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7 Pitfalls to Avoid When Applying for a Scholarship

Wire waste basket with crumpled yellow paper.

Every May, my team and I are initially buried in applications submitted by those hoping to win the Felix Biancuzzo Memorial Scholarship. And every year, we whittle that pile down substantially within hours. Here are 7 pitfalls to avoid when you are applying for a scholarship.

1. Incomplete applications

Applicants who leave big gaping holes are not considered. The application even a has few questions that require a simple “yes” or “no” and we put those in bold. Still, we have applicants who don’t pick the “yes” or the “no”!

If the application is incomplete, the person is automatically disqualified. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the rest of the application is —if there are big, gaping holes, we just trash the application.

2. Not following directions

We try to clearly formulate the questions. We give specific instructions. In some places, we give a word limit and tell applicants their response will not be considered if they go over the limit. Last year, one applicant exceeded the word count limit by about 25%!

3. Not answering the question

Some people write gobs of information. But if they don’t answer the question, that counts against them.

4. Sloppy or illegible presentations

In the past, we’ve allowed handwritten applications. Most have been neat and legible. But if we can’t read what the applicant has written, we don’t trouble ourselves. We just toss the application and move on to read the next application in the pile.

We do look for impeccable spelling, grammar, and punctuation. However, we cut a little slack for our international applicants for whom English may not be their first language.

5. Few people tell us why they are special

We ask people to tell us what unusual skill, experience, or achievement they have had. In over a decade of offering the scholarship, we’ve had exactly two people tell us something that is truly unusual.

In 2010, an applicant said she had posted a video, in Spanish, on how to do a specific breastfeeding technique. Back then, YouTube was still fairly new, and there were few or no videos narrated in Spanish. That was unusual.

In 2020, an applicant said she had breastfed 10 children. We thought that was pretty unusual!

I come from the fundamental belief that everyone brings something special to the table. It astonishes me that so few people can articulate their something special.

Having some unusual skill, experience, or achievement won’t necessarily be the deciding factor in who is awarded the scholarship. But if all other factors are equal, this could play a part in whose application lands on the short list.  

6. Few express a clearly written, compelling personal statement

Starting last year, we specifically state, skip the pitch on how passionate you are about breastfeeding.

Here’s the truth:  Everyone applying for the scholarship is passionate about breastfeeding! This section allows only 100 words, so instead of talking about your passion — which is what everyone else wants to talk about — answer the question!

7. Few show a true worthiness

I made a big deal of saying this in a previous post, but I’ll say it again. This is a merit-based scholarship; it is not based on financial need.

I want to hear that you have a track record from the past and a vision for the future that enables you to be at the top of the lactation field.

Being effective in your communication skills is important to both your clients and your employer, if you have one. Poor communication skills can derail client relationships, and the same can be said of our scholarship. Don’t let these common pitfalls stand in your way of winning the Felix Biancuzzo Memorial Scholarship!

Have you applied for the Felix Biancuzzo Memorial Scholarship? Did you avoid these application pitfalls?

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