Five Experts Tell You How to Score a Scholarship

By NEXT Staff on Thursday, September 9, 2010

Here are tips from the decision makers who handle which applicants get granted which scholarships.

Jennifer Rutherford Modrak
Scholarship Coordinator, University of Central Arkansas


  • Apply early. Try to apply for scholarships at every school you are interested in by August. You can always decline a scholarship, but you can never take back missing a deadline.
  • Visit with financial aid offices around the state, and find out what your prospective schools have to offer.
  • Ask your high school counselor about local and national scholarships for which they can help you apply (i.e. your local Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce, or Coca-Cola and Walmart).
  • Apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and all Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) Scholarships starting Jan. 1. Get your name and information out there early to secure those funds.
  • Get a good group of recommendation letters together to submit with applications. A recommendation letter can never hurt you. It gives scholarship committees great insight into the candidate.


  • Don’t wait until the last minute. A lot of schools have early deadlines and give out money early in the school year.
  • Don’t be scared to ask questions. The answers are waiting for you, you just have to ask.
  • Don’t QUIT your senior year. A lot of schools require a high cumulative GPA, and if you quit working hard your senior year, it can really hurt in the long run.
  • Don’t just assume you have a scholarship because you did well in high school or on your ACT – you HAVE to apply for most scholarships, so make sure to apply early and apply often.
  • Don’t forget to send in your final transcripts at the end of your senior year. Most schools require a final transcript to complete your file, and some scholarships may depend on it.

Stacy Stracner
Financial Aid / Scholarship Technician, University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton 

  • Read the scholarship requirements. You may have to include letters of recommendation or an essay about your goals, etc. If these items are required and you do not submit them, you may not be considered for the scholarship because of an incomplete application.
  • Log some volunteer hours. Being involved in your community, church or non-profit agencies will only benefit you.
  • Avoid “sloppy” applications. Turn in a typed or neatly hand-written scholarship application.
  • Turn in more information than is required, like a résumé or letters of recommendation.
  • Maintain a listing of awards and accomplishments during your high school years.
  • Make certain you meet the minimum qualifications for the scholarship.
  • Have someone proofread your essays to avoid errors.

Chelsea Bishop-Ward
Associate Director of Admissions, University of Arkansas at Little Rock

  • Pay attention to the deadline. The way the economy is, budgets are tight right now, and you’re not even looked at if you miss the deadline.
  • As far as essays go, we don’t require them, but some do. In that case, you need to make sure you can write a sentence correctly. Make sure it sounds good and don’t misspell words. Give it to your English teacher or use the other resources you have available to you at school to proofread it.
  • Complete the application all the way. We have a lot of applications that are not considered because they do not fill out the entire application.

Alisa G. Waniewski
Coordinator of Recruitment & Academic Scholarships, Arkansas Tech University

  • Keep your grades up and plan to take the ACT early and at least twice, once during the junior year, if not before.
  • Be aware of scholarship deadlines. They vary from institution to institution; some are fairly early (December), while others are later in the year (March).
  • Make sure all documents that are required for consideration are on file. Some institutions use the application for admission as the scholarship application and others require a separate scholarship application. Some institutions make awards based on the information provided on the scholarship application; other institutions might require letters of recommendation be on file for consideration. Institutions may also have a separate scholarship application for private scholarships, and it could have a different application deadline than for academic-based scholarships.
  • If you mail your scholarship application and don’t receive some type of response within a few weeks, you might want to call or e-mail and make sure the institution received it. Unfortunately, things do sometimes get lost in the mail. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Make sure you understand what you have to do (if anything) to accept a scholarship if you are offered one. And again, if you have to return something in the mail to accept the scholarship and don’t receive some type of response within a few weeks, you might want to call or e-mail and make sure the institution received what you sent.
  • If after accepting a scholarship at one institution, you decide to attend a different institution, please cancel your scholarship at the first institution. There is a possibility that it can be re-awarded to another deserving student.
  • If the scholarship you’re awarded is renewable, make sure you understand the renewal requirements. Students usually not only have to maintain a certain grade point average, but also have to complete a specified number of hours each semester.

David Burney
Assistant Director of Financial Aid, John Brown University

  • When you are completing any type of form needed for financial aid, whether it is the FAFSA or a scholarship application, make sure that you have all of the information that you need right in front of you. From having your tax returns while you are completing the FAFSA, to having a current copy of your ACT/SAT scores while you are completing a scholarship application, it is best to enter the correct information the first time you complete the form. Don’t rely on your memory alone.
  • When applying for outside scholarships (scholarships from third-party resources outside the institution), start with local businesses that either you or one of your parents has connections with.