Whether it’s the first or last thing you complete, the cover letter included with your application for financial aid will make a lasting impression. And whether that impression is a positive one or not depends upon the time you spend crafting it. Your letter should speak eloquent volumes in few words. Keep the letter brief; the funding agency has to read through hundreds, or even thousands, of cover letters in addition to yours. Be sure to address it to the correct individual or committee, mention the particular award you are applying for, and of course, offer your thanks. Learn a little about the funding organization, and briefly mention a fact that lets them know you’ve done your homework.
Make several photocopies of paper applications or download master copies of online ones in order to compose multiple drafts until you are convinced you’ve done your best. Use a size 12 serif font, such as Times New Roman. Read the instructions carefully, and follow them exactly. You may be instructed to avoid stapling your materials-or you may be instructed to staple! Even a tiny error like ignoring those instructions could be enough to put your materials in the reject pile.
Be sure your name appears on each page. You may find a question or two on an application that do not apply to you. Rather than leaving it blank, write “Not Applicable” and explain in a few words why not. Get someone with good English skills to proofread your application for typos and grammatical errors. Careful attention to minor details can make a major difference.
Beware! Adding a photograph, article from the newspaper, poem, or other materials that haven’t been specifically requested is not a good idea. Doing so suggests that you can’t follow directions, you find yourself exceptionally fascinating, and the funder(s) don’t know what they’re doing and really meant to ask for this additional content. If you want your application to stand head and shoulders above the rest, focus your attention and creativity on crafting an essay that demonstrates serious thought and effort.
Always photocopy applications before submitting them. If you save a digital copy, back it up in multiple ways. Keep these materials in separate folders large enough so nothing is folded or bent. If your application is submitted in hard copy, it’s best to request a return receipt or send them through a company that allows you to track delivery. Remember that this doesn’t guarantee your package has arrived. Make sure that it has reached its destination with a telephone call or email a week or so later.