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Johnson: What makes a good scholarship application?

It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words. But how much is a thousand words worth? Well as it turns out, a thousand words can be worth a lot more than you ever thought possible. Try $2, $5, $10, or even $20,000 dollars for these seemingly few words.

This is the world of scholarships, where personal skills and experiences can pay off big for students seeking college admission.

For many scholarships, people have to simply submit information about themselves and what they do in and outside of their school life. The great thing is there are hundreds of them out there for people to take advantage of. That being said, many students don’t know where to start, or how they should go about applying for them.

For many, scholarships students will be competing with each other across the city, state or even the country. How will you stand out and get selected?

According to, a leading site for college help, the best thing to do is “to not sell yourself short.”

Don’t get in the habit of saying you’ll never be chosen out of the pool of applicants. There is a good chance to be selected, and if not, there are hundreds more scholarships out there.

The next piece of advice from is to find scholarships that apply to you. There are many specialized scholarships, ranging from specific majors to specific career interests. If there is something you love and you excel at, get a scholarship for it. This way there are fewer applicants, fewer hurdles and often the essays will be easier for you to write because you have knowledge about the topic for that scholarship.

There are usually several parts to a scholarship. For example, the Chevy Scholar scholarship requires its applicants to list their community and volunteer activities, academic achievement and extracurricular activities. In addition, there is also a 250- to 500-word essay asking students to share why they think they deserve the scholarship. In this instance, a couple aspects of your life and a 500-word essay could secure you $5,000.

It is always key to follow directions. Often times, if directions aren’t followed, and all the necessary components of the scholarship are covered, the scholarship is discarded. Don’t fall into that trap and always double-check the directions. Some scholarships have basic requirements as well, ranging from being a certain grade in school to having your family make under a certain income level.

The next piece of advice is to organize. Follow a plan, identify your strengths and develop an outline of what you want contained in the scholarship. You will need to highlight aspects you excel at, whether that is community service, sports or being in an extracurricular activity in school. Once you are organized, get on it!

Putting off a scholarship is very dangerous to do. Budget your time and save enough time in advance to have people review, and read over your application. As a general suggestion, finish the application at least two weeks in advance to have other people review it and send it in one week from the deadline. This ensures that it will get delivered on time, and that there are no delays with mail or email delivery. Appropriate people to have review the application include English teachers and school counselors.

Perhaps the most difficult angle of a scholarship application is knowing what content use. The best advice that I can give are three simple words once passed on to me: scholar, leader and athlete. I always focus on these three areas when starting scholarships, and it has saved me lots of time and frustration.

As a scholar, highlight your academic strengths. Point out any academic awards you have won, any classes you have excelled at, SAT and ACT test scores, and any academic pursuits you have. Another great thing to add is being a member of the National Honor Society. Many times, extracurricular activities like National Honor Society can give you a leg up on your competition.

As a leader, focus on quality, not quantity. This is according to the book “How to Get Into the Top Colleges: 3rd Edition” by Richard Montauk and Krista Klein.

According to the book: “Because quality over quantity is what counts when listing to your activities, being part of 12 different groups or teams will not mean a thing to the admissions committee if your involvement in each is minimal. Admissions committees frown upon ‘serial joiners’ who do not amount to much in any of their organizations. Instead, you need to show that you play an important role in what you do.”

Basically, narrow your interests. Instead of being in 12 clubs, be an officer in one or two of those clubs. Chances are, you will spend just as much time being an officer in the one as being a member in all 12.

As an athlete, again focus on quality. Admissions officers will be more impressed with being captain of one team rather than a participant of six. Strive for those leadership positions and make an impact on your team, school or community.

Another important aspect of scholarships is service and volunteering. They usually don’t ask for much, but any volunteer hours you can grab will pay off. A very important thing to keep in mind is how the volunteering affected you, and how it made you a better person and leader. Don’t volunteer for the sake of scholarships. Volunteer because you truly want to make a difference. If you start your hours with that mindset, you will realize that volunteer hours are not a burden at all.

Lastly, don’t waste time. Even if you are waiting on a reply from a pending scholarship, it’s not a bad idea to start the next one. Usually, the formats are similar so keep copies of that first scholarship for your records.

It’s not too late or too early to start on scholarships. They can be received all four years of high school, and even in college. It doesn’t matter what circumstance you are in, or if you don’t think that you qualify. Constantly look for new scholarship opportunities, because you might not know how valuable your thousand words really are.

Johnson is a junior at Dickinson High School, where he is the Student Council vice president and is involved in several extracurricular activities.