How Scholarship Applications Are Judged

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It's easy to find a "nice" scholarship judge. They all want you to succeed!

It’s easy to find a “nice” scholarship judge. They all want you to succeed!

You wouldn’t enter a competition without knowing how you’d be scored, would you? The same goes for scholarships.

It’s not uncommon to see a student apply for a scholarship and not know what the scholarship providers are looking for—or how their application will be judged. Knowing this information can be crucial for setting yourself apart from the other applicants.


Unfortunately, there is no universal judging process for scholarships; however, there are some common practices you might want to know about. Here’s one example.

I once visited a scholarship provider’s office to interview them for an article. When I walked in, I literally had to step over dozens of boxes and envelopes just to get to the dining room table (yes, this scholarship was run out of someone’s home).

What was in those boxes, you might ask? Scholarship applications. Hundreds upon hundreds of scholarship applications. The funny thing is that the more providers I visited, the more I saw this box strategy at work.

Why is this helpful to you? Well, remember that brilliant idea you had to mail your transcripts in separately from your application? Not so brilliant when you think about the amount of loose paper floating around in these offices.

Here are 3 other scholarship-judging tidbits that could come in handy.


Some sophisticated scholarship providers (sophisticated = lots of money) will often use technology to make the first round of application cuts.

This means that the scholarship providers will have an algorithm that will, say, cut the bottom 20% of GPAs from the applicant pool. Bummer.

While there is no way around this, technically speaking, it’s good information to know. For this reason, I was never fond of online scholarship applications hosted by big organizations. Not that these aren’t great organizations (and I don’t blame them for using technology to sort through tens of thousands of applications), but I wouldn’t put in a ton of extra work knowing that I could be cut without anyone ever seeing my application.


Often times, scholarship providers come up with a judging rubric for selecting winners. This means that the judges will be scoring each part of your application differently.

For example, a scholarship provider might award 50% of total points based on your community service activities. Wow. This would be nice to know when applying. Wouldn’t you spend more time highlighting your community service hours if you knew it counted for 50% of your total score? My thoughts exactly.

The good news is that browsing through the scholarship’s website will likely hint at these scoring processes. “We have a preference for applicants with community service” is probably scholarship provider speak for “more points for community service!”


If you are picturing a dimly lit room filled with smoke and leather chairs, then you’ve got the wrong idea. The judges’ table for scholarships will most likely take place at someone’s house with glasses of lemonade and boxes of paper strewn about.

These men and women will spend hours (if not days) sitting at this table and reading scholarship applications. No amount of lemonade will make this process entertaining; however, your application might.

These judges will read each and every application, and frankly, things get a little stale and repetitive. If you can find a way to stand out (say an interesting essay topic, incredibly neat and easy to read handwriting, or maybe just a different texture of printer paper), this could be a major bonus for the strained eyes of a scholarship judge.

Wondering what else goes on inside the heads of scholarship judges? Leave a question for Diane in the comments!

(Photo: rustyallie/Flickr)

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  1. Joey October 2, 2012 / 4:14 pm

    Where do you suggest students go to try and get information on a lot of scholarships?

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