The Selection Process

You’ve done the best job you could of applying for college financial aid. What should you expect from the results of all this effort? Who judges these applications, anyway?

Judging is ultimately dependent upon a number of factors. Each foundation or agency has its own requirements. If you don’t fit the profile, your application will be rejected. And unless you completed every line of the application neatly and succinctly, used grammatically correct English, and followed instructions perfectly, you will probably be eliminated.

The first round of judging is all about elimination. Between eight and nine out of ten applications are rejected in the first round. It sounds staggering, but remember that they are the ones with the money, and you’re just one of the many people asking for it. In the initial round, the judges are looking for a reason, even a picky one, to cut the stack of applications down to a reasonable number. In fact, the first round may not be evaluated by judges at all. Volunteers or office employees may check all entries against a list of criteria.

If you didn’t meet all of them, you’re eliminated. Did you write “their” when you meant “they’re”? Did you punctuate with exclamation marks, boldface any text, or use a font that’s hard to read? Out you go! This is true even if you have a grade point average so close to perfect that you might as well have wings. It’s true if you spent 90 hours a week volunteering in the community. At this early stage in the selection process, those things simply do not matter. Here’s a clever, and effective, proofreading trick. Begin at the bottom of the last page, and read your application backwards. You may be surprised with how many misspellings and incorrect usages you discover.

The second round is all about ranking. The judges, who may be paid employees or volunteers, will look at grade point average, quality of writing, resume, and everything else on their list of criteria. An organization that gives several hundred small scholarships will not scrutinize to the degree that one giving $20,000 will scrutinize. However, at this point they’re trying to make a determination based in large part upon the person they perceive at the other end of the application. Does your essay speak with a true voice about real issues? Is it sincere or sentimental? When it comes right down to it, for your application to stand out, you will need to have done a stand-out job. Attention to detail, effort and your real desire for an education will show!