How Scholarship Judges Choose Winners

A common question I get from students and parents is how to win a scholarship. I have provided many tips that can get students noticed, but unfortunately not every qualified student can win every scholarship they have sent their application. I have served on quite a few scholarship committees and I’ll share what the review and decision process can look like behind the scenes. While all scholarships decision-making will be a little different, many of the steps will be similar for a lot of scholarships you will consider sending your application.

Quick Review

When your application comes in, a scholarship judge or someone the committee has designated will take a quick look at your scholarship application to make sure you qualify.

  • Do you meet the residency requirement?
  • Do you meet the GPA requirement?
  • Do you meet the major requirement?
  • Did you submit all application materials that are required?

If you do not meet the eligibility criteria, your application will likely be moved to the “no” pile and will not be reviewed any further.

The quick review may go a little further and they will look to make sure your application is neat and filled out properly. Some things that can get your application moved to the “no” pile includes:

  • Not answering all of the questions.
  • Spelling errors.
  • Messy application. Many applications are now submitted online, but physical applications can look messy. Messiness can include handwriting that is hard to read, stains on the paper, etc.

Quick Review – Second Look

If you’ve made it through the quick review, your application will move to the scholarship judges’ desks. However, there may still be thousands of applications and many scholarship committees do not have the capability to spend a lot of time going over all of the applications. Therefore, scholarship judges will quickly skim through the applications on their desk. Because scholarship decisions are usually subjective, it is hard to say specifically what will help your application move forward. However, some of these things will help your application move on to the next phase of the decision-making process.

  • If you are required to list your extracurricular activities, an impressive list of extracurricular activities can get you moved forward. Anyone can join all of the clubs at your school, but a student who takes on some leadership roles in a club or two will typically be seen as more impressive by scholarship judges. Anyone can do the required volunteer hours, but a student who shows a passion for a specific cause will typically be more impressive to scholarship judges.
  • Essays with a catch will keep them reading. If the first few lines your essay is boring, scholarship judges may not want to keep reading. Your essay needs to be interesting and different from other essays, especially in the first few sentences.
  • Your essay needs to stand out. When the scholarship has a specific question scholarship applicants must answer, judges will receive many scholarship essays that will sound exactly the same. It is sometimes better to think a little outside the box when coming up with your response to a scholarship essay question. Essays that stand out will help you move ahead in the process.

The Final Cut

Scholarship judges will have their favorites and will take those applicants to the table to make the final decision. Many scholarships will have multiple judges on the scholarship committee and the committee will start having a discussion on who deserves to win the scholarship. Again, because decisions can be subjective, each scholarship judge might have different levels of importance for the things that are included on the application. For example, one judge may think activities outside of the classroom are the most important, while another judge might find the essay the most compelling part of the application.

The committee will continue narrowing down the applicant pool until they have the winner or winners of their scholarship. There will be a lot of discussion among the judges based on who deserves the scholarship. Some things they will say about who they ultimately choose as their winner may include:

  • “This is the most impressive applicant.” The applicant has great grades, great extracurricular activities, and a great essay. The applicant impressed the committee and rose above the competition.
  • “This applicant will be the best representative for our scholarship.” In addition to being impressive, something about the applicant is a good representative for the company or organization. This could mean that the scholarship committee was also looking for someone who shares their values.
  • “We really like this applicant.” The student was impressive just like many of the applicants. But, something in the application made the committee really like them. It could be their story, how they overcame an obstacle, or their dream. Whatever it was, the committee just really liked the applicant.

It is hard being a scholarship judge! So many deserving students apply for scholarships, but there is only so much scholarship money to go around. Most scholarship committees do not take their job lightly and spend a lot of time and energy on the selection process.

Hopefully by learning what the scholarship decision process looks like behind the scenes, it can help you become a better applicant in the future.

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4 Comments on “How Scholarship Judges Choose Winners

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