top of page

Avoid These 7 Mistakes When Applying for Scholarships

Students should meet deadlines, avoid grammar mistakes and be aware of scams. By Sarah Wood

Feb. 21, 2023, at 9:20 a.m.

A student doesn't necessarily need to meet certain income requirements, have the perfect GPA or be an athlete to earn scholarship money. Funds can be awarded for a variety of reasons, including a student's background, hobby, state or city residency, musical talent, major or academic interest. But with hundreds of college scholarships available online, the search and application process can be overwhelming and mistakes can happen. So students should "approach it in an organized way where they might spend a couple hours a week building up a scholarship portfolio in the same way they might for the college admissions process," says Michelle Holdway, associate director for scholarships in the Office of Student Financial Aid and Scholarships at the University of Oregon. "If they build a portfolio of that information and can have that at their fingertips when they find a scholarship they want to apply for, that will simplify things quite a lot."

Here are seven mistakes to avoid when searching for and filling out scholarship applications.

1. Starting Research Too Late The academic year for many high school seniors is full of juggling classes with college applications, so applying to scholarships is often an added task. But it's important to start the search process early before all deadlines have passed, experts say. "Students who are serious about attending college should look for scholarship opportunities before their senior year," says Barbara Barrett, vice president of the board of directors at the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, a nonprofit that provides need-based scholarships in the U.S. and Canada. "There are scholarships available to high school juniors, which enable them to make smarter college financial choices.”

2. Missing Deadlines Deadlines vary per scholarship, but most align with college admissions season – between October and March, experts say. To avoid missing deadlines, students should write due dates on a calendar or in a planner. But the search doesn't have to stop once students step onto campus. They can continue to apply for scholarships throughout college. "There are scholarships available to students, perhaps through their department or their major, after they're a little further along in their degree," Holdway says.

3. Filling Out a Scam Application Many scholarships are available online, but not all are legitimate, experts warn. Students should look out for red flags in a scholarship application, including requests for payment, personal information such as a Social Security number, or guaranteed money. "Some websites are just data mining," says Eric Johnson, assistant director of financial aid at Goldey-Beacom College in Delaware. "They are just taking a bunch of your information. You have no chance of winning anything because there's no real scholarship, unfortunately. And they use that information either to market toward you or get you further down a scam." Students can also reach out to their school's financial aid office, high school teacher or counselorto help them discern between real and fake scholarships, he adds. National scholarships can be found on websites like, and

4. Ignoring Scholarship Requirements While it can be tempting to apply for every scholarship you discover, it's important to pay attention to the requirements of each application. If a student doesn't fit within those parameters – such as being a STEM major or violinist – it doesn't make sense to apply. "We appreciate the hustle, but unfortunately, it just wastes their time," Johnson says.

5. Bypassing Smaller Scholarships There's a tendency to focus on scholarships that provide a bigger payout. But don't count out smaller local community scholarships, such as through a local church, Rotary Club or other nonprofit. Though a student may win smaller one-time awards, that money adds up, Holdway says. "If a student only goes for the large scholarships where they're going to have a large pool and be very competitive, they may miss out on the opportunity to win some of the smaller scholarship awards," she says.

6. Leaving an Application Incomplete Some scholarship applications are short while others require more time and attention. But no matter how long the application is, experts advise students to leave no sections blank. Incomplete applications are not considered for award money. Another mistake is not responding to a request from a scholarship committee, which may be following up to set up an interview or clarify part of the application. "Sometimes students don't respond back, and unfortunately, that's kind of viewed as a withdrawal of your application," Johnson says.

7. Making Errors on an Application Many scholarship applications require responses to short answers or essay questions. Grammar mistakes can reflect poorly on a student, so it's important to proofread before submission, experts say. "It doesn't matter how good it sounds the first time in your head, always have a peer – whether it's a friend or maybe a guidance counselor – just double-check it," Johnson says. "Sometimes you just miss that incorrect adjective, word space or whatever the issue may be." Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.


bottom of page