Omit vanity awards from your list of accomplishments.

We’re sure to catch heat for this one, but sometimes you have to hear the truth, even if it’s an unkind truth. We’re referring here to awards such as Who’s Who Among American High School Students. The first time you get a letter from Who’s Who, it feels great. Someone has told you that you’re among the best in the whole country! It happened to us in high school, too. And when we found out that Who’s Who wanted $40 for a book with our name in it, we shelled out the $40 and bought that book quicker than you can say “ego boost.” If you want to do so, too, go for it. But consider something: How did Who’s Who find about you? Did you submit an application to Who’s Who? No. But they found you anyway, and without even speaking to you, named you one of the country’s most outstanding students. That’s a little bit odd, don’t you think?

The truth is, Who’s Who makes a lot of money by selling books – not by rigorously reviewing the achievements of every single high school student in the nation, comparing them all and deciding who’s the best. And the more students they include in their books, the more proud parents and students there are to purchase more books. Students and parents receiving notification from Who’s Who for the first time are unlikely to know this; however, those of us who serve on scholarship committees know it all too well.

Therefore, when you put Who’s Who (or organizations like them) on a list of your credentials, committee members are going to see that as “padding” – i.e., adding accolades to your application that are supposed to sound good, but really aren’t consequential. We recommend omitting Who’s Who from scholarship applications/essays.

I feel like I should add something here. No one who’s received a letter from Who’s Who should now feel like they’re not worthy of awards, accolades or recognition. Just because Who’s Who sent you a letter doesn’t mean you’re not worthy of more prestigious awards. And even if Who’s Who is the only award you’ve received, that also doesn’t mean that you’re not going to achieve every goal you set for yourself in the future. You can, and if you set your mind to it, you will. There are 100 times more successful people in the world than there are award winners.

6 thoughts on “Omit vanity awards from your list of accomplishments.”

  1. Stephanie Sommers

    Hi, I was reading through your tips on how to write winning scholarship essays and happened to find an error. I thought this would be of interest to you. It can be found in the first paragraph of “omit vanity awards from your list of accomplishments”. I do hope everything I write here is correct; English is not my strongest subject. Please feel free to write back to me.

    Stephanie M Sommers
    P.S. So far I have found this site to be very helpful, so, thank you!

  2. This was not the case for my student. Who’s Who Among High School Students contacted the school with a request for referrals for students with a high GPA. The counselor provided the list to Who’s Who. The stdent then received a notice in the mail that they were identified as a high achiever. Universities that I have dealt with do acknowledge the listing.

    True, it is a “vanity-type” of award, but it is based, at least in my experience, upon the GPA of a student.

  3. Hi, BK — thanks for the comment. Certainly some schools may acknowledge the award, but more than anything, I wrote this section to point out that listing awards of this type will not do much to set the student apart from others when it’s time to make a decision about who wins the money. I’m not surprised that Who’s Who contacts schools for referrals for high-GPA students; it’s really the only way they can keep any air of legitimacy about the listings, and schools are the only source of that information.

    Schools are in a difficult spot here; they want to help their students, of course, but to do so, they basically provide free of charge the information that a private company uses to sell lots of overpriced books for a tidy profit. And that’s free enterprise and I’ve got nothing against that in and of itself; it does, however, certainly dilute the prestige of such awards.

    Thanks again for your comments! They are always welcome here!

  4. Would you include awards for excellence in the classroom given out by the student’s high school or awards for overall scholastic achievement given out by various colleges to be vanity awards?

  5. Sarah — oh, absolutely include the excellence awards from your school and colleges. What I mean by “vanity” awards are simply awards like “Who’s Who” that are mainly given so that the publishers can fill up a book full of students and then sell that book to the included students. The awards you received aren’t by any stretch considered “vanity” awards — you’ve earned them and you should include them. Thanks!


  6. Speaking of awards (but not so much vanity awards…) — for college students (say, in the advanced stages of undergraduate years), should we mention awards/clubs/community service/etc. that we did in high school if we’re asked to list those sorts of things?

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