Scholarship Screwup #5: Ignore the World Outside High School

by Judge Josh on July 22, 2009

The average scholarship applicant lists a truckload of school-sanctioned activities in which he/she has participated over the four years of high school. Sports teams, clubs, projects, competitions, etc. This can only be a good thing, right? After all, that’s what your parents and counselors have been telling you all along — the more stuff you participate in, clubs you join, activities you do, etc., the more well-rounded student you appear to be. And that’s all true, but it’s not the end of the story.

These people are trapped in high school. You are not.

Frankly, school-related activities on their own just aren’t enough to grab a scholarship committee’s attention anymore. In addition to these common activities, you’ve got to go beyond the high school stuff if you want to grab the big scholarship bucks. Here’s why: The Internet has opened scholarship opportunities up to thousands of applicants who wouldn’t have been competing with you for this scholarship 10 years ago. And that means the less unique your essay is, the more likely it is that you’ll be passed over for the scholarship.

And about 99% of the application essays that students are writing these days talk about nothing but common high-school stuff: sports teams, clubs, groups — basically, I’m talking about any group they take a picture of for the yearbook. If there’s nothing but “high school stuff” in your essay, it’ll just be part of one big blur to the scholarship committee, and it’ll end up in the trash. They see literally hundreds of essays come in with that same stuff in them every single day. Not even a scroll of AP classes and high SAT scores are going to set you significantly apart from your competitors.

So does that mean you’re a loser, you and your four years of science club, soccer team, dance team, school play and varsity band? Of course not — that’s all great stuff and you should be glad you did it. But on its own, it’s not going to win you much scholarship money. The cold reality of the Internet age is that you’ve got to go beyond the ordinary to win big money — and, sadly, four years chock full of school activities is now considered ordinary.


You’ll have to dig for something deeper, better, more unique.

How, you say? Keep your pants on…that’s tomorrow’s topic.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

ugoji kalu July 28, 2009 at 9:46 am

i intend to study abroad for quality education and technical knowhow, it will help me to concentrate and be focused as a boy living in refegee camp without any thing to show in life i need a better world and rightfull educational background for nmy better future thanks

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Rebekah August 5, 2009 at 5:59 pm

You would think starting up an anti-rape campaign would be unique and different, for my itty bitty town it is, for those giving away scholarships? not so much, in fact its a subject no one wants to touch. Scholarships are out there for those of domestic violence, but what about the rape survivors? Its just as serious and less resources out there for the men and women who need the little boost to get started on the right track again. I started a campaign 3 years ago for the men and women like me, i fought to over come it, and i’ve been encouraging others to do so as well, i’m reaching out. But just like the police on my case, no one’s coming near it with a 10 foot pole if rape is the topic.

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Shiu Kong Ng August 5, 2009 at 8:21 pm

Pictures for clubs, or any activity were just some old stuff for me because I have been out of high school for quite a long time. Anyway I still like taking pictures if I have time do so. This is because some pictures will in one day bring people happy memory to thier life especially when they can only sit there to do nothing else.

Truly speaking when there can be more than one person to apply for same scholarship, the one who can give more evidence to show this/her need of that will surely win it. If a person just completed the application with less information to support then he/she may have less chance to gain that scholarship. However there can be some instance that the reason supporting the application is so strong that the applicant does not have to make long story to convince examination board to approve that application. This is what people say as good luck! Right?

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Tori August 6, 2009 at 9:08 am

I can’t believe people actually do these things…

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Salih August 6, 2009 at 11:10 am

The scholarship committee probobly want something to not have used to had to seeing up to now.But if this appliaction essay will express a true on telling or be the consisting of words that have not an interest on a true,being related the prior wroten question.
geting a reality on everything and living like them should,according to me, be a living ideal regartless of whatever on.people who live as a idealist by their’s own reality in their life phases always get on everything to everything,working passion and stabilty in their life.
I want to live every shape of the life by being honesty and reliable ,rather than those getting the meaningless and inappropriate shapes on lies.

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Pierre Vladimir August 6, 2009 at 11:50 am

i just want to get a scholarship because i don’t get possibility to pay university

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HUDSON JACOB August 6, 2009 at 1:52 pm

I’V BEEN LOOKING FOR AN OPPORTUNITY TO GET MY LIFE REALLY STARTS, WE ALL KNOW THAT EDUCATION IS THE ONLY ONE WAY OUT, SO NOW ADAYS IF YOU DON’T HAVE A GOOD EDUCATION LIFE WILL BE SO DIFICULT THAT YOU CAN’T IMAGINE.I REALLY NEED AND WANT TO GREW UP.

