word “optional”…it is NOT optional. DO IT! If it is “optional” for you to submit a supplemental letter, you should absolutely do it. I have seen this serve as a deal breaker between two scholarship contestants. As a scorer, I think, who took the additional time to truly tell me why they need this funding and what it means to them.
- Deadlines. Some of you all love to really push the envelope on this one. Beware of your deadlines. Submitting an application late almost always automatically eliminates you from the competition. I know, I know, this one is harsh but it is the real world. Do not wait until the last minute to try and get things submitted. Get started early, stay on top of things and make sure they are in on time.
- Your mama wrote this. This one is my favorite. Our Native mama’s go above and beyond to ensure their students receive the absolute best. So yes, I can tell when it is your handwriting. I can tell when you wrote the essay. I can tell. While I appreciate the effort, it says to me that your student may not even be interested and may not use the money effectively for their education. Parents, empower your students to take the lead when they pursue higher education. There is a fine line between empowering them and doing the work for them. We want to help them become independent. But we need your help!
- Presentation Matters. Have you ever been looking for one piece of paper, but you have all these papers jumbled up and out of order and you get sort of frustrated because you can’t find exactly what you are looking for? Yeah, same. Cause some of y’all submit MESS! No, you do not get a score for neatness but whew, imagine ensuring that your paperwork is in order and easy to find and your scorer has a smile on their face and they’re genuinely pleased with how your application looks. Beware of how you are submitting things. Most scholarship applications require multiple parts. Put them together neatly and in a logical order. Make things easy to find. Y’all, I had a student submit a folder with tabs of all her documents categorized and notated. Whew, chile. If I could have, I would have given her all the money! She made it so simple to find things and score them.
- Get involved early! I want to take some time on this point right here to truly stress it. Scholarship applications truly value community and American Indian community involvement. So many times I have seen students truly struggle to fill these spots because they spent their high school years not involved. These activities garner tons of points on applications and also allow our students to write unique essays. So what does this mean? Get involved in community service work. Our churches do TONS of events each year that our youth can get involved with. Get involved on your own. Students can volunteer with local organizations. Lead a clothing or food drive. Get involved culturally. Our American Indian community has countless ways for students to take the lead! Get involved & lead in your local Native American youth council. Get involved in a state or national level with NCNAYO or UNITY. Volunteer at your local powwow. Attend tribal council meetings. Volunteer at tribal events. The list goes on and on. Make sure you write down all of the amazing things that you do so that you have a list ready to go your senior year! This year, I opened up a student’s application and she had all of her community involvement detailed by name, activity, and date. I was so impressed! She even attached a resume that had everything she had done during high school detailed out. Sista girl showed outtttt and of course, she won the competition!
No matter the size of the scholarship, you do not want to lose out on FREE money because you made simple mistakes. Take your time. Get started early. And give it 100%!