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How to read a scholarship application: 3 reasons to read the fine print

I suggest students and parents read the ENTIRE scholarship application first, before starting to write anything.

That’s because the fine print (or the not-so-obvious parts) of the scholarship application can be a wealth of information.

The most visible information will usually tell you information like who is offering the scholarship, who is eligible to apply for the scholarship (for example, Canadian citizens or permanent residents, age or grade, what kind of post-secondary program you need to be applying for, etc.).

It will also give you the basic required items you need to supply, such as a list of activities, an essay and/or a reference, and it will state the deadline.

This is what I want you to think of as the first layer of information.

However, there is sometimes additional information that could be critical, or at least very useful to you, and that information is located in what I call the second layer of information.

This second layer of information may be the fine print, or if you’re looking at the information online, it may located in the links that are on the first layer. So if there are links, I encourage you to click on the links and it will take you to that second layer of information.

In that second layer of information, you may find one or more of the following pieces of information that will be very helpful when completing your application.

3 reasons why you should read the fine print


It may go into greater detail about requirements, for example for a scholarship for students with a certain health problem, you may be required to provide some proof of a diagnosis. Or you may be considering part-time studies at university, and the fine print tells you only students who study full-time are eligible.

Or, if the award has a financial need component, it might tell you what the definition of “financial need” is to that organization (remember they all may be different, depending on the scholarship grantor).

The reason why this further information is important is because you may think you meet the requirements based on the first layer of information, but you may not when you read further.

You want to know that information up front so you’re only applying for scholarships you’re 100% eligible for, and not wasting time on ones you don't even qualify for. Take the time to make sure you meet the requirements BEFORE you invest your time.


This is the big one – there may be some GREAT tips in the second layer of information.

Some scholarship applications provide further instructions, for example, on the essay. Some will even provide a scoring sheet (basically a grading rubric, like in school) that will give you really great insight into what the scholarship committee is looking for.

For example, there is a scholarship for students living with Chron’s and Colitis called the AbbVie IBD scholarship, and applicants are required to write a 500 word essay (that’s only about 2/3 of a page single-spaced). The first layer provides applicants with a few questions to answer in their essay. However, just beneath that on the page is a section called “Selection Process”, and in it, there is a link that takes you to a sample of a scoring sheet, and criteria definitions, which is a list of the criteria your essay and personal recommendations will be rated on.

It contains information like:

Has the applicant participated in activities to bring awareness to the IBD community?

Has the applicant conveyed their goals, both academic and personal?

Does the essay include a ‘wow’ factor?

Does the reference include examples of the applicant’s determination, positivity and leadership?

Has the reference known the student for an extended period of time?

These are not requirements, but they are obviously some of the things the selection committee would like to see in the applicant’s essay and references.

This is the kind of information you can use to tailor your application to the criteria, and ensure you’re giving the selection committee the kind of information they want.


To ensure you’re following instructions EXACTLY.

There may be specific kinds of instruction in the fine print that might not be on the first page or layer of information, such as the essay must be double-spaced and, if that’s the case, if you single-space your essay you run the risk of being disqualified.

I know this happens more often that people think. I have seen students applications be put in the “no” pile without hardly being read because they didn’t follow directions and had to be disqualified.

You don’t want to put in all of that work and then be disqualified for some silly oversight.


Summary: 3 reasons to read the fine print:

1. Ensure your student meets all requirements

2. Get access to additional information that may be helpful, and perhaps critical, to your success

3. Ensure you’re following instructions exactly.

And one final reminder to read all of the instructions FIRST, then start writing the application.

I hope this information is useful!

Want to learn more about how I can help you win scholarships? Please visit my services page.

About the author

Janet MacDonald is a Scholarship Coach with mycampusGPS Education Consulting. She is a former Canadian university admissions officer. For seven years, she was the coordinator of a scholarship program at a major Canadian university. Janet has helped her student clients win hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships.

You can find her online at, and on LinkedIn.

Learn more about Janet MacDonald by visiting the About Page.

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