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Marinda August 6, 2009 at 4:57 pm

What to say? Where to start? Working three jobs to pay the bills which includes my education. I have wanted to start so many projects but when would I have the time? I want to be in this club, and that club. Here is the deal….I got a late start in college and I am paying for it now. I want to help those who don’t know how to help themselves. I want to work with the incarcerated. Women and men get lost within the system and I believe I have the tools to help those who want to help themselves but I have to have the knowledge/education. All the clubs in the world couldn’t have prepared me for what I want to do…..

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Chi August 6, 2009 at 11:15 pm

My children are adults now, except for my seventeen year old; who is a young adult, but I’m going back to college because I need to be able to pursue a field that has a lot of potential. As a single mom, I’ve been struggling to make ends meet all my life. And I don’t believe that I have to continue on living this way; poor, when I have not utilized all my abilities. If not for myself alone, I feel I must set a good example for my daughter (17) while she is still living at home, and explore other possiblities for improving my life-style. Thanks for all your helpful tips on scholarships, and I hope to receive one soon, so some of the pressure of paying for rent and the bills can be eased while I focus on receiving my associates degree in business

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Josh Barsch August 10, 2009 at 10:55 am

Rebekah: It certainly sounds like a noble enterprise to me…go for it!

Marinda and Chi: You’ve go it. You sure as hell don’t need clubs and societies and activities to convince scholarship judges that you have what it takes to succeed. Best of luck to you both!

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Carolyn August 15, 2009 at 11:06 am

hmmm–dig deeper–I guess that is something that I’ll have to think about–Thank you for the note on that, school is my whole life and thinking of things to do outside it is difficult, but now I know that I have to look.

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Lois August 15, 2009 at 7:20 pm

I find it interesting that someone decides to take the “brutally honest” approach when it comes to telling kids why they have been rejected for a scholarship
but when it comes to advertising a scholarship in the first place you guys make it seem as easy as pie to get it
too late
kids usually apply for scholarships when when high school is practically over for them and they are looking ahead to college
what am I supposed to do with this information now?

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Jose August 16, 2009 at 10:36 am

As I see josh we have to lie and trick the judges, but we shouldn’t talk about family, grades, activities, any of those things. What can we talk about?

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Anonymous July 13, 2010 at 5:46 pm

I enjoy this except part of it I disagree with, now a days students go above and beyond as members of these clubs and teams. If that doesn’t catch someone mind then I’m not sure anything would. These clubs and activities have presidents and leaders that come from them. That sure seems like it is important to me.

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Virginia July 14, 2010 at 6:56 pm

Okay? Soo do we even have a chance againist all these people from other countries!

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Anonymous July 14, 2010 at 7:11 pm

I’ve applied to many scholarships. I don’t know what else to do. I am definitely going to be rejected because my story compared to others stories are going to be seen as nothing. No one has had an easy life. But it just really sucks to go on the scholarship website and read the winning essay and see that because the winner was from another country and had to walk 20 miles to get to school and hunt for their own food to avoid starving, they get the award. And this has been the case in all my scholarships I have applied to. And believe me I am not rich, my family is not even considered working class. My life is not good, but of course comparing it to the stories of children who have to hunt and gather their food, walk 10 miles to get to school, and have ten brothers and sisters they have to raise, my life is just fine and dandy. no scholarships or any help financially = no college education, for me.

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lyssa October 30, 2010 at 1:29 am

Thank you very much for another wonderful write ups. Actually I am not that Sporty.hahaha. But I really wish to become a famous volleyball player. But this is not my very Goal. I really want to finish my studies with your assistance. My income from selling pastries at my vacant time and the salary of my father from his work is not enough to support my tuition fees and buy maintenance medication for my mom. I really wish to become a nurse to help my family as well as people who are in need especially those who have low-income, whom they can’t send their children to school because of “money”. I wish to become their heroine someday.I know their are a lot of applicants. But I will try my very best to become one of your scholars. If you would give me a chance, I promise to help other people who are in need if I will become a professional nurse someday, who have a stable job. I am begging for your help. I really want to finish my studies.please be my hero/heroine. It would be a great help. Thank you. May Allah bless us all.

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lilian njambi Kunyiha January 24, 2011 at 1:07 am

In high school here in kenya it is a rule that one has to be asscociated in one club and I was very active in table tennis club , Christian union , and also I was a head girl in highschool and also a councellor. This clubs forms part of what I am aspiring to become in future i.e councelling . I would ring to reach out to youths, Poelpe suffering from Hiv, orphans and visiting homes for the aged and destitute home so do hope that I will impress the judges and offer me a scholarship

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