Scholarship Screwup #7: Give No Details

Over the past two days, I’ve written about how school activities alone aren’t enough to win you scholarships, and that worried some of you quite a bit. Fear not, friends: today we’re continuing yesterday’s discussion of how to beef up those scholarship applications and cash in on the mistakes of your classmates. Here’s a huge but simple tip:

Brevity is good. Withholding key details is bad.

Talk about what you’ve actually done – not just the groups you’ve joined. Sure, you were in your church’s youth group. And you can put “Four years in my church youth group” in your application if you want. But if you do that, you’re not telling me much. Since I haven’t been to your church, I don’t know what your church’s youth group does. For all I know, you could be building full-scale models of Noah’s Ark and doing research at the Dead Sea, or you could all be taking a one-hour nap every Sunday. I have no idea. You have to tell me.

Set yourself apart, then, by talking about what you did over that time. Let’s say you spend four years in your church youth group serving meals to the homeless one day a week in a soup kitchen. Maybe you served an average of 150 people on each of those days in the soup kitchen (it’s OK to give an honest estimate — you’re not expected to be exact on matters like this). There are 208 weeks in four years, and that means you served 31,200 meals to homeless people during high school.

Now that’s impressive. But I’d have never known about it if all you put on your scholarship application was “Spent 4 years in church youth group,” now would I? If you want us to know you’re industrious, you have to tell us what you’ve done. That makes the difference between a boring, commodity essay and one that makes the committee’s eyes pop.


By Judge Josh on July 24, 2009 · Posted in 10 Scholarship Screwups, Articles, College Students, High School Students, Your Essay: Content

17 Comments | Post Comment

Jessica says:

I love this blog that you’re writing. But I do have a specific concern with this one entry you’ve made.

You talk about serving in youth groups that feed the homeless every week, and putting such things like that on scholarship essays. While that’s all wonderful and great, I have a problem.

I would LOVE to have had the opportunity to feed the homeless. I’ve done it twice in my life – once when I was in middle school, once when I was four. But if I could have had the chance to do it every week, I definitely would have. But from the moment I turned fourteen, I’ve been working – working to afford gas, car insurance, and, of course, college. I never had the time to do a school sport, learn to play an instrument, feed the homeless, or even consistently participate in student council in high school. 90% of the time, I’ve had two jobs or more just to afford living, and a car. And this past semester, I had three jobs. I am definitely not trying to sound whiny – just realistic. While I would have loved to have served the homeless, I never ever had the time, and I hate that it seems that the fact that I’ve been holding down a job for the past five years is hurting my chances of getting scholarships. I don’t know how I can make “selling clothes” sound just as good as “soup kitchen duty”. What can I possibly do with my lack of instrument skills, sports, or community service experience?

Posted on August 4th, 2009

Taylor says:

To Jessica, read the previous entry. It will really help you out on this one.

Posted on August 6th, 2009

Shiu Kong Ng says:

I went to youth group in our church many years ago in Hong Kong. At that time our church was in a poor community with lot of people coming from main land China. Our church did not have any service in connection with homeless so I had no experience with that. Nevertheless when I was working in Hong Kong, Our company had an embassador program. There were three groups one for fund raising, one for charity and still one just for organising activity for poor. I was one of the member for two years and have lot of fun for serving those kids with parents.

Today I am in Canada and find that many people are homeless. I have the feeling that some of them can work for good living but they are reluctant to do so. While there can be some people they try to find work but because they are lack of such knowledge that they cannot take the job. Anyway they still try their best to find something from other people’e garbage for exchanging small amount of money to earn their living but that would be not enough to rent a shelter place for themselves. I really appreciate those people for their hard work and would like to spend some time to serve them if our church can provide such service to them. I know there are some churches have such service but I do not know how to join them. Not matter how I would like to try that some day in the coming future..

Posted on August 7th, 2009

Ahmed Al-Qadassy says:

Hi i’m secoundery school graduated student, and i want to gain a scholarship
help please
thank’s

Posted on August 8th, 2009

Anonymous says:

!!! JESSICA !!!

90% of the time you’ve had two jobs, this past semester you’ve had 3 right? And you’ve held down a job for 5 years. So selling clothes really doesn’t sound as exciting as feeding the homeless at a soup kitchen.

BUT

…something you’ve been doing WHILE YOUR WERE WORKING must be. Or else you would have been fired from that job, or never impressed anyone enough to be hired for the other two. Are you selling a certain type of clothing? Maybe you deal with women like me all day, with body image issues who overeat, can’t find jeans that fit right and are miserable and you counsel them or have them walking out of that store with a smile on their face, feeling better about themselves and happy about the purchace they’ve just made.

OR

You watch in horror everyday as retail therapists max out their credit card trying to impress others or feel better about themselves in this horrible economy while you try to save every penny to go to school. Right there are two major issues facing most Americans that someone in your shoes (in the real world everyday) knows more about than someone in the student council. So don’t be preachy or judgmental or anything but you’ve got something you’re not giving yourself credit for. The judges won’t do it for you if you feel you’re not worth it so you should value what you do and appreciate it. You could just be sitting around feeling sorry for yourself but you are not.

So out with the details…

Posted on August 9th, 2009

Josh Barsch says:

Jessica: Yep, Anonymous has it right and answered you better than I would’ve. Thanks anonymous! Keep it up, Jessica!

Posted on August 10th, 2009

muhammad ali says:

Sir in my college life i have been attach to social comunity services in which we collect the money from different sources and then spent them on poor people of rurul areas in that we would arrage for them clothes ,books for poor students,and kitchen items for the poor famlies.so serving poor gives an inner happiness to human which cant be expressed but a man really enjoyed.

Posted on August 12th, 2009

Carolyn says:

I wander if self learned skills would be place under this sort of catagory. Thank you for the tip I think I will be reflecting on my life for a bit because of this one. Thank you.

Posted on August 17th, 2009

tasmia tulin says:

I am a medical student of a government medical college in Bangladesh.for getting admitted in public medical colleges in our country a student has to prove himself or herself at every level of his/her educational,because there’s hard competition.so for last 5 years my only concern is study.I remain so busy with my studies and duties in hospital I hardly get any time to spend outside of my college,library and hospital.And I sleep only 4 hours a day,i have to attend classes 4and half hours a day,i have duties in hospital 4 hours a day,i have to study rest of the day .so its really impossible for me to do something individually for homeless/helpless.But I do such works along with my friends.we take the poor patients at hospital when we found them in road begging for money for their treatment.Feeding homeless is the part of our religion so from our family this is done in almost every week.I am working hard for becoming a skilled physician but it’s not possible without studying in USA/UK.And studying outside is really impossible for me without a scholarship.

Posted on December 13th, 2009

Md Mostafizur Rhaman Sikder says:

Sir,
I complete my graduation .now i want to for our rural area poor people life improvement for economical power.But with out professional cores how i am start my job.so that i have need idea how develop country improve their poor people.that reason i need scholarship professional course Europe.

Posted on January 10th, 2010

Addie says:

This blog has been very helpful to me but I also have a problem. I grew up in the middle of nowhere. Where people have cottages and only are there for abour 2-4 months out of the year. I lived a 45 minute drive from my highschool (a hour and a half bus ride). Living so far from school made it impossible for me to join any clubs because I couldnt afford a car, and wasnt able to stay after school. There were slim to non volunteering opportunites where I lived. There was one. One weekend out of the entire year that I helped out at. I’m fairly certain this is one of the reasons why I’m not receiving any scholarships. I also plan on going to school for Fashion Design or Textiles, which I think may be another reason.
Why give a scholarship to the girl with no volunteering/school activities at all who wants to be a fashion designer? Lets give it to the girl who wants to be a doctor.

Posted on April 3rd, 2010

rena says:

i think is information is good and every one should follow it

Posted on April 8th, 2010

ondoa says:

i complete my answer i am catholic and in my church i am in youth group,the name is legion of marie .

Posted on April 27th, 2010

ondoa says:

about religon , i am catholic

Posted on April 27th, 2010

jalel isumael says:

i am protestant i am attending oromo refugee fellow ship in kampala
iam very quite young so i can live with any group

Posted on April 30th, 2010

Mosisa says:

I am protestant I am attending oromo student fellow ship(FOCUS) in JIMMA UNIVERSITY
I am very quite young so i can live with any group. FOR the last 3years I have been the fellowship leaders in the campus & we have been preaching Christ,I have been organizing the action groups to do so.
I went to youth group in our church many years ago in Nunu EECMY(Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus).At that time our church was in a poor community with lot of people coming from mainly from rural. Our church did not have any service in connection with homeless so I had no experience with that. Nevertheless when I was working in JIMMA, Our FELLOWSHIP had an out reach program. There were three groups one for fund raising, one for charity and still one just for organizing activity for poor Students who are unable to help them to buy pen,soap & etc. I was one of the member for 3 years and have lot of fun for serving those kids with parents.

Posted on June 15th, 2010

lilian njambi Kunyiha says:

I HAVE BEEN A MEMBER OF CHRISTIAN UNION IN MY SCHOOL AND VERY ACTIVE MEMBER IN THAT I WAS IN A BOARDING SCHOOL AND I WAS ARRANGING SITS IN THE HALL, CLEANING THE FLOOR AND PREACHING AT LEAST 3 TIMES A WEEK AND IN ONCE AMONTH WE WERE GOING OUT OF SCHOOL ON DOOR TO DOOR EVANGELISING IN THE NEAR NEIGHBOURHOOD AND LATER WE WOULD HAVE AN OPEN AIR MEETING AND I WAS THE SECRETARY OF THE GROUP.
dURING SCHOOL HOLIDAYS I HAVE BE VERY BUSSY IN THE CHURCH AT LEAST REACHING OUT THE UNREACHABLE AND PREACHING AND TRYING TO FULFIL THE GREAT COMMISSION.
IAM ALSO THE SECRETARY OF OUR YOUTH GROUP.

Posted on January 26th, 2011